Friday, February 20, 2015

Query Question: Strategy for second book

A little over a year ago, I published a noir novel with a small, but known crime publisher. It got good reviews, but not huge sales. Still,  I was hoping to parlay that into getting an agent for my second book, but, alas, even the shark has not bitten yet.

Now the publisher is asking about my second book. I'd like to get another title under my belt, but they don't really have the resources for marketing. My question is, should I go with a second book with them, and build my list, or keep holding out for something better?

There is no hard and fast rule to answer this question, I'm sorry to say.  The first thing you need to ask yourself is what you want your career to look like. You can stay happily published for years with a small press, selling at "not huge sales" numbers.  If you move to a traditional press, you need good sales, and then more sales. And they are generally not going to give you any more help on that than your small press did unless you're one of the top five books in their catalog. They may tell you differently; don't believe them.

What bigger publishers can do very well is make sure that trade accounts know about your book, and libraries too. What bigger publishers do NOT do very well is build a community of fans.  That is your job (whether you have it done for you, or you do it) and would be with any publisher.

One thing you do need to know is how many books your small publisher can print, and if they can print MORE if you need them.  Returns can kill a small press so they are not likely to print huge numbers without huge orders before hand.

There's nothing wrong with building a successful career with a small press. A lot of very fine writers have done that.

If you dream of moving to a bigger league though, you'll need to have an established community of readers to take with you.


Colin Smith said...

"What do you want your career to look like?" THE question. My goal is to be published so lots of people get the chance to read my work. I would prefer to achieve that goal through an agent, and I haven't exhausted that avenue yet. But if/when I do, I'm not opposed to going directly to a small press, especially if I can work with a good editor, just to make sure the book's as good as it could be. I don't mind if my books aren't blockbuster sellers, so I don't need to be published by one of the BIG 6, 5, 4--however many are left. Though I wouldn't mind being published by Penguin. I don't know if it's the paper they use, or the way they bind them, but I love the look and feel of Penguin paperbacks. Or at least the ones I have. :) Anyway, I digress... good question, and a great response.

MB Owen said...

Hi Colin. I would add Little, Brown to that Publisher's wish list. This could be a great follow-up question if Janet had the time: What Publishers Will Do + Won't do. Call it: the cold water in your face post.

Colin Smith said...

Hi, MB! Brrr! Not sure I want to think about cold water in the face this morning. It's chilly down here!!

From a career planning point of view, it would be interesting to know what a newbie author's expectations should be with regard to what the publisher will do, and what the publisher expects of the newbie author. Perhaps even comparing big publishers vs. small publishers. Is the difference just a matter of print run and reach? And do small publishers have different expectations of unagented authors as opposed to agented authors?

Anonymous said...

What a great question and response. It's an entirely subjective thing.

I've had eight small presses ask for Far Rider through some writing contests and twitter pitch things. I've politely declined them, saying I have the manuscript on submission to agents.

I met an extremely talented author, Courtney Schafer, at The RMFW Conference. She published two novels with Nightshade and they did well. Then Nightshade goes under and she goes through that debacle. Now she's trying to do a gofundme to raise the money to publish the third book in the series. I'm not sure why her agent can't find her another publisher.

Stories like that scare an author to death.

Then you have Zach Recht. He wrote The Plague Of The Dead, The Morning Star Strain and was posting it in chapters on his site. He developed quite a following among the horror groupies. Permuted Press noticed it and offered to publish him. He agreed and took all his stories down. They published the first book. It broke all records for Permuted Press. The second one comes out and again it's breaking all kinds of records and people are buzzing.

Simon and Schuster notices and buys out Permuted Press. Zach is over the moon when he tells me about it. I am too. I've known him for a long time. We play WoW together. He's one of my officers in my guild. He's been coaching me on my writing. He can be a little moody, but he's funny as all get out when he's up and he deserves this.

Simon and Schuster reprints the first two books. Audible Books is going to start recording them. Zach has just finished the third one when he dies at 26.

So, there's two sides to the small press coin. For me, for now, I'm going to hold out for the agent and even then I may wind up with a small press. I did have offers to submit from Del Rey and Tor once upon a time, but those ships have sailed.

MB Owen said...

Exactly what I had in mind Colin.

Anonymous said...

