Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Next?

(This post originally appeared on Writer Unboxed, the excellent website for writers hosted by Therese Walsh and Kathleen Bolton).

            The other day I was in a bookstore and saw my novels on display. You might be surprised to know that, rather than just exhilaration, the experience generated mixed emotions. Sure, I’m thrilled that I’ve reached this point in my writing journey. I’ve made it to a place lots of my colleagues would love to occupy. But I’m also wondering, “Now, what?”
The publication of my first novel led to contracts for three more books with the same publisher. Now the last contract has been fulfilled. If I were an actor, I’d be “between engagements.” As an author, I’m “between contracts.” Where do I go from here? How do I (and my agent) go about moving on? Will the publisher that gave me my start want more of my books? Would there be interest from another publishing house in my next series? And sometimes I ask myself the toughest question of all: will anyone want my work? I’ve made it to this point, but will that be as far as I go?
You’re probably shaking your head, saying, “You’ve got it made. A published author has a leg up on all the rest of us.” At one time I thought that was true. Like most of you, I’d heard that published authors had some advantages. You don’t need a completed manuscript—the publishers know you can do it. You’re a known quantity. You have name recognition. You understand the industry. But, as Gershwin so eloquently put it, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Let’s start with the manuscript. Your published works demonstrate your ability to put the words together. They show that you can finish a book. But you still must produce a sample of your next book. Along with that, an editor wants to know the story arc you have planned. In other words, they want a synopsis, and everyone—even a published author—has to write one. My best description of a synopsis is a single-spaced, three- to five-page outline of plot that writers hate to write and editors may not read. But try putting together a proposal that doesn’t contain a synopsis, and see how far you get.
How about being a known quantity as a published author? That’s true, but whether that quantity is good or bad depends on our sales figures. A few authors are an instant success, but most of us build a readership over time, and if the sales numbers for the first book are low, there may not be an opportunity for the second or third book to serve as stepping-stones to increasing readership. Good sales numbers are a definite plus, but bad sales numbers are harder to overcome than a garlic sandwich before a first date.
As for name recognition, that hardly ever comes from one published book. There are other factors involved, and they all require work on the author’s part. We must have a presence on the Internet and social media. Nowadays, editors want to know about the traffic our website and blog generate. They are interested in how many Facebook followers we have. We must have a “platform,” and publication doesn’t guarantee one.
What about knowing the industry? True, the experience of being published shows us a lot about the publishing industry. But sometimes what we learn makes us even more doubtful that anyone will give us another contract. The industry is constantly changing, no one really knows what effect ebooks will have, self-publication continues to sing its siren song. Yes, a published author knows the industry, but sometimes it’s a matter of “the more you know, the more unsure you are.”
Despite my misgivings and doubts, I’m continuing to write my next novel, my agent is pitching it to various editors, and we’ll hope for the best. If we’re successful, in a few years maybe I’ll again stand in a bookstore, look at my books, and wonder, “Now what?” 
Update: As many of you may already know, I just signed with Thomas Nelson Company for three more novels of medical suspense, so the wondering and worrying is over for a bit--except for wondering if I can meet my deadlines and worrying that the quality of the work won't be adequate. But that's a post for another day.

1 comment:

Carol J. Garvin said...

I saw Rachelle's tweet about your deal with Thomas Nelson, and I'm so pleased for you! Congratulations!

It seems like all we aspiring authors want is to be published, but I'm learning that publication is just another step in an on-going journey. I really think you have the right attitude though... not taking any of it for granted will keep you striving to do your best. :)