Posted On December 4, 2013 by Print This Post

To Publish or to Self-Publish: the Wild West of Publishing with Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein

We welcome literary agent Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein to the RU campus. 

Liz blog photoWhen I started out in this industry almost two decades ago, the publishing industry’s big fears included the CD-Rom, print on demand, and “the internet superhighway.” Though these fears have evolved beyond the dial-up modem, they are more present than ever before. With shrinking lists, fewer major publishing houses are signing debut authors. Self-published authors have become, in some capacity, the next generation of independent bookseller, eager to promote their work via social media and through the web. Instead of hand-selling books, they upload a title with just the click of their mouse, giving their readers instant access to their work.

Aymes Kahlen - REMEMBRANCE TRILOGY #1 (French cover)A new group of motivated writers is plunging into this brave new world. In the last couple of years, self-publishing has been so successful that mainstream publishers are not only taking notice—some are shaking in their boots. Instead of fearing this trend, however, publishers and agents should rejoice. Publishing is seeing new breed of self-starters. These writers publish their first books online—sometimes becoming inspiring success stories, but more often dropping silently into the sea of data. Whatever the outcome, more and more writers are striking out into this wilderness, attempting to beat the odds and make a bestseller.

Unleashing Mr. Darcy coverSo you may ask: is this the death of book publishing as we know it? Will self-published authors swallow the mainstream publishing industry whole? I have no crystal ball, but—I think not. For a writer to truly hone her craft, she must dedicate a great amount of time to cultivating her talent and shaping her work. For her to be a fulltime writer as well as a marketing expert, publicist, legal expert, and distributor is an enormous undertaking, which is why agents and publishing teams are still trusted and valuable resources. Agents, in particular, give writers important editorial feedback, boost client visibility, and help authors grow their careers in the long-term. This includes selling rights in foreign countries, making film and TV deals, and licensing adaptations in alternative formats, like audio books. Agents and publishing houses manage all the non-writing aspects of publishing so that their authors can focus on what they do best—writing.

Barely Bewitched coverInstead of viewing self-publishing as an end point or the “Wild West,” I see it as a transformative process that we should embrace. With self-publishing come more avenues through which to identify and nurture talent. My primary goal as an agent is always to work with the author in a collaborative fashion. Given that the industry and the environment are constantly evolving, we should evolve with them. We should see self-publishing for the opportunity it is—with inherent risks, burgeoning with possibilities, and ultimately just a first step in an author’s lifelong writing career—hopefully with an agent in her corner.


Join us on Friday for Handsome Hansel – Are We Parents to Our Characters?


Bio: I’m president and senior agent at McIntosh & Otis, and have degrees from New York University and Manhattan School of Music. I began my book publishing career in subsidiary rights and then took on the responsibilities of acquisitions editor at a major audio publishing imprint. Initially, I joined McIntosh & Otis to manage all subsidiary rights but began working as an agent shortly thereafter. I now represent numerous New York Times bestsellers, and both Agatha and Edgar Award winners and nominees.
Twitter @McIntoshAndOtis

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16 Responses to “To Publish or to Self-Publish: the Wild West of Publishing with Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein”

  1. Self-publishing does offer lots of opportunities and creative freedom. I admit, I find this enticing. Especially in light of the fact that much of the work of promo falls in the lap of the author anyway.

    Yet, being responsible for every single aspect of the process is an intimidating prospect.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the current climate in publishing, Elizabeth!

    Posted by Reese Ryan | December 4, 2013, 7:46 am
  2. Hi Elizabeth,

    Publishing either way is daunting. I try to concentrate on writing and watch the swirl around me.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 4, 2013, 8:20 am
  3. Morning Elizabeth!

    Thanks for joining us on RU! =)

    Can you give us an idea how an agent can help a self-published author? I see so many authors that were published in traditional format are now moving to indie publishing as well…the best of both worlds I would think!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 4, 2013, 8:56 am
    • Hi Carrie,
      Thank you for having me post on RU:)!

      I began working with self-published authors well over a year ago. I have sold audio rights, foreign rights and have generated interest from Hollywood for their works. I am also assisting my self-published clients in the development of new material we can pitch to the mainstream publishing industry. I am intensely involved with the development process and am always on call for editorial feedback. When you are a self-published author out there in the “wild wild west,” it can become a bit lonely. I am not only an authors sounding board but also their fiercest ally.

