I was going to write up a big, fancy post on this topic, and then I found this site, which pretty much said everything I wanted to.
Ok I lied. I wrote up a big, fancy post anyway. ;)
You'll notice a LOT of references here -- and that's because there are a LOT of different things to consider about self-publishing. No one agent is going to be right about it (meaning, disclaimer: I do NOT claim to have the answer to or know everything about it!). Generally, it's a case-by-case basis whether or not someone should self-publish, and whether or not a self-published book can be picked up by an agent or bigger house.
But, some things to think about:
Why Agents are Cautious of Representing Them
Because it is a tough sell. A self-published author can no longer be listed as a debut author, which means that a publisher is going to have to base the advance they can offer (if any) on the author’s sales history. A publisher offers an advance based on a projection of how many copies they can expect to sell – and if the self-published book sold only 500 copies…
Why Publishers are Cautious of Acquiring Them
It’s all about numbers. The number of copies the self-published book sold, and the number of copies bookstores can expect to sell. Guess what? The latter is based on the former. What this means is that if your book sold 500 copies, bookstores aren’t going to expect large sales. Which means they won’t want to stock the book. Which means the publisher won’t make sales. Which means they won’t recoup their advance, or even enough to pay overhead for the aquiring editor’s time spent on that book.
So what if you self-publish and sell 10,000 copies? Awesome. Just keep the statistics in mind.
Why Reviewers are Cautious of Reviewing Them
There’s no indication of quality with a self-published book. A book that has gone through the traditional publishing route has made it’s way past an agent, an editor, an ed board, and a copyeditor (in the simplest example) before it reaches the reviewer’s hands. A self-published book never made it past an agent. With so many books to choose from…yeah, they’re going to review the ones they can expect will at least be free of typos.
Why Publicists are Cautious of Publicizing Them
It’s hard enough to publicize fiction from a traditional publisher. Fiction is so subjective; imagine saying to someone: read this. Why? Because I like it. Just trust me. If that book is self-published, that trust level goes way down, again, because you have no idea of the quality. A publicist is hired to promote a book – so just hearing “it’s good” from one isn’t enough to make reviewers or buyers trust that it is.
However, this IS different for non-fiction. Read more here.
Lastly, READ THIS POST by Nathan Bransford.
Finally, please keep in mind: if you self-publish, YOU ARE THE PUBLISHER. Period.
I think it’s incredibly arrogant to self-publish your book and then expect someone else to pick it up and do all the work for you. Simon and Schuster doesn’t acquire a book, design a pretty cover, send it to a few buddies, and then submit it to Random House to get sales. If you don’t think you can get the distribution and sales you want from self-publishing…it’s probably not the best option for you.