Not too long ago, traditional publishers held all the cards.
If publishing houses rejected a book, its author had two choices: self-publish and bear the stigma, or put the manuscript in a drawer, forfeiting years of hard work, all the while hoping the next book would be “the one.” A plethora of legitimate publishing options—ranging from DIY self-publishing platforms to assisted self-publishing partnerships—has eliminated this total reliance on traditional houses, in effect changing the publishing dynamic. Today, empowered authors are asserting greater control over their career—and driving revolutionary changes within the industry.
Rita Rosenkranz, among the first literary agents to work with indie authors, says that in the past “because of the stigma of self-publishing very good stuff was locked out by mainstream publishers.” Literary agent Steven Axelrod, who represents self-publishing rock star Amanda Hocking, credits readers for opening new opportunities for independent authors. Readers no longer see a huge difference between self- and traditionally published books, Axelrod says. By buying books, adds Rosenkranz, and increasing their rank in the marketplace, readers vote on which books are worthy of publishing. As a result, traditional publishers are finding themselves in bidding wars for the rights to republish the very books they once spurned.
With their meteoric rise, self-published authors no longer face a categorical stigma. Many traditional publishers now view self-publishing as a great way to discover new writers, Axelrod says. A quick search of Publisher’s Marketplace, using the keywords “self publish,” turned up 40 deals in the past twelve months, many ranked “significant,” $250K to $499K, or “major,” meaning over $500K. In July, Jamie McGuire inked a “major deal” for her runaway bestseller "Beautiful Disaster"; in August, Sara Fawkes landed a “significant deal” for her USA Today bestseller "Anything He Wants". In an increasingly common sign of the times—agile publishers are altering internal processes to bring books to market quickly—Atria and St. Martin’s republished their newly acquired bestsellers in e-book format within weeks of announcing the deals.
Spurred by astounding indie success—Hocking sold a million books before signing a deal with St. Martin’s worth over $2 million—publishers have adopted “a new set of indicators,” according to Axelrod.