Not too long ago, a pitcher for my beloved Texas Rangers carried a no-hitter into the latter stages of the ball game, and everyone was saying, "He's found his stuff. He's going to pitch lights out for the rest of the season." In his next start, the pitcher did so poorly that the manager removed him by the time the fans had eaten their first hot dog. How will he do next time? Who knows? There's no guarantee of a next start. The Rangers are in a pennant race, and every game is important. And two things determine whether a pitcher takes the mound for the team: their last performance and how they do this time.
Despite authors holding to the cherished belief that publishing companies should serve a public-service function, the truth of the matter is that they're in business to make a profit. No profit, no business, and therefore no future contracts for authors.
With a rookie pitcher, the manager and pitching coach have to make a decision based on the minor league performance. Can this guy pitch in the big leagues? If they give him a chance, he might be great or be a flop.
In the case of an untested, untried author, the editor and publications board must make their decision based on an overview of the book, a sample of writing, and an educated guess at how the book will sell. That first book is like a baseball pitcher's preceding start. A good performance gives everyone hope that it will be repeated, and generally leads to a contract for a second book.
But that second book, like a pitcher's next start, is judged not by what happened with the last one but how it performs this time. In publishing, the editor or publisher can't decide after a book has been launched that it's under-performing and go to the bullpen for a "relief book." And that's why we sometimes see an author's name disappear from the list of those published.
The next time you pick up a book by your favorite author, recognize not only the hard work that went into it but the stress that goes with knowing that if this one isn't good it might be your last. Sort of makes you appreciate it more, doesn't it?