News room: Self-published and looking for an agent? Writers & Artists share their advice

Self-published and looking for an agent? Writers & Artists share their advice by Sarah Juckes

We’ve noticed that many CompletelyNovel authors are making use of our low-cost publishing plans and no contract tie-ins to publish their book and prove its worth to agents and traditional publishers. And why not?! Self-publishing is a great way to show agents that your book has a readership. To help, we asked Alysoun Owen, the Editor of the ‘Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook’ and the ‘Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook’ published by Bloomsbury, to give her advice to self-published authors who are on the look-out for an agent or traditional publisher. Enjoy!

The following are some of the questions I get asked at literary festivals and at Writers & Artists publishing events by self-published writers who are contemplating contacting agents and publishers in search of a traditional publishing deal.

If I’ve already self-published, would an agent be less likely to take me on?

A few years ago perhaps some agents might have been a little sniffy, assuming (wrongly) that self-published works were those that were not up to scratch and were mainstream publishing rejects only. That view no longer persists. Agents and publishers are looking for the best writing across all genres and the best authors – they would be foolish to ignore such a vast pool of talent. By self-publishing your work you show an agent several things: the quality of your writing, that you take your desire to be published seriously and that you are proactive. That’s not to say that being self-published means you are more likely to get taken on by an agent, but it gives you a head-start if your book is well-written and professionally self-published.

What should I submit to an agent?

This one is simple. Do your homework and check what agents want you to submit. Most agencies have clear Submission Guidelines – check their websites for what these are as they do vary from agency to agency. The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook lists details of all literary agents: where they are based, the writers they represent and how to contact them. Agents will usually require some of the following: cover letter/email making clear what you are sending them; a synopsis, or chapter-by-chapter outline for non-fiction; sample chapters from the start of your book (usually 3 chapters in all); a writer CV. You could choose to send a print copy of your self-published work, or a set of chapters from the e-book version. Whatever you send, make sure it is well-presented, devoid of spelling and grammatical errors, is sent to a named agent (not simply to Sir, Madam, Agent) and is a personalised approach – not a standard email.

Do I have to give over all the rights to my work to an agent or traditional publisher?

There have been high-profile cases of agents who have taken on successful (usually very successful) self-published authors (Amanda Hocking, Kerry Wilkinson, Mark Edwards & Louise Voss, Nick Spalding, E.L. James, Hugh Howey…) – looking to capitalise on the author’s success, and in many cases these authors have held firmly on to some of the rights to their intellectual copyright. They have the sales and readership that allow them to negotiate from a position of strength. Although agents and publishers would like to take on as many rights as they can, increasingly these are being divided up. Canny self-published authors are retaining the electronic (eBook) rights to their work and ‘selling’ the print rights only to agents and publishers. That allows authors greater control over how their subsequent books are published and means they stay loyal not only to the ethos of self-publishing which launched their publishing career, but also to the readers who initially bought and read their work.

If I move to an agent and publisher, will I no longer have any input on how the book is designed and promoted?

This depends on what sort of rights you hold on to, see the answer above. A good agent and subsequently a good editor, will want to work with you on the way your book (and you) are presented, so would usually involve you in the cover and design discussions, and on ways in which your book might be promoted. But, do remember that you will be working with experts and professionals who do know their business, so assume that what they suggest is presented from a position of knowledge of the market.

How important is it that I’m active on a social media?

As a self-published author, you will know that publishing your book is the easy bit! Getting it noticed amidst the plethora of other titles is more difficult. Some self-published authors devote a lot of time and creative energy to blogs, websites, email campaigns, twitter feeds, Facebook pages etc. to attract readers. The best advice I can give is to do what works and feels right for you. It’s much better (and more satisfying) to do one thing well and with passion, than to try to cover all areas in a scattergun approach. Perhaps start with a simple author Wordpress site with a sign-up to free samples of your novel and see where that leads. If you can give an agent examples of quality feedback you have received from your readers and/or numbers of loyal followers, then do so. Remember agents will see what you are posting and how you present yourself online.

I love the cover design that was created for my self-published novel, can I insist that any publisher retains this?

Probably not, unless it is particularly good. If the look is pertinent, your publisher might want to build on it, but they are most unlikely to commission your best-friend to design the cover for their edition, unless he/she is an established book designer.

Where do I find out about which agent or publisher might be right for me and my work?

You can consult the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or, if you’re writing for children and young adults, the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. We also offer online listings. You can also search the web for details, or even look at the front of books in a similar genre to your own: most authors thank their agents in their acknowledgements.

Both Yearbooks are completely reviewed and updated every year. For more details on all aspects of the writing process and on being published visit

For more information on how CompletelyNovel can help you publish your book, see our publish page.

You can find out more about whether traditional publishing is for you, on our extensive advice pages.

Alysoun Owen is the Editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and the Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook.

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Written by
Sarah Juckes
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Self published, Writers, Artists, Advice, Agent, and Help