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These days, authors are carefully considering the merits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing, and many are doing both at once. (My e-book: How Do I Decide? Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing, will help with these decisions.)

I’m having almost daily conversations with my clients, most of whom are already traditionally published, about various ways they can extend their brands, increase their income and/or grow their readership by self-publishing e-books “on the side.” I’m coming across some interesting questions during these discussions. One that I’ve been hearing lately comes from authors trying to figure out how they can make the most money with their next book: through traditional or self-pub.

They’re trying to estimate potential e-book sales vs. potential advance from a regular publisher.

Book made of money

This is clearly a speculative approach. While an agent might be pretty good at predicting the ballpark advance for a book, it’s almost impossible to predict how much money you’d make on your e-book unless you’ve done several already.

Trying to compare “potentials” is dicey business.

In any case, some authors are wondering:

If their agent shops the book and gets a publishing offer from a reputable house, but the advance is lower than the author wants, can the author reject the offer, take back the book, and self-publish it?

Technically, the answer is usually “yes” unless the author/agent agreement stipulates otherwise. If I shop a project, you are within your rights to reject any offers and take the project back. But it’s important to realize that it puts agents in the position of spending hours and weeks and months on something for which they’ll never be compensated.

It might be better for the author to set a threshold up front.

For example, “If I can’t get an advance of more than $10,000, I will not take the deal.” In that case, I (the agent) might be better off saying up front, “That doesn’t make it worth my while to work on this project, because I can’t guarantee ANY advance, let alone a $10,000 one, so I’m going to hand this back to you and you’re free to do with it what you like.”

Agents already spend time shopping projects that won’t sell, and we’ll never get paid for that work. We understand this, and it’s a risk we take. But to have the added pressure of “Even if I DO sell it, the author might reject the sale and I still won’t get paid,” is kind of unreasonable. So in the interest of not wasting your agent’s time and avoiding purposely derailing their attempt to make a living, it’s a good idea to have some specific idea up front of what you will and won’t accept—and talk to your agent about it.

Are you making the “self vs. traditional” decision based on potential income? If so, how are you making the calculations? And are you talking with your agent about it?


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