Just the other day I opened up the second book I wrote in the spring/summer of 2012. First of all, it is encouraging, and freaking weird, how much the span of almost three years can make one look with fresh eyes at a project. Stephen King is SO right about writing the book and putting it away for months if you can. Anyway, I LOVE the story even more today than I did when I was writing it. This book, unbeknownst to me, was sent off to an agency in London, by the freelance editor I worked with. She was re-establishing contacts there and partnering certain US agencies with British agencies. They wanted to go out on sub with it, but to make a long story short, I said no b/c it was too close timewise to the first book's submission.

Either way, I want SOMEONE to read this book one day, AND the other books I've written too.

"In The Land Of Thinking Ahead" I'd definitely place my work with a small publisher one day, if, through various circumstances, I found myself with these books on my hands, unpublished, and classified as drawer novels. I'd rather see a small number of people reading the stories than me dragging them out from time to time, and reading them to Little Dog. He's not such a great listener anyway, and tends to leave me high and dry as he wanders off to other parts of the house, tail tucked, and giving me the "stink eye" as he goes.

Like Colin, they don't have to have bestsellers. That would be stupendous, but all I'm concerned with is something selling, and if not, Plan B = a small publisher, and Plan C = self publishing.

That's all for later though. I don't spend a lot of time in The Land Of Thinking Ahead. Today, it's just a speck of thought for me on the publishing horizon.

Anonymous said...

Julie, I was typing my response, and editing the hell out of it, and taking forever (yet again) so by the time I finished, your comment was up. That is a sad story about your friend, Zach.

Dena Pawling said...

I read not too long ago that an author with one of the larger publishing houses was dropped after her second book because her sales weren't growing/big enough/whatever. So even if you do get the big publisher, that's no guarantee either. But then again, maybe a small publisher will also drop you if your sales aren't what they want/expect/whatever.

I think the only thing I really know for sure about this industry, is that it's a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and unless your name is King or Evanovich or Patterson or Roberts, it will continue to be a nail-biter until the end.

Not only do you need a thick skin, you need strong teeth and nails too.

Laura Brennan said...

Julie, I'm so sorry about your friend. That stinks.

S.D.King said...

That sentence about libraries - I write MG fiction, so it seems like if you could just get a book in each school library, you would have a near best-seller, right?
Although it is hard to count there are about 15,000 school districts in the US and many of those have multiple buildings (sometimes dozens or more) in each district. So is the key to be listed in the Junior Library Guild? How hard is that?

MB Owen said...

Dena, I wonder how much the uncertainty has played into the explosive rise in self-publishing?

(Which, of course, isn't "certain" by any stretch except for the certainty of more work for the writer: publicity, marketing, sales, distribution, yadayada).

Anonymous said...

Thank you, for the kind thoughts, but I didn't mean Zach's story to be a downer. It should be uplifting.

He was a fantastic success story. It just shows how small presses can go either way. He did very well with Permuted and it launched his career with Simon and Schuster.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

Establish a community of readers.

How? This is marketing. Giveaways, contests, endorsements from well known people

FB,blogging, twitter help, it's free publicicty and it's world wide.

More than half of my blog readers are Chinese. They seem to like graffiti, that's my topic of preference and a big part of my current WIP. China's a big market but it doesn't mean they'll by my urban narrative when the time rolls around. Maybe.

Dena Pawling said...

I am a member of my local RWA chapter. From what I understand, it is one of the largest chapters in the US. Probably 80+ people attend the monthly meetings. Several are agented, several sell directly to publishers [most romance publishers will accept un-agented submissions], several are self-published, and even several are hybrid. And then there are those like me who are just starting out.

Most members write romance but some [like me] write women's fiction and there is even one lady who writes MG. The chapter is really excellent and treats everyone equally. Most of the speakers are on topics of general interest to writers, but of course some are specific to romance. I found my critique partners/beta readers here, and the funny thing is, none of us writes the same thing lol. [But two of them recently had major life circumstances and have had to bow out, so I'm left with one until I go on the rampage to get more for my next manuscript.]

Anyway, I digress.

From what I have heard from the speakers and even with talking directly to the members, most of the self-pub folks like the control, the fact they keep their rights, and the quicker timeline to get the book “out there”. I haven't heard any of them say they self-pubbed because they wanted to keep their smooth skin and flawless nails. I think the uncertainty must be equally as strong for self-publishing as it is for any of the other avenues?

Colin Smith said...

