My first crime novel was published by LastGasp&Die just before they collapsed and has sold 35-40,000 copies. My second was published by Thugs&Malcontents and has sold only 5,000 copies. T&M did absolutely nothing to promote it--didn't even announce its publication let alone send out review copies. My agent has now left the business and I'm searching for a new one. Will an agent and/or publisher ignore me because of the low sales of the second book? Should I query under a pseudonym and not even mention that I have two novels already in print?Yup, you're in trouble.
You recognize it, which is a good first step.
If you queried me and I checked out your website and saw the two previous books, and looked up the sales stats, I'd say no before reading the pages.
That seems harsh doesn't it?
But, it's also the result of my experience trying to resuscitate careers of writers who've had a couple publishers and are now out of contract, with numbers that don't make publishers salivate.
Querying under a pseudonym is the answer that appeals to authors here; it's quick it's easy and it seems to solve the problem.
It doesn't though. In fact, if I found out you were trying to hoodwink me by concealing this info, you'd again receive a pass letter, and it would be a bit chillier than you'd like.
Thus, your reservations about doing so (writing to me rather than just proceeding) speak well for you.
Here's what you need to remember right now: the world and publishing are wired to kick your ass. It's the default position of life. What you DO when that happens is what makes you a real pro.
And here's what you can do:
1. You're going to need a big HUGE new novel. It's got to be what we'd call a breakout novel. Bigger, wilder, better than anything you've ever written. It's going to take you a while to figure out what this novel is about, let alone actually write it.
2. You need to bypass the two dimensional communication of the query letter trenches. You need to meet me (or my ilk) at a conference, talk about your book, let me help you with a query, make me fall in love with your BigNewBeautifulKickAss Book, and I will request pages.
3. Smaller presses can often take on authors who aren't selling 30K copies. They can make money with authors who sell 1000 copies. It's entirely possible to be very well published by a press that's small and nimble.
4. Larger presses will overlook just about anything for a book they think will sell hugely.
The bottom line here is this: You've played well in the minor leagues. You can probably keep playing there if you want BUT, if you want to play ball in Yankee stadium you're going to need to up your game. Most agents want books they think will work for Yankee stadium, not the Toledo MudHens.
There's no shame in deciding to stay semi-pro, or even withdraw from playing on someone else's team altogether.
A lot of readers bought and liked your books. Putting together a publishing team and putting your own work out there is not failure. It's a business decision.
Bottom line: it's a whole lot harder to stay published than to get published and you wouldn't have believed that if I told you so before your first book deal, would you?