Prior to asking this question, I have found and read similar questions posted by other people and I have come away each time deeply dissatisfied and frustrated by the responses given. Here’s an example.
The reason is because I have noticed that every time such a question is asked, respondents have a tendency to reply by bringing up the Amanda Hocking-type clichés, thus answering in the following manner:
“Sure you can! Look at these self-publishers who were hugely successful and later got contracts!!”
As a result, respondents end up not actually answering the question. What tends to be overlooked is that the question is really about the very act of pressing the ‘publish’ button, and whether or not, by committing such an act, you have ruled out any possibility of signing a contract with a traditional publisher even if they like the book. That is the question. Bringing up unusual cases like Hocking or Hewitt is a red herring.
In other words, it has nothing to do with how many copies the book has sold via self-publishing. We just want to know if publishers, as a rule, do not want the book to have been previously self-published at all.
As an example, let’s say the agent and the publisher both love the book after reading it and would like to sign a deal. Then you say to them:
“Oh, by the way…uhmm….I think you might want to know that I actually put it up on Amazon for a little while. However, I have removed it.”
What would be their response? Will they go, “Oh well, in that case, deal’s off!”
Furthermore, that brings up another frustrating thing I’ve noticed: In the question that I linked to, you will notice that not a single one of the respondents bothered to distinguish between print and digital publishing. In other words, they failed to say whether, when they speak about ‘first world publishing rights requirement’, whether it includes digital publishing as well? Or does it only apply to print? This clarification and distinction wasn’t made, but I think it is important. Because a writer needs to know if it is okay to test the waters through self-publishing as long as they keep it in digital form only.
All that being said, what's all this nonsense about “publishers are only looking for books that have already been ‘proven’ to be successful on Amazon?” What?? Really??
Don’t they brains of their own? Can’t they read? What then is the point of agents and editors?
Besides, this completely ignores the crucial fact that success of a self-published book is highly dependent on effective marketing. Why do people keep ignoring this fact? Why do people keep saying that if a book has been self-published on Amazon but did not sell, then it means publishers cannot be successful with it? What if it is actually a fantastic book and the only reason it didn’t sell was because the author simply lacked the skills or the resources to market it? And isn’t that the job of traditional publishers? Isn’t that what they are supposed to do?
Sorry about the multiple questions, but now you can see why I am baffled by this issue. Here is just one example of what I’m saying (from the same link):
This sentence is from ‘Seth Gordon’s’ answer (in the context of a self-published book not having already sold well):
“But if you self-publish through Amazon and then try to market the same book to a traditional publisher, your book is a known quantity.”
To me, the statement makes no sense because the book is, almost by definition, NOT a “known quantity”. If few people have bought it (usually due to lack of marketing), then how on earth is it a “known quantity”? (I will grant, however, that the statement is true only in the cases of self-published books that were only moderately successful. Because it means that the author obviously invested effective marketing into it but the poor/mediocre nature of the book did not allow it to truly take off.)
So, in sum, my point is that the purpose of a traditional publisher, as I understand it, is to provide the marketing skills and resources that many authors simply do not have the means to provide for their books. But if such an author does make an attempt at self-publishing (despite little or no marketing resources) in the hope of being lucky, does that very attempt automatically rule out any chance of the author securing a deal with a traditional publisher no matter much they may like the book?
ETA: Just to clarify what the question is, since some people clearly have trouble reading and are saying things that are utterly irrelevant to the question: the question, quite simply, is does the act of clicking 'publish' for the ebook version of a novel make it impossible for a publishing house to publish a book that they have received from a literary agent and would like to publish? If so, why? Please note that the question is not about sales. It is more about the technicalities regarding copyright or 'first publication rights'. It would still apply even if the book was only e-published by the author just the previous day and hasn't had time to make any sales. Does the very act of clicking 'publish' technically create a problem? If so, why?
I'm sorry I had to be repetitive, but there really does tend to be a problem with reading comprehension that people have with regards to issues like this.