Monday, May 23, 2016

Part two, first

Do agents ever consider starting with the second of a two part series?

I published my first novel, of crime plus supernatural, several years ago via a local micro-press. We're a co-op arrangement. We share several editors and cover designers, publish both paperback and ebook via Amazon and Smashwords, and have a distributor to gain better access to bookstores and libraries. I've had 'modest' success, as in I've sold to a few bookstores and libraries and to all my friends and family. All of whom want to see the sequel, of course. However, our press only does first time authors, so I am now looking for an agent.
After several months and some twenty queries, I've had no takers, with just form letter responses.
Is this type of sell a difficult one? Would I be better to self-publish this to satisfy my possibly limited audience (and myself) and focus on sending out the several other novels, in sci-fi and fantasy, that I have written since then?

Let's all remember what my job is: finding books that publishers want to make available for sale in bookstores.

With that in mind, the real question is what book buyer (ie reader) wants to start with book 2?  It's not so much will I take it on, as do I think there's a reader for this?

You see the answer coming don't you?

I know a number of readers who get hives at the thought of reading books out of order.

And here's the real problem: you haven't sold enough books yet to convince a publisher that Book #2 will make them money.

If a reader sees buzz for Book #2, and sees it's a sequel, they are likely to buy Book #1 instead. (Hives, remember)

A publisher looks at that and says: all MY promo money and time and effort is going to benefit Book #1, a book I have no stake in, AND a book I don't know will do the heavy lifting of bringing readers to Book #2.

Publishers are not lying on their backs gazing at clouds wishing for things.
They're sitting in their counting houses scheming about how to make more money than last year. Risk taking is not their first or tenth choice. You and I may not like that much, but it doesn't change that's how things are.

I find it strange that a publishing collective only does first time authors. It seems to me there might be quite a passel of writerly types there who are now in your situation. Perhaps you need to create Son of Collective to publish the loinfruit of those first books.


nightsmusic said...

Son of Collective. That made me laugh (apologies to OP)

My question in the OP's post that wasn't there is; did you publish with the collective to get your book out there with no thought to a future career? You knew they only did first time authors or that's what I get from reading your post. If I had more than one book in a series, in my head, which I do and have done and have written a few of, and knew the small press would only do first timers, I would never consider putting my book out through them. Because then what? You're no longer a first time author to them and they no longer want you. Short career that!

At this point, if your determined to get that second book out there, self publish it. But you need something else that doesn't tie into the first two that you can market to an agent. If you only have these two and no more, I think the hope of getting an agent is lost. As Janet says, no agent is going to want to drive sales of a first book that has nothing to do with them on the off chance that the second will do great things.*

*caveat: a couple of exceptions in the past few years, but only a couple.

Craig F said...

I quite often find myself thinking of heading to market the Lucas way. It is not book two of a series though. It is the second trilogy leading into how my characters end up colonizing a second home for humanity.

That sci-fi is where I had originally started. I thought it would be good to build those characters before setting them in space.

The first three are the rise of a protagonist and fall of a terrorist prince. The second three bring in a second protag. She is a whiz kid who works with magnetic fields and containment. It begins advancing a science theory of mine.

This is wholly different than offering up a second in a series that didn't make a big splash in the market. OP, it might be better to stay with your current arrangement and find ways to increase your market share while starting something else to offer on the road to traditional publishing.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Opie: The Shark has spoken. Self-pub this one. Go with your instincts. Focus and polish your other novels of sci-fi and fantasy to get out to agents.

Thank you, Craig, for highlighting the Star Wars way. I have to admit my head is a bit thick this morning because I found nightsmusic reference too subtle!

Colin Smith said...

Mmm-mmm. Uh-huh. Exactly what nightsmusic said. That was going to be my comment! *high fives NM*

Craig: I didn't see Star Wars when it first came out. I was seven, but we only had one single-screen theater, and I don't think my parents could afford for the family to go. HOWEVER, I'm given to understand that on its initial run, the opening titles didn't carry the episode number, precisely because they didn't know if it would bomb and hence end up as a stand-alone. Only after it started creating buzz did they make the bold move of saying it's "Episode IV". At least that's what I've heard. Open to correction, as always. Though not the Carkoon type. :)

Janet: And here I thought your job was tormenting woodland creatures. :) Oh, and yes... books out of sequence... I can't go for that (no can do). I've read KILLING FLOOR, and I have one other--NEVER GO BACK, I think--which is not the next in sequence. Needless to say, I haven't read it yet because I need to read the 16 books in between first. Have to. Have to... HAVE to... *sweats*

Colin Smith said...

