Choose Your Publishing Path

I receive many queries for self-published manuscripts. I’m not sure why this is a trend, or where writers are finding this information, but self-publishing your novel right before querying literary agents isn’t helping your writing career. Did you have success self-publishing your novel (success in this case = sales) and are now looking for a literary agent to help you further your writing career? Querying is a good option. Did you self-publish your book yesterday just so you could claim that your novel has been published? This was a mistake.

Last week, a writer asked me to explain when it’s best to query a literary agent and when it’s best to send submissions to a publisher directly. This question, and the trend I’m noticing in the query inbox, points to the same issue: authors aren’t giving enough thought to choosing a publishing path that’s right for them.

There are many ways for writers to get their work out in the world. Some are happy with publishing short work in literary magazines or larger publications. Others want to make writing a full-time career, and these people need to sit down and make well-informed decisions about whether self-publishing or traditional publishing (or even a combination of both) is the correct path. If you decide traditional publishing is for you, are you comfortable with having your book published by a small press or are you aiming for one of the big publishing companies?

That last question is what you need to decide when it comes to querying a literary agent. The larger publishing companies rarely (if ever) accept unsolicited submissions, so you need to have a literary agent to represent your manuscript. You may have better luck with a small publisher accepting unsolicited submissions, so for this path it’s not always necessary to have a literary agent. However, even if you think small publishers are right for you, there are still many benefits to having a literary agent. (Which is another post entirely, and you can search online for an explanation of what literary agents do and why having one is beneficial to your writing career.)

Any writer who takes their writing seriously, who wants to publish a book, needs to decide which road to take and the best way to navigate that path. If you want to self-publish, then self-publish… but don’t jump the gun and self-publish only to start querying literary agents the same project the following week. If you’ve already published your manuscript, why are you trying to find representation for it after the fact? There’s nothing a literary agent can do for you now—unless you become one of the few self-publishing sucess stories.

Talk to other writers and learn from the path they have chosen and the steps they took to publication. And don’t rush your decision—no type of publishing is right for everyone, and you want to make sure you choose the right path. Don’t make rash decisions now that you’ll regret in the future.