Can I Self-Publish My Book and Then Sell it to a Commercial Publisher?

BookMany writers believe that by self-publishing a book, they make it more attractive to a commercial publisher than a mere manuscript. I suspect this is because they believe that a publisher will be impressed by the sight of an actual, published book.

The sad fact is that this is not the case. Publishers are not in the business of buying books. They are in the business of creating books from previously unpublished manuscripts. They are not impressed by a book simply because it “looks” like a book (rather than like a manuscript). They want to be the first in the market with a title, not second or last. So if you wish to self-publish primarily in hopes that a commercial publisher will want to pick up your title, you’ll do much better trying to market your manuscript in the traditional fashion instead.

However, as in all things, there are exceptions. If you can demonstrate that there is (a) a significant market for your book, and (b) that you have been successful in reaching that market, you may find that you can interest a publisher in taking over the title. The key lies in proving that the book can sell. If, as a self-publisher, you’re able to sell two or three thousand copies, you will have demonstrated that the book has a market. In other words, before you can sell your self-published book to a commercial publisher, you still have to become a successful self-publisher!

Before you race to seek a commercial publisher, however, you may want to determine whether, in fact, that publisher will be able to sell more books (or even as many) as you can. When I self-published my first book, “Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet,” I sold an average of several hundred copies per year; over a period of ten years, I sold nearly 5000 copies. When I sold it to a commercial publisher, sales dropped to fewer than 200 copies per year — and after the first year, the title was “backlisted” and relegated to a tiny blurb at the back of the publisher’s catalog. Keep in mind that you will always have a greater vested interest in marketing and selling your book than most publishers.

Moira Allen is the editor of and the author of more than 300 published articles. Her books on writing include Starting Your Career as a Freelance Writer, The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals (Second Edition), and Writing to Win: The Colossal Guide to Writing Contests.