By the way, I came across this site to help those who, like me, are afflicted with SPD (Series Pedantry Disorder):


DLM said...

I actually got stuck at "several months and some twenty queries" ... That's not a lot, really just a start.

But, like Janet, I'm also perplexed at the first-timers only publishing thing. One, why would you go for that, and two - yeah, why would anything be structured this way? Presumably, it's intended as a launch opportunity for debut authors, but personally, I'd rather have either support (an agent/the commercial publishing route) or a plan and control (self/indie publishing).

This question comes down, to some degree, to the issue of standaloneability (I know; it is early on a Monday to be attempting coinage). If this book were a standout standing alone, an agent could sell it; but if it's dependent upon a property an agent can't do anything with, where's the return for them/a publisher/you in the commercial route?

Unknown said...

I went through a period of reading trilogies second, first, third, as a teenager because the library never had the first one when I needed it.

I don't think Janet torments woodland creatures. Pointing out the existence of the abattoir (perils of publishing) isn't quite the same as going at them with bolt-guns. That doesn't mean I don't want to hide under a blanket after some posts.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, this is not an ideal situation. Perhaps, the best thing to do is to write another book unrelated to the first and maybe self-publish the sequel? It looks like the early comments have you pretty well covered.

Son of Collective and loin fruit- that really made me chuckle. Janet, you are a gifted humorist. I am one of those readers who gets hives if I read out of order. I totally get that.

I did a workshop over the weekend where agents looked at my first ten pages. I am working on a full rewrite and wanted to make sure I was heading down the right path. I promise this will be related to our OP. The agent who reviewed my work loved it, absolutely made my millennia with all the praise. I am over the moon with such a strong and crazy positive response. She had virtually no edits and wanted to talk about how my book could be sold. I also write fantasy.

The fifth in her series of suggestions for getting book ready to sell probably also applies to the OP in addition to the 2nd book before 1st. Here is her quote to me.

“The biggest issue in terms of selling this: To make sure you set the story apart from all the others of its ilk. This (fantasy) is such an over-published area right now that without a strong USP, it’s hard to break in.”

So the OP is dealing with a double-edged sword, first OP is trying to sell a 2nd book of an already published series where the 1st book had modest sales, and secondly, OP is trying to sell a book in a genre that is currently bloated. So on one side, take heart, the difficulty has probably nothing to do with the quality of the writing. The difficulty is that publishing is a business and supply exceeds demand at the moment. And of course the whole thing with hives. I am itching right now thinking of reading a second book before a first book.

Also, I would love Janet to talk about how to establish this USP (I think this stands for Unique Sales Position) thingie in a genre that is highly competitive. I doubt this only pertains to fantasy. Please don’t throw me in the Carkoon briar patch. Please. It’s probably been talked about before, but I have only been swimming in The Reef for about nine months now. I am only asking for further guidance because I am a tender woodland creature being crushed under the publishing wheel.

Colin Smith said...

EM: Only nine months? Wow! It's like you've been here for years! :)

Janet: I'm with EM--if you can share some words of wisdom about establishing a USP, please do! *woodland creature ears prick up* *woodland creature eyes widen* :D

Dena Pawling said...

Based on the answer to a question from last week, I think I would focus on sending out one of your other novels to agents, and hold off on doing anything with this second-in-series until later. Second books in a series generally do not sell as well as first books, and you don't want a lower sales number on this second-in-series to taint your ability to sell anything else thru a traditional publisher. I don't know how many sales “moderately successful” means, but if the first book sold 30,000 copies, I'd keep that number and query something else. Agents will see the 30,000 and not the taint of the second-in-series which may sell only 5,000 copies.

nightsmusic said...

