You Should Submit to Agents and Publishers Before Self-Publishing?

This is a bunch of crap.  I don’t care how many people chant it up and down the internet.  This is not true.  Submitting to agents and publishers and getting those greatly ‘coveted’ rejection letters will not make you a better writer, it will not buffer you against rejection from readers, nor will it make you lose weight because you’ll be so devastated you won’t be able to eat for a month. 

First, why should I go this route first if my goal is to self-publish?  Why would I waste that time trying to perfect a query letter when I could be building my author platform or fine tuning my writing skills? 

Here’s the truth:  if you’ve done your research and already know you want to self-publish, then just do it.  Not everyone is made for traditional publishing, and not everyone is made for submitting to the ‘publishing gods’.  You don’t need a round of rejection letters to be your ‘ok’ to self-publish.  You are an adult.  You are capable (or we’re assuming you are :P) of making your own decisions.  Don’t let people bull doze you into submitting to an agent or publisher when your heart isn’t in it.  Do what you’re passionate about.

But…know why you’re doing it.  😉  And here’s a hint: don’t do it just because someone else said to.  Do it because you want to.

Second, rejection from agents and publishers will not prepare you for rejection from readers.  Sorry.  It just ain’t going to happen.  (I used ain’t on purpose.  I know, I know.  ‘Ain’t’ ain’t a real word.)  Anyway, what I’m saying is that nothing will prepare you for seeing your first 1 star scathing review, nor will it prepare you for your first ‘you suck’ email.  All you can do is brace yourself because it’s coming.  This is why I suggest you avoid looking at your reviews.  Seriously, you really don’t want to go there.  But yeah, I realize some of you think I’m too stupid to understand that you can look at a 1 star scathing review of your book and be completely objective and honestly say, ‘Well, that was their opinion.  They’re right to have it.  Now I’m going to put on a party and dance the night away because I’m 100% happy.’ 

Here’s the truth:  you will be down in the dumps.  You will not feel good about yourself.  Your creativity will likely suffer because of it.  Have you ever tried to write something when you felt like total and utter crap?  Well, I have and it’s darn near impossible, and even if you do manage to crank out a couple hundred words, you’ll think it’s awful.

So no, rejections from the ‘publishing gods’ will not buffer you from the pain you’ll feel when a reader tells the whole world in a review or you in an email that you ‘blow chunks’ as a writer.  The only thing that’s going to buffer you (to some degree) is having received so many of those reviews and emails, you get to the point where your eyes glaze over when you realize it’s ‘one of those’ reviews/emails.  Then you’ll automatically stop reading it.  Don’t worry.  The old ego will kick in eventually and protect you. 

I received an email last month along the lines of ‘you suck as a writer’ and literally have no idea what it said to this day because even though I started reading it, a few key words clicked my brain into this ‘autopilot’ option and my eyes saw the words but my conscious mind never did.  Looking back on it, that was probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me.  I have now found a way to guard myself against rude people!  Today the scathing readers.  Tomorrow the nasty people in real life!  Oh, and if you’re wondering what I did about that email…I said the ‘Thanks for the feedback’ spiel and sent it out.   Didn’t mean it, of course, but I was polite anyway, even if the reader couldn’t be.

Third, submitting to the ‘publishing gods’ will not make you a better writer.  Sorry, but the feedback you’ll be getting might be helping you in terms of appealing to agents and publishers who will then box you in and make you conform to what they believe the market wants (unless you’re going small pub; in that case, you stand a good chance at creative freedom).  But really, those are not your target audience.  And it’s your target audience who are going to buy your books. 

Here’s the truth:  the best way to improve your writing is to work on your next book.  What’s that?  Did I not suggest countless rewrites of your already finished book to improve?  Yep.  I did not suggest that.  Why not?  Well, you’re pretty much already caged into that story.  You can polish it up and make it look a little fancier, but unless you scrap the whole thing and start from scratch, you won’t be making as much improvement.  This is why I don’t go back to ‘pretty up’ my old books, no matter how many times people tell me to in emails and on the reviews.  Sorry.  It’s not going to happen.  I’m a face forward and keep walking kind of girl.  Besides, I tried that a year ago on three books and ended up not making any significant improvements.  So I speak from personal experience.

That all being said, if you can find a family member, other writer, a friend, a reader, etc. who isn’t afraid to give you honest feedback on your work, that’s a great way to improve your writing.   The best feedback I’ve ever gotten came directly from people who like my work.  Why?  Because they like my work, I like my work, and they are my target audience (the people I am writing for).

