Can You Sell a Self-Published Book to a Publisher?

People often ask if it’s possible to sell a self-published book to a publisher. The short answer: Yes.

But with some caveats.

Sometimes, a publisher will reach out to a self-published author and offer to buy the rights to publish their book, and even pay an advance.

Amanda Hocking’s Story

Probably the most extraordinary example that I’ve read about was the story of Amanda Hocking. She had self-published 23 paranormal romance novels. She chose self-publishing after she had submitted her work over and over to try to get a book deal, and received nothing but rejection.

In 2007, she began publishing her books herself, looking to fund a trip to Chicago. She only needed to raise $300, so imagine her surprise when, six months later, she had earned over $20,000 selling 150,000 copies. In just 20 months, Hocking ended up selling 1.5 million self-published books for an earned total of $2.5 million.

By 2011, she had accepted an offer from St. Martin’s Press (a division of Macmillan) for $2 million for her next four books.

Normally, when a publisher buys a self-published book, the numbers aren’t that sexy.

Still, they will occasionally reach out to an author whose book is performing well and ask if they would be willing to sell the rights.

You Need to Show Robust Sales Numbers

However, even if no one reaches out to you, you still can sell your self-published book to a publisher. Just be aware that their interest is piqued when you can show that you’ve sold at least 10,000 copies in the first year that it was out.

And those 10,000 books cannot be bulk buys from your own company that you turn around a hand out to prospects and clients. Book sales are tracked by BookScan. Every purchase logged on BookScan is tied to a scan of the ISBN number on the back of a book. To believe that book sales are truly robust, publishers went to see thousands of these individual scans. Not bulk sales drop-shipped to one company, or a few organizations.

Selling a lot of books requires no small effort. It is a very rare accomplishment. Considering the average book sells less than 250 copies per year, selling 10,000 is the kind of accomplishment that shows publishers your book could be a good investment for them to take on.

Here’s the Rub

Usually, when people wonder if they could get a traditional deal for their self-published book, it’s because they struggle with sales.

I hate to break it to you, but no publisher is going to buy a published book that’s not selling.

Going to a publisher with a self-published book that is performing poorly will always lead to rejection, because you’ve already shown them what your book can do in the marketplace and what you will do to promote it. You will not impress them.

In the publisher’s eye, all you’ve done is save them the trouble of gambling on you.

Finally, if a publisher does approach you about buying the rights to your book, before you sign, take that offer to either a literary agent or an attorney that specializes in publishing agreements. It’s just smart to have some form of representation as you enter that negotiation.

The Bottom Line is This:

Traditional publishers do sometimes buy self-published books, but if you’re having trouble with book sales, no publisher will come to save you. They only want to acquire self-published works that already are crushing it.