Colin, high fives back! :)

And place me right smack dab at the head of the line for absolutely refusing to read a book that is the 2nd, 3rd or 4th in a series first. I did that once. I didn't realize the book I was reading was actually number 6 or 7, I think. When I finally did, 3/4 from the end, I bought all the ones leading up to it, it was that good. But the problem then became, 'gee, I know what's going to happen here/there/two books from now' and it spoiled more of the enjoyment than I thought it would. So I swore, never, ever again. Which brings me to another point with OP. How long does this one-off publisher continue to publish your work? I would be mightily miffed if I bought book #2 from BigTimePublisher who has the money and backing to print lots of copies for a long time if it's selling, and then find out I can no longer buy book #1 from OneOffLouie publishing company. I'm almost inclined to consider getting my rights back on book #1 and then self publishing both. But that's me.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Colin- I am not sure I really existed before I stumbled upon The Reef. It does feel longer. Maybe because I have learned more in past nine months about getting published than in prior two decades. Also, this is such an amazing cast of characters swimming around here.

Cindy C said...

I've got nothing to add to OP this morning, other than to say I'm also one of those readers/Reiders who always reads series in order. In fact, I'm on the way to the library this morning to return a book unread because I realized it was Book 3 after I got home with it! Luckily, Books 1 and 2 are now waiting for me on the reserve shelf. Unluckily, someone else has requested Book 3, so I'll have to rejoin the queue waiting for it. IF I like the first two enough to keep going--and that's the problem for those of us writing series and why it's important for the first book to be able to stand alone. While I do always reads series in order, I don't continue reading once the writer loses my interest.

Julie Weathers said...

You know, at this point in my life, it looks likes one of those yoga positions, interesting, but not at all appealing. Like others, I have to wonder, "What in the blue blazes was the OP thinking?" Always plan for success. A one book publishing outfit is a plan for failure unless your name is God or something.

I have a love hate relationship with bookstores, library books sales, and Joe Snoe right now. Joe, bless his heart, shared his wonderful list of his haul from the library sale with me and made me realize how much I miss my Texas library book sales.

I go into bookstores and library sales with a more or less specific idea of what I want. In the bookstore, I'll see someone I know and think, "Oh! Treasure!" Then I see the discount tables. A warning goes off in my brain, "Warning, Will Robinson, Warning!" However, since I am not Will Robinson, I proceed on with Gay Abandon and that wench is a a bigger book whore than I am. "Oh, Julie, look. You need this one."


"It's about pirates."

"I already have ten books about pirates."

"Yes, but this is about lady pirates."

"Yeah, you're right. I need it."

"Here's some books Will would like. Oh, and some books for soldiers. And books for YOU!!!!"

"But they're the second or third or tenth in the series!"

"It's ok, the next time you come in, you can look for the others and pick them up. It'll be fun."

Months later: "Gay, my bookshelves are overflowing with book series that are missing pieces."

Trudging off to bookstore and whipping out a list that resembles a child's Christmas list. "Hello, H. C. That stands for Helpful Clerk, no doubt, oh joy! I have these missing books from series'. I don't suppose you have them somewhere on a discount table or clearance rack?"

H.C. smiles and you notice the red glow in her eyes as she rubs her hands in glee. This is not Helpful Clerk. This is Hell Clerk, because no reader in their right damned mind is ever going to read a series out of order to begin with. "Oh, no, ma'am. But I'll be happy to order them all for you."

Theresa said...

Son of Collective!

I think I've found my new no-swear phrase.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I just about fell out of my chair laughing at Julie's comment - I can so relate! My friend gave me a bunch of books before I moved to Wisconsin (which is a time when you should be getting rid of books, not hoarding them. Oops!) and several of them were the later books in a series. So I finally ordered the first couple books, just before (you guessed it) I move again!

I really need to get this 'getting-rid-of-stuff-before-you-move' stuff down.

As for OP, that's a tough situation. I'd recommend self-publishing, but Dena also makes a really good point. I wish you luck either way!

Julie Weathers said...


First off, that is utterly fantastic. hearing praise like that has to put you on cloud nine. Having read a bit of your work, I think it does stand out from the crowd.

I've talked about my friend Zach Recht before who wrote the Plague of the Dead series. He never really thought he'd be anything other than a very small author. He started publishing his story in serial installments on his blog and established a well-known and very likable persona on the horror forums. It wasn't hard, he was very quick-witted and funny. He wrote short stories and shared them with his fans.

