Laura Howard: What Agents Look For In a Self-Published Author


What Agents Look For In a Self-Published Author

The most popular post I've had on this blog was Are Self-Published Books the New Query Letter?  It features author Erin Kern and her story of being picked up by an agent and eventually signing with a big New York publishing house.

People with varying opinions weighed in- from Self-publishing is the only way! to I won't consider myself successful unless I'm traditionally published. 

I found myself wondering: What does it take to get noticed by an agent? I've invited agent Jane Dystel to share what her firm considers before offering representation to a self-published author.

Last week, Laura asked whether I would write about what an agent looks for when offering representation to someone who is in the self-published community. Since we represent a significant number of authors who originally were/are self-published, I was delighted to accept her request.

The first thing I look for in any author, self-published or not, is the quality of the writing. If the work is poorly written, then we cannot represent it no matter how strong the sales are initially (substandard writing will not sustain high sales in my opinion).

An author’s sales numbers and how they build over time are also very important. Unit sales are critical but so is the author’s position on the lists of the various e-tailers—;, etc. A prolific author will often see each subsequent book in a series build up the sales of the previous books.

The author must be very active on social media—having an effective, accessible website and/or blog is important, as is a solid presence on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and other networking sites. Positive reviews of the author’s self-published books by the target readership are critical as is a willingness to interact with and be supportive of other writers in his/her category.

Finally, I always like to talk with prospective self-published clients to make sure that what we think we can offer them matches their expectations; we try never to over-promise although we do assure all of our clients that we will do our very best to help them build their careers and have a positive experience doing so.

The goal is to sign up writers who have a solid future in Indie and traditional publishing, or a mixture of both. So far, it’s working out very well for us and we’ve learned a tremendous amount. 

 I am happy to answer any questions regarding this subject which is becoming an important one in our business. Let me hear from you.


  1. Thank you for this blog post, Laura and Jane. While I appreciate the information, I can't help but to think this was a tease blog post. There are many, many, many folks out there weighing self publishing options and fearful to do it because they may not get traditional gigs later on. If it is possible to follow up this blog post wih a top-10 list of must-dos or some other specific information on what you are looking for in a prospective client, that would be appreciated.

  2. Great tips, and this reiterates what I've been hearing every else -- the best thing to focus on is the quality of the writing.

    Let me go edit my WiP now!

  3. Thanks Laura and Jane for sharing about such an interesting topic. It seems that self publishes who have built up their writing and social media skills/presence over time, may almost have an advantage over a completely unknown author seeking representation.
    What interest me is the approach those self published authors took to gain representation. Ie, Did they query their already self published manuscripts on the basis that they have had some success in the independent sphere, or were they seeking representation for their new works in progess, highlighting their efforts and energy in the self published realm.
    Which brings me to me final question, Jane, have you ever read a self published book and considered offering representation. Thanks again Laura for a great post. Cheers Julie Anne Grasso

  4. Thank you for a great blog post ... I debated on which publishing option was the best for my new novel, inDIVISIBLE, for a while before I settled on self-publishing. I'm grateful that now the publishing world is opening up to the idea of taking on previously self-published works. I feel there are many benefits either way an author chooses to go.

  5. After reading this article, I truly find myself wondering...if an author has gone to the trouble of all of the above, and is making good sales, what is the point in having an agent? I'm sorry if this comes across as facetious, but really, the work has already been done. Books are more often sold by word-of-mouth, and therein you build the buzz. Why go with an agent, where you have to bind yourself to contracts with them and potential publishers, often to only earn a fraction of what you can as an independent author? Am I missing something here? I really would like to know. Thanks.

    Bruce Arrington

    1. I think you bring up a very valid point, Bruce. I'm thinking some people, not all, feel they haven't truly "made it" unless they are traditionally published. While the self-publishing stigma has lessened in recent years, it has by NO means gone away.

      I like to offer info for everyone, and this is definitely something people are talking about!


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