So no, I don’t buy into this notion that you must submit something to an agent, publisher, or whoever else is deemed of ‘godlike’ stature in the publishing world before you self-publish.  Granted, I did submit twice to Harlequin and once to a small publisher (both asking me to rewrite to their specifications and submit again), so I don’t know the agony of rejection but their comments for ‘improvement’ didn’t help me.  What they wanted was more angst and turmoil between the hero and heroine in my romances (something that is not in my author platform, by the way) and the other wanted more description (so much more of it, in fact, it would have bored me to tears to write it; I’m not big into description and skim those parts in books so why would I write it?).  Needless to say, I said, ‘Screw this.  I’m doing it my way’ and two years later, I’ve sold 90,000 books (about 30,000 to 40,000 were free on B&N and Sony–that’s another post for another day because I would discourage people from offering all books for free). 

So since I didn’t take any of the wise editors’ advice and did it myself and people still bought my books, I see no reason to look to the ‘publishing gods’ to tell me what to do with my work.

Okay.  This is long enough.  I’m going now.  😀

About Ruth Ann Nordin

Ruth Ann Nordin mainly writes historical western romances and Regencies. From time to time, she branches out to contemporaries romances and other genres (such as science fiction thrillers). For more information, please go to or check out
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6 Responses to You Should Submit to Agents and Publishers Before Self-Publishing?

  1. Alexa Adams says:

    Great post Ruth! It is also true that in my genre (Jane Austen Fan Fiction) the major publishers often only want books that have already proven marketable through self-publication. I don’t know how common this approach is, but in the current environment it is very understandable why publishers would not want to take risks on an unknown product. Here’s a path to traditional publication (if you so choose) in which an agent had absolutely no place! Save your money people!

    • Very true, Alexa! (And great to see you again! How are sales going for you?)

      I forgot to mention that more and more traditional publishers are looking for self-published books that have a large fan base to pick out new authors now. I forgot where exactly I heard that, but I’m sure it was at The Creative Penn and maybe Nathan Bradford (hope I got his name right). I’ll do a search and see if I can dig that information up because you made an outstanding point, and it’s one that should be noted in a post. 😀

  2. lgould171784 says:

    I was particularly interested to learn that someone as successful as you have been in self-publishing still has to deal with bad reviews. I published my first book in 2003, and it seems to me that there was more civility about the reviewing process then than there is now. These days reviewers seem to have no hesitation about taking their own frustrations out on fellow authors. I was recently floored by one particularly vicious review of my latest book by a reviewer who had previously been fairly generous. He actually tried to make me look stupid by taking a few aspects of my somewhat futuristic tale too literally. I’m wondering if other self-published authors are finding this same phenomenon (which perhaps corresponds to the decline of civil political discourse in this country).

    • I hate the fact that books are allowed to be reviewed because of the number of rude people out there who seem to feel it’s their duty to trash books. I don’t know how things were back then because I didn’t get any reviews until 2008. I wasn’t doing any active book promotion until then, so I didn’t sell anything either.

      I agree with your analysis on the way people review books correlates with how they’ve been acting in other areas of life. I often think that with all our technology, we’ve lost what it means to value people. Instead, there seems to be a “me first” and “who cares who I step on as long as I get what I want?” mentality that both angers and saddens me.

      I get a lot of 1 and 2 star reviews. I also receive emails from people telling me my books aren’t worth buying (this was after I stopped offering them all for free which was a huge mistake because it gave them the entitlement philosophy) or people telling me exactly what I did wrong and how I need to go back and change it to suit them.

      You know, I was shocked to find someone recommending one of my books on a forum and then later found out she used a pen name to give me a scathing 2 star review on another book. The book she recommended, she didn’t bother reviewing. She only reviewed the book she hated.

      Your experience with the guy who reviewed your book reminded me of her. I don’t know why people can’t at least cushion their 1 and 2 star reviews with an objective review instead of pulling out the ammunition and firing away.

      Maybe a part of the scathing reviews stem from jealousy. Some authors don’t like another author’s success or some people hate that a self-published author can succeed.

      I’d love it if people would be civil in their reviews. If they did, I would actually go check them out and try to learn from them.

  3. I agree. if you know what you want then why bother? I hadn’t even considered self publishing to start with, in fact I didn’t even know you could do it, until I;d started submitting. in truth, the only thing that did was help me to chop, chop, chop because of the multiple query letter rewrites. That was a good exercise, but you could do the same thing without ever submitting a thing.

    • I never really wanted traditional publishing to begin with. The reason I gave the whole query process a chance was because I joined writer groups and thought it was the way to gain credibility among the people. Then I stopped and asked myself, “Why am I doing what someone else wants me to do?” And that was when I dropped it completely.

      Yes, those query letters do force you to chop things out and be tighter in your writing. I hated those too. Mine always made the book sound dull.

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