His story caught the eye of Permuted Press, a small horror publisher who wanted to publish PotD. So, he had to take it all down offline. They set to work and released it. It set all kinds of company records. Whoo hoo. Released the second book. Even bigger sales. Now everyone is noticing. Simon and Schuster buys out Permuted Press and makes a deal to repackage the books, re-release them and do audio. Third book. Yeehaw!

Zach is on the way.

I've been pondering Far Rider very briefly in the back of my mind since I shelved it. I still haven't tackled how to rewrite it and I'm not focused on it now. However, I've thought a bit about a few things.

I realized this year I needed to do more to promote Julie Weathers. I'll probably do more short stories on the blog and maybe try to sell some. Like, Zach, I'm going to get involved in a genre community.

For The Rain Crow I'm kind of in a unique position. I have a gaming company that will help promote it. I'll probably try to sell some historical stories relate to events in the book to magazines.

With Cowgirls Wanted I've was in the horse industry so long, I have a ton of interesting stories to call on. I'll promote the hound through western and horse magazines, museums, etc. Museums aren't going to make a person a lot of money, but they might get you some attention from the right people.

The whole trick is, what makes your book unique? What makes you unique? How can you parlay that into an asset?

Child joke 101: How do you catch a unique rabbit?

Unique up on it.

Rothfuss is a pretty good writer, but he has combined his distinctive skill sets and training to write an original magic system. It almost seems like science fiction in a way. It's one thing that really sets him apart.

Back to the OP, once again, I believe the others are right. Self publish the next book if you think you must, but remember the thing about agents looking at sales numbers. At what point do you want to cut your losses and move on?

John Davis Frain said...


That's great stuff. Well done.

USP, in my history, comes from the advertising world. Was created by a guy at Ted Bates (basis for the series Mad Men, I believe) and stood for Unique Selling Proposition. The guy who created it was a legend on par with David Ogilvy named Rosser Reeves. His life became Don Draper on Mad Men.

In advertising, USP is the ONE reason someone will buy your product over your competition. So, Ivory Soap, because it's 99 44/100% pure. Or M&Ms because they melt in your mouth, not in your hand. Or Mobil 1 because it saves gas. Pound that message home.

Translate that into your manuscript, EM. Why does a reader buy your book instead of all the other fantasy titles out there? You give that answer to that agent, and she can sell it. Easier said than done, of course.

But it's a good lesson to think about when putting together your query. Get in the mindset: Not only what my story is about, but why a reader will choose my story over the rest of the market, especially a crowded market like fantasy. (And aren't they all crowded?!)

John Davis Frain said...

I thought your Child joke was going to be about Lee Child. What the reader brings to the story, eh!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Julie and John, thanks both of you. I would like to think my stuff will stand out but just here on the Reef, competition is fierce. And we're only a few woodland creatures. Being an omnivorous reader, I can't wait to dig into John Frain's manuscript, and all 3 of Julie's books sound amazing. I love the snippets I have read. John's books are the kind I like to devour beachside so I best have that book in hand by end of next summer or else...

I made a stab at stating my USP as best I could and the agent has promised feedback. But it felt awkward. Still, if I can state that in a few sentences, it is sure to improve my query going forward. I am curious if Janet has some advice on how to best convey why your book and not someone else's. Perhaps, I should study queryshark a bit more closely. Anyhow, I am excited. This was the first time an agent wanted to talk to me beyond the writing and on to the selling. What a great boost despite the dauntingly bloated space I find myself competing for.

cleemckenzie said...

I'd rather read books in order, but I don't get an attack of hives if I don't. However, I'm still a great fan of the stand alone. So often books 2,3 or whatever aren't as good as 1. It's as if the authors are cranking out those next stories because they have to, not because they're in love with them anymore.

Julie Weathers said...


I thought your Child joke was going to be about Lee Child. What the reader brings to the story, eh!--

See, that just shows I've been around children too long or never grew up that I retain kindergarten jokes. You were expecting an adult? Seriously?