      Posted by Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein | December 4, 2013, 10:25 am
  4. Very interesting blog. Thanks for sharing your insights, Elizabeth.

    Posted by Carol Baldwin | December 4, 2013, 1:00 pm
  5. Wonderful post, Elizabeth. I agree with you completely. We should see self-publishing as simply an opportunity within the entire realm of publishing in general, and I’m hearing more and more agents talk about this for their clients.

    I’m curious though. With these changes, is the query process changing at all? Are agents simply using self-publishing as a way to publish existing clients that were not gobbled up by a publisher? Are more agents starting to accept clients that may have self-published with one book or series, but are hoping to expand their publishing experience with the next book or series?

    This is a very complicated question, I realize, because there are so many variables to consider, but I can’t help but wonder if the traditional query process will change. Must non-agented, self-published authors wait to be sought out or must they query with a fresh, complete novel never before seen?

    I came into the publishing industry at a time when writers were immediately rejected for ignoring query guidelines, so I’m guessing it’s difficult for existing self-published authors to know when and how to approach an agent.

    Thanks for making me think today!

    Posted by Heather Sunseri | December 4, 2013, 2:32 pm
    • Hi Heather,
      I am not sure the query process will change for unpublished writers. For a self-published author with some success but wishing to expand i do belive the process will be different. The agent woukd have to have info. regarding the authior’s sales history, price point, etc. keep in mind, having 100,000 free downloads of a title is NOT a bestseller.

      If a self published author has decent numbers (say 10k+) and i am given the opportunity to read the already published material and see the author’s potential then i am actually willing to help an author develop their next series and in some cases (with a strong enough sales history) can pitch a new project with simply an overview and a few sample chapters. So yes, the world is changing a bit!

      I hope i answered some of your quesions!

      Excuse any typos sent from my ipad

      Posted by Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein | December 4, 2013, 7:44 pm
  6. Hi Elizabeth,

    I still believe agents play an important role in an author’s career. Have you ever advised a client to self-publish instead of taking the traditional publishing route?

    Thanks for an informative post. Great to have you with us today.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 4, 2013, 3:11 pm
    • Hi jennifer,

      In ceratin cases i have advised authors to self-publish. It is all on a case by case basis. In some instances i have advised them to self-publish using a pseudonym in order to limit any confusion regarding other, ongoing series. There have also been cases when a manuscript simply is not working in mainstream publishing and we decide as a team how best to move forward. In some cases this has resulted in self-publishing but i continue to give my clients input regarding the material, covers, release dates, etc. and i continue to handle all subsidiary rights.

      Let me know if you woukd like me to expand upon this in any way.

      Best wishes,

      Please excuse any typo, sent from my ipad

      Posted by Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein | December 4, 2013, 8:24 pm
  7. Hi Elizabeth,

    I am a hip-hop recording artist and I have recently started my own publishing company for my music. I have registered with a PRO, and as of this week I have gotten my business certificate. I have not yet opened a bank account and was wondering how long I should wait before I opened one? And, if there may be any other advice you could give me on what steps to Tae from here. I really enjoyed your article and the information in it, and would love to here some of your suggestions and feedback.

    D’Quame Brown

    Posted by D'Quame Brown | December 4, 2013, 3:44 pm
  8. Thanks for a great post, Elizabeth! It wasn’t very long ago that self-publishing was all about church cookbooks and vanity presses. I was very hesitant to buy anything by a publisher I wasn’t familiar with. Now I don’t think twice, although I’m more likely to buy books by authors I’ve read before. We definitely live in interesting times!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 4, 2013, 10:10 pm
  9. You bring up some great points. It’s easy to self-publish but it’s still difficult to get your title noticed. That’s where the publisher and agent come in handy. They have the experience that’s necessary to get your title in front of readers.

    Posted by Lee Drugan | December 27, 2013, 2:04 pm
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    Posted by 86Marcia | August 28, 2017, 2:34 am


  1. […] Read more: the Wild West of Publishing with Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein […]

  2. […] Literary Agent with McIntosh & Otis. She wrote a post on Romance University’s blog titled To Publish or to Self-Publish: The Wild West of Publishing. The post was great, but she was also answering questions in the comments, so I took advantage. You […]

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