Once your self-published book is successful, you can negotiate with a larger publisher from a position of experience and strength.
The above quote is from a self-publishing web site, and lately this seems to be a common theme for companies selling these types of services: the best way to land a publisher is to self-publish your book to “show publishers how it will do.” It may surprise you to hear this, but I’m a big fan of self-publishing and think that any author with the business know-how to self-publish should. What I’m not a big fan of is blanket statement like the one above that fail to disclose the potential risks of this strategy.
First, as I have blogged previously, only one-in-ten books is successful, meaning it sells over 5,000 copies. The average book only sells 500 copies (Publisher’s Weekly, July 17, 2006). Once you have self-published, a potential publisher will always looks at your sales figures as part of the review process; a publisher is not likely to pick up a book with poor sales regardless of why a book didn’t do well. Second, you can spend a lot of money with a self-publishing services (some charge thousands of dollars) that you may never recover based on these average sales. But, in my opinion, the third reason is the most overlooked reason for why a publisher might not pick up your self-published book:
Elephants never forget, and neither does Amazon…
Even if you remove your self-published book from circulation, there will always be an Amazon listing for that version of the book. The reason is that there is a potential secondary (used book) market for the book, and people using Amazon Advantage can always relist the book to sell a used copy even if you ask Amazon to remove the old listing. You can’t fault Amazon for this; in fact, there will be listings for your book in several places (like Books in Print) in order to service the secondary market. This means that, unless you change the name of the book, everything from the original cover to the reviews will follow your book wherever it goes, even if it goes to a new publisher. When you ask a publisher to reissue your self-published book, in essence you are asking them to carry this potential baggage and to possibly lose sales to the secondary market for the previous version.
So the simple solution is to change the title so that the new version will show up on Amazon as a completely new work, right? No. What this strategy doesn’t take into account is that an author has probably built a fan-base, however small, for their work. How would you feel if an author you followed came out with a “new” book and you were to purchase it only to find out you’ve already read it under a different title? My guess is that this is a good way to lose fans and get a bad reputation.
If your goal is to publish your own work and never to approach a publisher, and if you have a basic understanding of the publishing business, then there is no reason you shouldn’t self-publish. But if your goal is to one day land a publisher, then that should be your strategy and you should avoid self-publishing. The history you create for you book will follow it wherever your book goes, because Amazon never forgets…