Elise, you need to brand yourself as the Black Angus Beef, so to speak, of fantasy. Of course, you actually need to be the Black Angus Beef. The reason it costs more is because it's certified. The meat has finer marbling, which makes it more tender and juicy. Not only did the Angus Council realize they had a superior product for today's market, they seized on a way to promote it. People are looking for leaner and yet still tender and juicy beef. Unless you're a vegetarian. Then you're still turning green at the thought.

What traits set your story apart? Cows are cows are cows unless they're Black Angus cows these days, but someone had to recognize that.

Colin Smith said...

cleemckenzie: I agree. There are few series books I've read (and I mean series where a single main story is told over multiple volumes, like THE HUNGER GAMES, or HARRY POTTER, not as in Jack Reacher, or James Bond) that maintained a consistently high quality of writing and storytelling throughout. Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN series is, at least for me, an outstanding example of a series where books 2 and 3 are as good as 1. Marissa Meyer's LUNAR CHRONICLES is another.

Colin Smith said...

Perhaps this is an obvious caveat to Julie's Black Angus Beef, but I'll make it since we might have some newbies reading:

Yes, your novel should stand out from the crowd, but that should happen because you have an interesting premise and your writing is compelling. Not because you snail-mailed your query and put glitter in the envelope, or you wrote your query in haiku such that no-one has a clue what your novel's actually about. Or you wrote your novel in Comic Sans. *shiver*

E.M. Goldsmith said...

But Colin I was going to present my USP in all emoticons? And maybe have some kind of musical card that sings when she opens it... Or maybe not.

Julie- that is a fine analogy. I am pretty sure I am marbled and tender. And I really do want steak, whisky, and cake - I will spin some soy and kale into a meat looking thing for Colin. Let's all do dinner.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Janet, and commenters, for some great feedback.
I wrote novel #1 just to see if I could, not with any career in mind, but a casual comment to a micro-publisher at a book fair led to publication. The co-op itself was set up as a way for new authors to help each other get published under a publisher name, with a distributor link also. But still very low key, I admit. If the author does well and wants to try more, the idea is to then move up and search out agents/publishers for subsequent books. A number of 'our' authors have done just that. I hadn't intended part two of my story at the time, and it is a standalone, but in hindsight I can see the problem readers, and hence publishers, might have with it. Too bad, because I like the story/characters even more now.
Luckily I do have four other novels, waiting for editing, in the sci-fi and fantasy genre's. I do like writing - who knew? I think my best option is to still try more agents for novel #2, just in case I find someone, but to focus mainly on the other ones to market to agents.

Joseph S. said...

E.M. Goldsmith sums it up perfectly:

I would like to think my stuff will stand out but just here on the Reef, competition is fierce.

Julie Weathers said...


When I got back the last rejection from super agent with the detailed letter about why it wouldn't work, he gave me some options. Among them was to do a massive rewrite and add to it fleshing out a number of things and then figure out how to split the story. Other than that, use the bones to write a new book. He liked the characters, the premise, and the writing. (You'd think that would be enough, wouldn't you?)

Maybe you can steal the characters and some of the things you like to write a new book.

I know it seems impossible, but let it simmer for a while and you'd be surprised at what might shake out.

Lennon Faris said...

Hmm interesting problem...

Ravens - if #1 is a standalone, and you hadn't intended for it to be a '#1' at the time, could you just write the next part of the storyline and call THAT #1, and just incorporate bits of your first published book in, enough so that readers aren't confused? you could treat your previously published book as an extra preliminary story, not #1 in the series. Then you could say something like, I've used these characters in a previously published novel, or something like that, to agents now.

Totally going by the seat of my pants here, just throwing out ideas. Janet (or other more knowledgeable reef crew) might throw this idea in the incinerator (chum bucket? shark tank?).

Lennon Faris said...

And EM - that's awesome! You must be over the moon :)

Colin Smith said...

Ravens: Thanks for asking this question and generating some good discussion here. :)

May I challenge you to think about why you want to pursue an agent for #2, especially in light of Janet's advice. Is this the best use of your time? Say you get an interested agent, what then? If #2 is dependent on #1, how will you address that issue with the agent? What do you expect the agent to do? Is that realistic?

Here's my 2c, for what it's worth. Go with something new. You have other projects, pursue those. At some later date, when you have an agent, and maybe a novel or two on the market, you could get your agent to reach out to that micropublisher and see what the status is of #1. It might be out of print, which could open opportunities for re-working it into a new novel that your agent could sell, with #2 already written (Janet: reality check--is this plausible?). Or by that time, #1 and #2 might both be a fading memory, and you no longer care.