Dena: From my reading (not from experience) I would liken the difference between being agented and being unagented to traversing the jungle with or without a native guide. With a native guide you're not as likely to get lost, bitten, or attacked, and the guide will also be able to point out things along the way you may not have noticed on your own. On the other hand, without a guide, you're free to take your own path, you can detour and perhaps see things the guide might not have thought you would want to see (or maybe missed), and you get all the credit for making it through. Without a guide you have to be more savvy and you probably work and worry a bit more, but you control your journey. With a guide, you feel safer in the hands of someone who knows the terrain, but you lose some sense of control.

Pros and cons. It's really about career choices, not good vs. bad.

Craig said...

I think that publishing still hasn't hit an equilibrium. It might not ever do that so it might be time to re-think small publishers.

Rather than dismissing them out of hand you should see what their business plan is. Maybe your manuscript will put them over the top. For all of the failures there is a Poisoned Pen Press. I know the Queen likes them, as do I.

I don't know if they can be considered a big player yet but they are a force in mystery and have just recently launched the Poisoned Pencil Press for YA and MG mysteries.

Anonymous said...

When I was talking to the Tor editor at the conference, he asked me if I had any platform. My only writing platform was the horse racing magazine at the time that doesn't transfer well to epic fantasy. He advised me to start building some kind of fan base that did translate to fantasy.

I'm now writing for an indie game studio. Once they get their fantasy/horror game going well, that fan base will translate well for me as one of their writers.

Since a large part of the story is based during the Civil War, I am in hog heaven researching my stories.

Anonymous said...

"How? This is marketing. Giveaways, contests, endorsements from well known people"

I have a friend who is self-published. Her book was blurbed by Diana Gabaldon. Sales have been pretty dismal even with that and the book is actually pretty good. She decided to self-publish because she has a serious medical condition and she was afraid she wouldn't even finish it. Another friend started a small publishing company and helped her get the book out.

I don't know what the magic answer is. I'm in the acknowledgments of a few very well known, even best-seller books. Could I ask the authors for blurbs? Probably. Would it make a difference? I have no idea. It didn't for my friend, but granted due to the disease, she can't do much to promote her book.

Karen McCoy said...

Dena, I've had similar experiences in my local RWA chapter and I think you're spot on (though my chapter is much smaller due to geography). I don't write romance, but I've gotten a lot of benefits from it, as I'm sure that one MG lady has.

Colin, I loved your analogy. I definitely want to go to the jungle with a guide, but there are a badass few in my local RWA chapter who love their self-pubbed independence and are doing quite well. (One is closely acquainted with Diana Gabaldon, but I think Julie has a point--there's no guarantee no matter how you slice it).

I think I'd consider hybrid, once I have something submittable. Time will tell.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm at work typing on a kindle. ugh. Anyway, I have held out for years for an agent and unless I kidnap and hide one in my basement I'm about ready to go small-press or on my own, double ugh. So the question is what do I feed the agent in my cellar, Doritos and whiskey or kale and Icelandic glacer water?

Anonymous said...

@2N's - Lima beans until they offer representation.

Christina Seine said...

Excellent comments today!

Colin, I love your metaphor with agents as jungle guides!

Colin Smith said...

@2Ns/Donna: Lima beans and Earl Grey Tea. If that doesn't make them submit, I don't know what will. :) Although, as I've said before, I'm lima bean fan.

Anonymous said...

Karen, Do you mind sharing who your friend is? I may know her.


Anonymous said...

I love butter beans. Now threaten me with black eyed peas, and I'd submit in a heartbeat. I know, I'm a fail southerner.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: I just felt the entire South East go a few degrees colder, if you can imagine. Shocked. I'm a transplant to the South (I think my accent gives that away), but I'm quite partial to black eyed peas. Of course, since I'm vegetarian (yes, a vegetarian Brit--talk about standing out in the South) I like mine seasoned with onion and whatever else my wife puts in them. :)

Lisa Bodenheim said...

S.D. King: "That sentence about libraries - I write MG fiction, so it seems like if you could just get a book in each school library, you would have a near best-seller, right?"

Might school budget cuts hinder that a bit?

AND completely off-topic:
Awwww, lovely Glossy Gossamer sitting in a bucket.

That's not the ice bucket that QOTKU uses for her whisky, is it?

Colin Smith said...

