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.