Friday, July 11, 2014

Query question: how much less enticing is a second novel

I read recently on Query Shark that you feel if "it's no longer your first novel" ... then it's "less enticing." I was wondering how less enticing a second novel could be to an agent/publisher.

I published my first novel with a very small west coast press. It was nice getting published and seeing my book on (select) bookstore shelves, but my publisher was so small, their idea of book promotion was pretty much telling their friends about it.

I don't regret the publication experience (the book got a really good Kirkus Review and it sold a few copies) but I wonder: how much will my being the previously published author of a low-selling book hurt my chances of having my query letter responded to by agents?

I have a math brain (I know, strange for a writer). Can you answer in a percentage? (ie. 20% less likely).....

Also, do agents see a big difference between an author having a book published by a major publishing house (and then failing to achieve sales) and an author publishing a book with a small publisher and only reaching a small audience? (In my opinion, an agent would be crazy to hold it against an author for poor sales figures when the publishing house is small & regional)....

It's much much easier to get an editor's attention for a debut novel than it is for your Debut +N novel.
That's just a fact of the publishing world these days.

There's no way to quantify that desirability (ie no, it's not 20% less or PiRSquared less or even the cube root of Rubik's less)

When I sign an author for a book that is not debut, I have a couple tricks up my sleeve about how to position the book for pitching.  I'm not going to tell you what they are. I'm sure every agent worth her salt has a slew of them as well.

If you get an agent for the book that's one of the things you want to ask before you sign: what's your submission strategy here?  And "oh, just send it out and see what happens" is NOT the answer you want to sign with.

And yes, where that first book was published matters a lot. 

This is where you want to be very careful who you sign with. You want an agent with some real experience here. There's a lot to be said for the younger ones starting out (and more than a few started
here at the Reef) but some things come with experience and this is one of them.


Artemis Grey said...

I am SO glad someone asked this question, and you answered it!

I'm still seeking an agent, but through a contest, I've ended up getting involved (not quite a revise resub, but an offer to resub) from a press. I've been holding out on sending the manuscript back to the publisher, even though I think it has a pretty good chance of being accepted because I really feel like for me, having an agent is a necessity, and I worried that even if I'm successfully published, it might inhibit my chances of landing an agent for future works. Even more complicating would be if I received any sort of multiple book deal, all of which would fall outside any prospective agent's sphere.

Rakie said...

i'm in a similar position - first novel published by very small (and now sadly defunct) publisher... except that mine was released under a pen name... Now, just hypothetically speaking, would it be possible and/or advisable to query my new novel under my real name and deny all knowledge of the first book? :)

Bonnie Shaljean said...

I think it's a really bad idea to pretend (or even be evasive about) your first book. If an agent is interested in you, you can bet your boots she's going to investigate your professional history, and ask you outright if you've published a novel before. Then you either have to tell a bare-faced lie (and get caught) or bluff it out (and get caught).

Either way, she's bound to feel she can't trust you, which is not only a probable deal-killer, but a reputation-wrecker too. That won't help your cause one bit in the publishing world. You want to keep your name sparkling clean so you can build a brand out of it, not spend the rest of your life wiping the dirt off.

Even worse, if the agent doesn't catch the truth, but someone else does. Then she's got egg on her face too, and not the kind you break to make omelettes with. She'll hardly thank you.

Own up, and let the agent work with the material she's got, along with a clear understanding of what ground she's standing on. Good luck!

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Like BonnieShaljean said. You are not trying to trick an agent into signing you. You're trying to enter into a business relationship with someone who is going to use his/her knowledge of the industry to help you succeed. You just can't start that with a lie.