Whether you're still on the fence with how you feeling about self-publishing, or if you're 100% for it or 100% against it, it would be hard to argue that 2012 was not the year self-publishing became a legitimate force in the market. This has been brewing for a couple of years (see: Amanda Hocking and John Locke), but 2012 - with a little indie book called 50 Shades of Grey and a "New Adult" sub-genre trying desperately to prove itself - we've seen several headlines that have read something like "Former Self-Published Author Lands 6-Figure Deal."
The thing is, there are plenty of self-published authors who are perfectly happy to remain self-published authors. The headlines we see are about self-published authors becoming traditionally published, and that's where I think other writers have been getting confused about how self-publishing should work. To the self-published authors who have enjoyed your experience and have no plans to go traditional unless a 6-figure deal lands in your lap, feel free to ignore this post. Or, if you do have plans to get an agent and try for a traditional publisher, just not with the book you self-pubbed, you can ignore this post too.
To the other writers out there who think that "Self-Pub to Traditional Deal" is the norm, pull up a chair.
I have no beef with self-publishing. I find it to be a separate entity from traditional publishing, with some notable titles crossing over from both sides. Mostly, I think the two can co-exist peacefully and separately. (It's sort of like the Blue-Ray to traditional's DVD. Each provide a way for you to be entertained. For consumers, having another source to get content is a good thing... made even better when they don't have to choose and can use both.)
That's why it's disheartening to get so many queries for books the authors have already self-published. While agents have had more success with getting self-pubbed books sold to traditional publishers this year, it's important to keep in mind that all of those books were the exceptions - not the rule.
Turning a self-published book into a traditional book deal still takes:
1) huge sales figures (over 5,000 copies sold at the very least)
2) a healthy online presence
3) glowing reviews from major publications (think Kirkus; not just someone with a book blog or a writer-friend, unless your writer-friend is Stephen King).
If you have all three of these things, chances are agents are going to find you and you don't need to query. If you have one or two of these things, then query away and hope for the best. If you don't have any of these things, it's not the end of the world, but query a different project entirely.
Self-publishing has proven itself to be lucrative and viable, and the stigma of it has drastically lessened. I include myself among those who turned up their noses at it, and I'm proud to say I've changed my mind because writers have made it impossible for me not to. (Woo!)
But I'm still wary when I see writers - too many writers - query me with their self-published books. Despite my evolving opinion, the original reasons I didn't like self-publishing end up rushing back to me. I have to wonder why the writer self-pubbed in the first place. Was it out of frustration with rejection? Did they think a self-pubbed book would get my attention? Or were they misled to believe that self-pubbing before querying is now the norm?
Don't let success stories change your mind about your own career path. Remember that no one ever writes front-page articles about all of the people who don't win the lottery. Stay true to what you want out of your writing career, and if you end up changing your mind about the best way to reach your audience, then be smart about how you make that switch. If you read about how a certain self-published book got a traditional book deal, you'll rarely find it was because the writer queried an agent with that same project before it was ready to be seen.