One Agent’s Thoughts on E-Publishing and Self-Publishing

- by Patricia Rosemoor

By Scott Eagan

During the last several conferences I have attended, I honestly don’t know how many times I have been asked the same question. “How do I feel about authors moving their books to a predominantly digital or self-published model?” What I have found interesting is not the question so much but who was asking the question. In the majority of the cases, these were authors that were still unpublished and their name tags said “First Timer.” These authors were already thinking about the digital moves, and personally, I felt sorry for them.

It doesn’t come as shock that they would be asking this question. In recent months, the publishing world has heard of more and more authors making moves to either self-publishing all of their work, or simply taking complete charge of their backlists and moving to a digital concept. Along the same lines, we have seen numerous companies offering digital services to authors to “bypass” the traditional publishing routes that have “hampered so many authors from being published.” So with that in mind, I wanted to take some time to discuss this concept here for you today.

One of the first things to remember before really discussing the merits of such a move is to consider who the players are in this drama. We have two groups here. We have the established authors and we have the new authors. We have to remember that the authors we are hearing the most about right now are the ones that are indeed already established. These authors have a following and a readership. When readers start looking for books to upload to their e-readers, they already know the names of the authors and they know of their reputation. Will a move like this hurt their writing? Probably not! They have already earned that money and this is simply a way to extend their writing a bit further.

The use of digital publishing for backlists really is a great move for established authors. There is simply no way to argue against this. In simple terms, books that would have been off the shelf and out of print or only available in used book stores creates no income for an author. By moving the books to a digital format, if a reader is hooked on an author’s latest release they have the ability to find some of those back books online. Of course, this does mean that they have the ability to read books digitally (and not all readers are here yet). We have to remember that while sales are up for e-readers and digital books, much of this is stemming from people who already have those readers. In any case, the simple point is we now have an extended shelf life. Where we start to see the problems is when the unpublished or newer authors attempt to do this.

With all of the press we are seeing about these published authors, unpublished authors are trying to apply the same ideas to their own work. It is exactly for this reason we have seen such a rise in all of these self-publishing opportunities out there for writers. In the end, though, these authors are simply not going to see the same successes as those established authors. These authors are lured to the digital market with talks of fantastic royalties and the autonomy of doing whatever they want to do with their own books. 30%, 50% and even up to 100% of the profit from sales of their books sounds unbelievably good. The thing these authors fail to miss is this is a “profit from sales.” People have to buy the books to make the money. And to by the books means they need to have readers. The simple fact is, they don’t have a following.

I am reminded of a discussion that Malcolm Gladwell makes in his book, OUTLIERS. He says that no one makes it alone and that any thoughts of this stem from an American myth of the power of the individual. In reality, the “individuals” that made it already had circumstances in their favor. Unpublished or new authors are not in circumstances that will yield results. The readers out there don’t know of them or their writing. What makes it worse is with the decline of the brick and mortar book stores, these authors have lost out on the chance of simply being discovered as they wander the book shelves.

According to one statistic I discovered online, based on numbers acquired directly from self-publishing and POD companies, the average sales for these authors is somewhere around 40-200 copies. These numbers are simply not enough to make a serious profit or, more importantly, to build that readership that will come time and time again to by their books.

According to another site devoted to providing self-publishing advice to writers, here are some additional statistics that might make the unpublished and newer authors stop and think.

23 percent of readers polled have visited an author’s web site.

Book review column inches in newspapers have dropped by 20 to 50 percent.

There are about 1.5 million books in print at any one time in the United States.

I bring these numbers up to show the newer authors what they have to compete with. If we consider the first statistic of 23% of readers visiting an author’s website, the simple question is, can they visit you if they don’t know you? Probably not.

If we consider the second statistic of book reviews, these are only coming from the established authors. The odds of a new author getting into this small niche are slim to none.

And the last… the sheer numbers say it all. A new author has to compete against 1.5 million?

The simple point is that moves of the established authors are fine and certainly a great avenue for continuing to get their name out there. But the hard truth is, they can do it because of who they are and the unpublished authors or newer authors simply don’t have it.


Scott Eagan is the owner and agent at Greyhaus Literary Agency. Opened in 2003, Greyhaus focuses exclusively on the romance and women’s fiction genres. Sales from Greyhaus have include projects going to NAL, Pocket, Source Books, Kensington, Mills and Boon and Harlequin. Scott has earned a BA in English Literature, a MA in Creative Writing and a MA in Literacy. Drawing on this education, plus over 20 years of teaching writing, he is able to provide one-on-one editorial help to his authors. You can visit Scott on the web, on Facebook, on his blog and on Twitter. Beginning in September, Greyhaus will also be putting out a quarterly newsletter. To subscribe, send an email to

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