Can You Traditionally Publish after Self-Publishing?

Posted by Kristen Hamilton on October 30, 2019 at 11:05 AM

Although the majority of my author clients choose to self-publish their book, there are still a fair amount of authors who want to keep their options open. These are the authors who still aren't 100% certain whether they want to pursue traditional publishing or self-publishing. Can you traditionally publish your book after self-publishing it? The short answer: In most cases, no. Here's why.

If you've self-published a book, things can go two ways: either you'll sell many copies (via a great storyline, expert editing, and superb marketing) . . . or your book won't sell many copies. Whether or not your self-published book is a success will depend on your chances of being picked up by a traditional publishing house.

In most cases, your self-published book must be a hit for traditional publishing houses to consider representing your work—think selling 70,000 copies, as literary agent Michelle Brower says. Yes, your self-published book has to be that successful in order for a traditional publishing company to consider picking it up. 

Taking a Shot at Traditional Publishing

To be picked up by a publishing house, first you'll have to craft a query letter and secure agent representation, then the agent will secure your book a deal with a traditional publisher. You'll need to prove that your book has market potential, and having an online presence is a great help to securing your book deal. Again, this option is advised only for big-selling self-published books.

When you craft your query letter, you must be upfront and mention that the book is, or has been, self-published. In most cases, publishers will frown at knowing that the book has already been available for sale. This is because, generally speaking, the publishing company wants to make as much money on the book as possible, and will shy away from books that have already been available to the market. But if you can convince the publisher that your book is—and will continue to be—a seller, you have a shot at traditional publishing.

Rebranding for a Second Chance

But what if your self-published book hasn't sold more than a few copies? If you've self-published your book but sales haven't been great, and you want to pursue traditional publishing instead, you have options.

Step one: Immediately unpublish the book (you can do this on the Kindle Direct Publishing dashboard, or on whichever platform you self-published your book). In your query letter, you need to mention that the book has been self-published at one time, but is no longer available to the public. This method works best if you also choose to make big changes to the book, such as changing or improving the story, or publishing under a different title or author name (known as rebranding).

If the book hasn’t sold well before, agents and publishers want to know why—and they want to be assured that things have changed and the book will sell this time around. These are good things to mention in the query letter. 

The Bottom Line

There are so many self-published books on the market today that it's difficult to stand out and sell thousands of copies, and the vast majority don't have a chance at traditional publishing. (For the self-published books that don't sell, unfortunately it's unlikely that traditional publishers would be interested in representing your book.)

But . . . there have been a few exceptions to this rule, of course, like Hugh Howey’s Wool (great book, by the way!), which was so popular as a self-published book (selling 30,000 copies in a month, becoming an Amazon bestseller in several categories) that it was picked up by Simon & Schuster, republished under their brand, and is now being jockeyed for movie rights

While this is the type of fairy-tale ending every self-published author wants, though, the key word here is RARE—as in, once you self-publish the book, it’s rare that a traditional publishing company will be interested in your work.

Proceed with caution! Usually, self-publishing means never looking back.


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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of

Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing

services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several

authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have

topped Amazon's best sellers lists.

Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she

can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her

four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,

eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is

likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.

Categories: traditional publishing, author business

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