While commenting about my proposed publishing survey Jay Mandal has asked,
“Will having dabbled with self-publishing put agents and publishers off…? How often are self-published books picked up by the mainstream publishing houses? And do publishers and agents make any distinction between Print-on-Demand and Publish-on-Demand?”
I don’t think that anyone’s going to be put off from considering someone’s work because they’ve self-published in the past—so long as it’s a new, unpublished book that is being considered. The problem comes when an editor wants to publish a book and discovers that it has already been published. Regardless of how the book was published—whether it was self-published, vanity-published, or scribbled on the back of a load of used envelopes and left pinned to bus seats, the fact is that it has already been published. So, first rights have been used up and, as publishers usually want to acquire first rights and nothing but, they’ll decline and move on. For a full explanation of why this is read my previous post here, which directs you to a piece over at Lynn Price’s excellent blog (which is part of my daily reading and yes, Lynn, that's two nice things I've said about you now).
Self-published books are very rarely picked up by mainstream publishing houses. That’s why it makes the news when it does happen: and bear in mind that a lot of the stories you’ll read online about writers who self-published before going on to mainstream success are just not true—see my previous post on this subject here. There are several reasons why publishers won’t republish a previously self-published book: the first rights issue, the problems with promoting a pre-published book as new and fresh, and the possible confusion that will arise between the self-published version and the commercially-published version. There’s also the quality issue. Many books are self-published because no mainstream publishers would take them on, and there’s usually a good reason for this: most self-published books are just plain awful! In addition to the poor writing they aren’t usually edited properly, and are often underdeveloped first drafts (and if you’d like to prove me wrong on this, you could consider submitting your self-published, subsidy-published, or published-in-any-way-other-than-mainstream books to me for inclusion in my other blog, The Self-Publishing Review).
I’ll cover the publish/print on demand issue separately, as it’s important enough to warrant a whole post of its own.