Stop and think. From what Janet says, continuing to query #2 is just asking for more rejections. And you're not a masochist, are you? Are you? :)

Barbara Etlin said...

Bethany, you've got it right now (re: moving and taking more books with you).

In the Great Book Purge of 2010, when we moved from a house to a condo, we got rid of a lot of books. Guess what? I've been slowly buying back the ones I've missed most. (And adding new ones, as usual).

Colin Smith said...

I'm sorry...

Getting. Rid. Of. Books.
Book. Purge.

I know what each of these words mean, but put together like this..? Sorry, I don't understand...


Miles O'Neal said...

Julie, I think Gay Abandon must be a bookstore shill, because she always goes book shopping with me, as well. And the same. Thing. Always. Happens.

Colin, not only did the first Star Wars movie not have a number, that was all the name there was- "Star Wars". "A New Hope" was added when it was re-released after the success of the sequels.

Also, Colin, I have a lot of trouble understanding what those words mean when thrown together. They look like piles of meaningless rubble to me.

nightsmusic said...

We moved a year and a half ago. Downsized. I moved around 3,000 books. Yes, that many. Boxes and boxes and boxes. I too, do not understand 'book' and 'purge' when grouped together...

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Book. Purge. No. Nope. Not a thing. New bookshelves. Small addition to hold bookshelves. Replacing kitchen with bookshelves. Those are things. More books. Not less.

CynthiaMc said...

I'm one of the read things in order crowd, but that all goes out the window with the Jack Reacher books. I don't know if anyone has a list of thise books in chronological order, but you might want to look at it if there is one. Lee Child is all over the place in time and who's living and who isn't at any given time. Strangely enough, I don't mind. I just finished his short story Second Son. In it Reacher is 13 so you might want to start with that one. There's only been one book of his I didn't like. The rest of them are sublime.

CynthiaMc said...

These - that's what I get for only having 5 minutes to post this.

Colin Smith said...

CynthiaMc: See my comment above @ 7:53am. :)

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and to add insult to injury, not only are my 2 Jack Reacher books not in consecutive sequence, my copy of KILLING FLOOR is a Mass Market Paperback, while NEVER GO BACK is a Hardcover. And they just look WRONG sitting together on the shelf.

Me and my First World problems... :)

Beth H. said...

Ah, moving and books. I will be moving long-distance soon, and I have a couple of gift certificates to local bookstores that I must use before then. This could be a problem.

John Davis Frain said...


Good luck to you. If you have four new manuscripts to play around with and prepare for submission, you've got plenty of good times ahead of you. Enjoy all the wordplay.

And who knows, maybe a few books later, you'll pull the characters from book #2 and make a whole new story that your agent will beg you to finish so she/he can sell it. Life is funny that way sometimes.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

I am grateful that we do have the option of indie publishing, and that it has gained a respectable foothold in the eyes of enough readers to make it a viable and even profitable option, should commercial publishing not be an option.

Ravens, what is Book 2? Is it a true sequel to Book 1, and if I were to read it, I'd have absolutely no idea who's who and what's going on, because I know nothing about Book 1?

Or, if it is a standalone novel as you say, pitch it as such.

Though, it does sound like it may be in your absolute best interests, with four other novels under your belt, to win an agent with one of those instead. Remember, a good agent takes you on for your whole career, all things going well. The first book you pitch to her isn't going to be the only one she'll sell.

You were planning on her selling the other four books, right? If so, why not hook her with one of those?

Now, it could be for any reason she might not be able to sell your lovely Book 2. Many agents are supportive of their authors going hybrid.

Right now your biggest goal shouldn't be getting Book 2 published. It should be getting a good agent who'll help you sell Books 2-7. Nothing says you must get books published in the order in which you wrote them.

Don't focus so much on this child that the others miss out on ballet lessons as well.

Kae Ridwyn said...

I love the honesty of this place. "Publishers are not lying on their backs gazing at clouds wishing for things. They're sitting in their counting houses scheming"

It's refreshing to find someone who tells it like it is. Thanks for that, Janet!