Question: If you self-publish a manuscript, can that manuscript later be sold to a publisher and be re-published?



This question comes up in almost every traditional publishing-related webinar or workshop that I present. It’s exciting for self-published authors to know there are endless possibilities for the book or books they’ve worked so hard to put out into the world. The great news is that it IS possible for a self-published book to get picked up by a traditional publishing house, but it’s important to be aware there are very distinct criteria these publishers are looking for when considering a self-published book:

1. A Well-Written Book with a Unique Voice

Agents and publishers are always looking for stories that are fresh, polished, and marketable. In other words, are the writer’s style and voice appealing to a large readership? A writer’s style or craft speaks to his or her technique and develops with time as a writer evolves and experiments. A writer's voice is the individual perspective, mood, and energy that he or she brings to the page. Your writer voice is where you really have the opportunity to bring something unique to a book.

Publishers are also looking for books that will require little to no editing. The less a publisher has to do to prepare your book for success, the more appealing it is. If you skipped hiring a professional editor before self-publishing your book, your manuscript may contain errors that will affect your book’s salability. Serious issues related to storytelling or structure may impact whether or not a publisher wants to work with you. Make your book as competitive as possible - don’t skip professional editing when you self-publish!

Public speaking is a great way to build your author platform.2. An Established Author Platform

Your author platform is your ability to reach readers and sell books. For authors that want to get traditionally published, having a solid platform in place can greatly influence an agent or publisher's decision as to whether or not they want to work with you. Many publishers don’t have the manpower or dollars to put book marketing efforts behind every author they publish, so they rely on the authors to do much of the heavy lifting. The more established your platform and reach, the more potential you have to sell books.   

To create a meaningful author platform, you must put effort into both online and offline book marketing initiatives. These include branding, website, social media, public speaking, event appearances, and more. A strong author brand and fan base go a long way in getting the attention of traditional publishers.

3. Sales Velocity

Traditional publishers are in the business of selling books and want to work with authors that have proven their writing can sell. If they see a buzz building around your book and it’s received a large number of positive reviews or has achieved bestseller status, they might want to get in on the action. Or, if your book’s topic or theme is very timely and relevant to what is going on in the world, they might want to be associated with it and help create awareness for you and your work.

It’s important to note that even if your self-published book is a smash hit with readers, this may not be enough to sway a publisher to pick it up. There is a chance that you’ve reached your peak sales and won’t bring in a lot of additional readers. Don’t worry, you can use your impressive sales numbers to pitch them your next book!

4. The Potential for More Books

If you have a large portfolio of content or are writing a series of books, your chances of getting the attention of traditional publishers does increase. Most prefer to work with career-minded writers that have longevity and not the “one-hit wonders”. It’s a better business strategy for publishers to get behind authors that will continue bringing in readers and repeat customers. For example, if you are writing a multi-book series and the first book has sold really well as a self-published title, they might pick up your subsequent books. Once a solid readership is established with the first book, a series can prove to be very lucrative. Or, if you are a nonfiction author with an area of expertise that can apply to several books, they might see you as a smart, long-term investment.

No matter which publishing path you chose to pursue for your writing, always strive to produce the best book possible. A well-crafted, well-edited book will attract readers and ultimately lead to more opportunities in the future.