Awww! Glossy in a bucket!! When did that picture go up? Adorable! Thanks for pointing that out, Lisa. :)

Christina Seine said...

Also off topic: Colin, every time I visit the South, i come home with an accent. And I'm not even from there. How to you manage it?

PS - the only beans worth eating are the jelly kind.

Colin Smith said...

Christina: I probably do have some kind of weird hybrid Brit-NC accent, though most people can still tell I'm from the UK. I've not tried to keep it or lose it, so after 23 years, that's not bad. Though I should make more of an effort to keep my accent. People down here seem to like it. :)

Interestingly, folks back home tell me it's not so much my accent that's changed, but my vocabulary and choice of phrases. That more than anything makes me sound American, it seems.

DLM said...

I told y'all I was going to send Our Lady Hostess the QOTKU a pic of the G Man (my Beloved Ex's nickname for him) in a bucket. Which, no, is not used for ice. It does, however, have a spiff label on it that explains it is a DELUXE PAIL, which I think is almost as awesome as my ex's nickname for Gossamer.

As to our letter, it's a funny thing but I think less about figures in sales than I do about my audience, and what I can't wait to get to do in support of my novel once it's an actual property in the market. I'll have to learn about online blog tours and such, but I have hopes of reaching out to the many universities and churches I have ties with to set up events (while my novel is in zero way Christian literature, its pivotal plot point regarding, oh, um, the birth of Christendom itself lends to church options, and I have some interesting connections there in a couple denominations at least), events and networking with James River Writers, and a range of well-published author friends generous in their support and encouragement.

We've mentioned platform here, and I have been BAD about one aspect of that, the author and agent and other publishing-folks interviews I've had accepted but never gotten responses on and let go cold. However, I've worked hard on my online presence and networking, and the fruits have been gratifying, at least for me - even if they don't make me look blockbuster at first glance.

I think "The Ax and the Vase" would make one hell of a movie, and I do know it needs foreign rights at the very least in Europe, but my focus tends to be on what I can control. Deal breakers and my own contributions.

Honestly, I hardly think of Tor and Del Rey as "small" houses, though I suppose maybe anything that's not in the "Big X" qualifies. I just want to work with people I respect and who respect me, and all of us respect the work and get it out there. No matter the level of success I find, I don't expect to quit my job, or be able to make my living doing nothing but writing. That makes a nice fantasy. But the life I've got now isn't so bad I'm desperate to abandon it.

DLM said...

Okay, obnoxiously comment-hogging to come back and note that when I realized the TV was on behind Goss in the photo I went to it full size to be sure I wasn't watching some horrible embarrassing thing. That's Neal DeGrasse Tyson in the background behind G's ear, so I was watching "Cosmos." Whew!

Colin Smith said...

DLM: Comment hogging? You? Hardly. I think I'm more guilty of that than anyone. I've probably written more words commenting on this blog than my current WiP! Hmmm... could I get representation for my blog comments? ;)

Anonymous said...

"Honestly, I hardly think of Tor and Del Rey as "small" houses, though I suppose maybe anything that's not in the "Big X" qualifies."

I certainly don't think of them as small houses either. I'm sorry if I gave that impression. The editor with Del Rey left not long after that, so that contact was gone.

I went on a gut and revise based on suggestions from the Tor editor. Then two more gut and revises based on an agent R&R, and life bit me in the backside. I didn't think the Tor editor would be interested in hearing from me four years later.

So, as I said, those ships have sailed. However, recently I've had eight invitations from small or indie publishers and I've declined. Three of them state they don't work with writers who are looking for agents. Others might be just fine, but I just rather not right now.

Anonymous said...


" I just felt the entire South East go a few degrees colder, if you can imagine."

I know, especially considering you have to eat black eyed peas on New Year's Day for luck considering they saved southerners from starvation and all. It's blasphemy.

Colin Smith said...

Julie: "Three of them state they don't work with writers who are looking for agents."

This seems odd to me, and my first reaction is to consider this a negative, like they have something against agents. Someone with insight please shed some light onto how this is not a cause for concern with these small publishers. If you have the author's best at heart, why would you object to authors looking for agents?

AJ Blythe said...

DLM, is that another 4-footed friend trying to muscle in on Gossamer's starring chumbucket role in the background as well?

Like the others I hadn't noticed the change in pic until it was pointed out.

DLM said...

