Love the question. Here’s the answer. An indie author can do anything she darn well pleases.
Now ask the really important question: should she do it?
When I first started writing, I was rather impatient. Against the ‘rules’ I submitted to editors and agents simultaneously. My thinking was this: if an editor replied an agent would love to take me on because the hard work was done and if an agent replied first they would be happy to follow up with an editor who already had the manuscript. It all worked out fine. I sold my first book without an agent, got picked up by an agent because I had a deal, and life went on without a backlash or wrist slap. The strategy was mutually agreeable because the same book was being pitched and would benefit everyone on the food chain. Fast forward. Traditional publishers are now trolling the Internet for books that are doing well, they are signing hybrid deals and they are more open to creative publishing than ever before. However, if you break it down it looks like this.
1) A hybrid deal is not made for the same book but for unique material for each platform (i.e. one series for the traditional publisher and another for indie publication).
2) When a publisher picks up a successful digital book, the rights then are sold to the publisher and the author is no longer both an indie and traditional author. The indie books catch a traditional publisher’s eye earn their way into those deals by having great reviews and sales.
Therefore, if you have published your book on Amazon and submitted it to a traditional house you have put yourself in a risky position. The first thing an editor will do is look to see how many reviews you have and what the sales rank of the book is. If you have few reviews – and worse, bad reviews – and a sales rank in the high six figures your query will go into the round file.
My advice would be to determine your goals. Do you want to gain author cred by being published traditionally, or do you want creative freedom and a good chance of making decent money off your writing? Decide that before you actually do anything.
So, can you simultaneously publish and pitch? Sure you can. Would I do it? Nope. Traditional publishers have too much information at their fingertips. If you publish that book and the results are lackluster there is no incentive to pick you up.
I say set goals, create content appropriate for each opportunity and follow a focused plan to get the notice you want.
The published author has correctly answered your question, but only from a literal standpoint.
The issue is more complicated than it appears. The published author answered a simple question simply… without fully explaining the deeper details that need to be understood. You probably wondered if it could possibly be true because it seems too easy. Your intuition is correct that there is more to it, and it is good that you are questioning the information to find out more.
From my perspective, the real rabbit hole in this scenario is about the transparent status of the book BEFORE you offer to sell it to the publisher, not the issue of what to do with the work AFTER a publisher has agreed to purchase it. The publisher, the buyer of your created content, needs to be fully aware of your product’s real status in the marketplace when considering your work. It’s kind of like the notion that you have the right to know if the shiny car you are buying is new, used, or something in-between, like never driven, but hail-damaged. If your work is or has been for sale on Amazon, that is information that the traditional publisher has the right to know when the work is being considered by that publishing house.
There is no harm, no foul in asking what is required here or what is possible. Publishing is a mysterious business sometimes and it is hard to know what the rules are. In any business world the best practice is to shine a bright light on whatever seems unclear. I think that the question you really may be asking—or should be asking—is this: “If I decide to submit my book to a traditional publisher, do I have to tell the publisher that the book is already available online under my own name, or under a pen name, or under a different title?” The answer is “Yes.”
There is one fixed rule about today’s publishing industry: the rules are always changing. You can count on that. Not that many years ago an author who submitted their work to two different publishers at the same time had committed an unredeemable faux pas. Simultaneous submission, or double submission, was enough to get an author blackballed. This query sounds a bit like making a simultaneous submission, but the rules have changed, the playing field is radically different.
Publishers no longer hold all the power. Anyone can offer their work on Amazon, Nook, Smashwords. If your book has a compelling premise, is well written, well edited, well formatted, well designed, and well marketed, then you have a product that could catch the eye of a traditional publisher. It’s happened before.
Amanda Hocking, Louise Voss, J. Carson Black are examples. The strength of their writing propelled their independently published books to No. 1 sellers, which caught the attention of traditional publishers who then offered these writers deals to publish future work. In the case of Louise Voss her successful indie book Catch Your Death was also reprinted and redistributed traditionally. That’s the only example I know of where a traditional publisher re-released an indie success. You can look at it as Voss’s indie serving as an audition that won her a traditional book contract.
If an author publishes their own work and then submits that same work to a Random House type imprint I don’t see where that is against the rules that are ever changing. I would suggest that they be up front about the indie offer. And it would be smart to hold off seeking a traditional publisher until the indie book has garnered a sales record and favorable reviews. A measure of success with an indie book not only showcases the writer’s talents but also their marketability.
Yes, you can submit your book to a publisher even if it is already on sale on Amazon. It is up to you how you negotiate the terms of the deal they offer (if they offer one). Some writers keep their existing back catalogue self-published, but only give the publisher the rights to sell later books. I understand that is what fantasy author Daniel Dalglish did with Orbit. There is another thing to consider, however, and that is your book may appear less attractive to a publisher if it has already been published, but either doesn’t sell well/is not well-received, or is already too widely distributed and they feel they cannot make money from it. If you’re someone like E.L. James, however, that’s not as much of a problem!
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