In fact, credibility is one of the first things I look for in a person. It’s crucial in a prospective client’s writing sample, for its ability to make a story seem real, but the writer’s ethical credibility matters to me just as much.
Which is why I’m sorry that someone seems to be recommending that authors use a strategy that can damage their credibility when contacting literary agents. I’m receiving more and more queries from writers who fail to mention that the books they hope I’ll agree to represent already have been published.
On the other hand, any writer who thinks that ignoring the elephant in the room is a clever strategy isn’t someone I want as a client. Displaying a willingness to be deceptive at the very moment of introduction sends a clear signal to abort, which saves me a lot of time and effort.
I can understand a writer’s frustration with an unsuccessful first effort at being published. When an author recognizes in retrospect that she needs help, it’s logical for her to hope that a literary agent will extract her from her predicament. However, in what has become the data-driven business of trade book publishing, whatever a writer publishes first will permanently affect her reputation as an author. It’s nearly impossible, these days, for a writer to hide and recover from poor sales of a first book, even when the unpleasant outcome can be blamed on hasty self-publishing.
Traditional publishers are looking for good investments. Three years ago, I mentioned in “To writers who ask if I can interest traditional publishers in their self-published books”:
…once the results are in, if a self-published title has been selling slowly, there’s much less reason for a traditional publisher to speculate. A completely untested, unpublished manuscript appears to be a better investment.
Writers who believe their self-published books should be attracting the attention of big trade book publishers should take a look at that old blogpost, because the criteria are mostly objective. They’re the same criteria on which traditionally published authors are evaluated when acquiring editors consider the commercial prospects for those authors’ subsequent works.
Smart strategists know that self-publishing is not an easy route, that it’s not for everyone. It takes a skilled, hardworking entrepreneur with a plan to make it pan out. The worst thing writers do is force less than perfect books out into the world because they’re tired of the efforts they’ve put into writing them and they want to be done. Writers, like most people, I suppose, have a tendency to believe in magic instead of data.
On the upside, I hear from some genuinely talented, intelligent, and honorable writers who, I must say, stand out as the people I want to know better and perhaps will offer to represent. Their credibility matters to me.