All, y'all can just call me Diane. :) Or DLM since it's easier. Or you can call me Ray ...

And, AJ Blythe, yep, that sure is a Penelope corkscrew tail there. You should see that thing wagging, it's pure comedy gold.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Donna, lima beans, hahahahaha.

Karen McCoy said...


Sorry for the late response--I was in an MFA class all afternoon.

I sent you a private message from the form on your website, but please let me know if you'd like me to contact you another way (assuming you can see this amid the flood of other comments!)

Anonymous said...


This seems odd to me, and my first reaction is to consider this a negative, like they have something against agents.--

One didn't give an explanation, two said they don't offer advances so agents don't want to work with them. Basically, I think I would be pretty much self-publishing.


Laura Brennan said...

Julie and Colin, I agree - I can't imagine why anyone would have a policy against working with writers who are looking for agents. I'd love to know the reasoning.

Oh, and, off-topic, Colin, your mention of loving Penguin this morning reminded me of an article I'd seen, and was just able to find again. The short version is: Sweaters. For endangered penguins. Knit by the oldest man in Australia. And it just gets better from there:

Colin Smith said...

Laura: Awwww!!! I want one!!! :D That's so adorable! Here's the link for the lazy or the Blogger challenged: Penguins wearing Penguins Thank you for sharing!

And as for "Off-topic"--I laughed. Half the comments are varying degrees north or south of the actual topic. How Janet puts up with us, I don't know. :)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

With the announcement that Musa is folding and stranding a lot of writers and a talk with a writer friend of mine who is agented but recently kicked to the curb by her big house publisher, I am going to summon the spirit of Chuck Wendig (I can only keep it for a minute or so, Michelle will only think he passed out in his mashed potatoes,)


In his words big pub, small pub, self-pub . . . exclusive on Kindle, non-exclusive on Kindle . . . that's what a writer's career looks like.

In my words, agented is awesome, but the reality is that there isn't enough room on that merry-go-round.

I liken the query process to being a shirt on a crowded rack. The agent flips through the shirts looking for just the right one for the time of day, weather, style, and event. Many get rejected as ugly, poorly constructed, faded, or ill-fitting.

Out of all the others, 1 or 2 get gleefully pulled off the hangers.

What does that say about the rest of the shirts?

Not a damn thing. It just wasn't the shirt right for that moment.

By diversifying, writers can ease the strain of a small press folding or a big press stuffing you in the Goodwill bag.

I have one series going in self-pub. I will be unveiling a new YA concept at a writers con in July. Nothing wrong with having a shirt on the Juniors rack as well.

Also nothing wrong with you having a second book with a smaller house while you are hunting bigger game because I think the best kind of author's career is a sustainable one.

Okay, Chuck is starting to gurgle in the gravy, I have to return his spirit now.


Christina Seine said...

Terri, I like your garment simile too. Only, when you throw in the idea of going on submission, it becomes like the agent picking clothes off the rack and bringing them to the editors in the dressing rooms.

Or better yet, bringing the clothes to editors who recline like Julia Roberts on a Rodeo Drive divan, answering yay or nay with a wave of the hand as interns bring tapas and scotch.

Anonymous said...

I really think everyone needs to do what they think is best for them. Some people do very well with small presses or self published and some people want to try for traditional publishing.

The only right way is the one that fits you.


Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

@Colin, love your jungle. I think though, that a guide might not be able to protect you from being bitten.

If you consider libraries, think about all the libraries outside of English speaking countries. There is the American library in Paris, for example. Every neighbourhood library in Paris has an English books section. Other countires with small budjets or no budgets would probably love to receive some English books in the mail.

Almost all the books I buy I give to my local Parisian library because my space is limited. I feel I'm opening the door to writers.

I've found only one of Janet's repped books in English sections of the Parisian libraries: The Electric Church.

Sending your books to foreign libraries could help writers to find readers they would never reach otherwise.

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I mean 'the books Janet reps' (Dear Dyslexia, stop messing with my syntax.)

Ginger Mollymarilyn said...

Colin, you have the best analogies. And Terri Coop, I love your T-shirt analogy, too. Both, so resoundingly true.

Julie Weathers said...


The jungle guide is spot on. Visiting Ireland is on my bucket list, but I won't do it until I can hire a guide to show me the things I want to see, not the usual tourist stuff. I certainly don't want to wander around lost, driving on the wrong side of the road for a week.