Tuesday, March 30, 2010


On March 19 “Mystery Writer” sent us the following comment:

“I have written a cozy mystery and am trying to get an agent with no luck so far. The ‘On Demand’ publishers are calling me and tell me that most publishers expect authors to publish ‘on demand’ before they will consider them. Is this true? What do other people think?”

It’s an interesting question and one worth discussing. I’d like to know which on demand publishers are saying these things. (I make the assumption that you all understand that “on demand” publishers charge the author for their services and the finished books and the price can be high.) My experience is that self-publishing (the old word for on demand) can work against a new author. Many agents and publishers do not want a book that has already been “out there,” preferring to work with new material. Having said that, the first two non-fiction books I sold had been self-published prior to their sales to big New York houses. Both of these authors were high-profile and media-savvy and their self-published books were selling very well.

So there is no right or wrong answer to this question. I have a feeling though, that many new fiction authors self-publish or go with on demand publishers for the wrong reasons. They’ve worked long and hard to finish their novel only to find that their work has just begun. It’s often harder to land an agent and a publisher than it is to write a book. So authors give in to the “instant gratification” and lure of the on demand publishers. “Hey, kid. Come with us. You’ll have a real book with your name on the cover in no time! You’ll be an AUTHOR!”

The self-publishing option works better for some non-fiction authors who often are building a platform and can sell their books when they travel the country, teach courses or give presentations. Their self-published book can help elevate their status and can attract the attention of agents and publishers who are looking for a non-fiction author with a large following.

But “Mystery Writer” is the author of a fictional work. I’d advise her to concentrate on making her book as good as it can possibly be. Hire an editor if you can or have a trusted literary friend give you feedback. Join a writer’s group and go to writers conferences where pros will often give you good advice. When your work is as good as you can get it, begin working on your query. Investigate blogs and websites to discover what works best in a mystery query. Then try again. After all, if you can’t find an agent you can always take the on demand bus at a later date. What do you all think?


Brian Rush said...

"I make the assumption that you all understand that “on demand” publishers charge the author for their services and the finished books and the price can be high."

There is no reason for anyone to "understand" this, as it is not true. What you are calling "on-demand publishing" is actually vanity publishing, an entirely different subject.

"On-demand" refers not to a type of marketing arrangement but to a publishing technology which allows books to be printed only when purchased. It is not exclusively used by vanity publishers (the ones that charge authors a fee). It is also used by traditional publishers (so far mostly small ones), and by self-publishing outlets that do NOT charge authors a fee, but instead take a percentage of all sales (which is also what traditional publishers do).

If you want to give people advice about self-publishing, I would suggest learning a little more about the subject. I pretty much stopped reading at the point I just quoted above.

Jan Melara said...

I think vanity publishing has a place in the new technological age. I just read a self published book about a prominent family in the small town where I grew up. The book has been popular--in my hometown. The limited audience (and possible liability issues inherent in writing about real people and naming names) probably makes it a no-go for a big publishing house. But, it is a story the author wanted to tell. What better way to do it than self publishing?

Malin said...

I have a friend who has a kind of vanity publishing firm - but it has nothing to do with wanting to lure money from anyone. This friend simply has no means but wants to help authors of good and not-run-of-the-mill literature to publish their stuff. I've considered using my friend's services a few time, hoping it could get us both "off the ground" but am afraid I'll be shunned by publishers (even for other fiction manuscripts) in the future if I do this.

Also, I have troubles using such things as writers conferences, SASE required contests and agents etc. See, I live in Sweden and write in English. First of all, Sweden is small and have a limited amount of conferences etc. Secondly, Swedish publishers are, understandably, not interested in literature in English.

This limits the available roads into the publishing industry. At least most agents use email nowadays, but I still miss the direct contact with the writing and publishing community.

There, stepping off the soapbox. Just wanted to give another perspective into something that is far from clear-cut.