From Book Agent Janet Reid: “We’re in this biz for money, not love”

Posted by Wrightspeak  /   December 02, 2012  /   Posted in Sell Your Work  /   4,728 Comments

Photo by Ian Wilson

Janet Reid is a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City. Reid writes about the book industry on her blog, “Janet Reid, Literary Agent.” In her recently published article “some hard numbers,” Reid answered many industry questions for writers who want to transition from print to mainstream publishing. Read parts of her article below.

My query in-box has a new category these days: authors who’ve self published with the goal of a larger publisher noticing. There have been some amazing stories in the news about authors who’ve done just that.

We watch those stories very carefully of course. We’re in this biz for money, not love, and if there’s a place to find projects we can sell, you bet we’re there. If you’re thinking of doing this, here’s what to consider:

1. To get noticed, you have to sell a lot of books. By a lot I mean more than 20,000.

If this number doesn’t daunt you, ask yourself this question: have you ever sold 20,000 units of anything?

If the answer is yes, ask this next question: Have you sold something to 20,000 people, one by one?

If you self publish you are no longer just the author, you’re the salesperson for your book. Do you have any experience selling? Did you love selling Girl Scout cookies? Do you like calling people and asking for money (as in fund raising?) Do you gladly spearhead the fundraising drive at your school, synagogue, church?


Be realistic. 20,000 units is a huge number of books. It’s a hard number to reach even if you’re published by a big publisher, with an accomplished sales force and established avenues to the retail market.

“But but but!” I can hear you sputtering–X did it, and Y too. And let’s all pause for a moment and consider 50 Shades of Lovely Lolly. Yes. All that is true. And yes, some people win the lottery twice. Your odds are worse.

This post is not to dissuade you from self-publishing. Have at it with all your might. BUT be realistic about what self-publishing is, and what it can accomplish. And more important what it can NOT accomplish.

2. There is no number two.