Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Is #2 more important than #1?

By Joe Moore

image Here’s a question that popped up recently on a writer’s forum: has being published made it easier for agents and editors to accept your future work? Are they more lenient because you’ve already been published or do they give your writing the same level of scrutiny that unpublished submissions?

There are many factors here that can affect the publication of a second or third book. Obviously, the success of book one will certainly help getting a contract on the next one. But just because you had the first one published is no guarantee contracts will be issued on follow-ups.

I think that being published through traditional, legitimate methods means that you’re writing on a professional level. And people who write at a professional level usually have an easier time at getting published. Publishing credits do help in getting read, but there’s no substitute for a great book.

I also believe that the most important book you'll ever write is your second one. Number 2 is THE book. It's far more important than the first or the third, perhaps the most important of your career. Many folks can write one book, but the number declines when it comes to that second novel. It's the one that can make, damage or even destroy a future in fiction.

What do you think? Did you feel it was easier to get that second book published after the first hit the shelves? Do you think #2 is critical?

Don’t forget to download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.

17 comments:

  1. Although there is some security in a multi-book contract, each book has to maintain or outsell its predecessor and that adds its own pressure. I could write a book about the pressure on me to write a follow-up and what happened there and maybe I will, but it will be a long bleak blog... After seven published novels it's still a struggle.

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  2. You're right, John. It never gets easier. And I would say that if it does, the writer may be cutting corners, falling into formulas, or relying on cliche. I'm writing my 6th novel right now and there's nothing easy about it. The ideas come freely but the words don't. If it's a different case for someone else, then I'm happy for them. And in addition to my domestic publisher, I have 2 dozen foreign publishers with high expectations.

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  3. You make a good point about people who are working on their second book having an easier time because they are writing at a professional level. Though I’m not sure I would have used the word legitimate here. It brings to mind that someone has kidnapped the publisher’s daughter and won’t return her until the book is published. I don’t think many authors would resort to that.

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  4. Hi Timothy. I consider legitimate publishers to be ones which do not contractually obligate their authors to pay for such services as advertising, sales, marketing, editing, or promotion of their books. They would normally acquire rights to a publication because it is investing capital; undertake marketing efforts with a sales and/or marketing force; and utilize the sale of books as a means of recouping capital outlays and realizing a profit. In most cases, they pay some form of an advance against royalties and always register the work's copyright in the name of the author.

    If a publisher does not meet these broad specs, they may not be legitimate as in vanity press where profit comes from money invested by the author, not in the author.

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  5. Great post, Joe. Even if one has a multi-book deal, I always say, "Write as if you have a one book contract." You've got to give your all with each new book. And you're right, it doesn't get easier --because a writer knows MORE with each book. The standards get higher (as they should) and you can see more clearly where you need to go, where you fall short, etc.

    But that's also a challenge the true writer relishes.

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  6. Writing, like most worthwhile pursuits, is never easy if you are doing it right. A professional always tries to stretch each effort to make it better than the last effort. You pick up something with every book you write, and the challenge is to push yourself harder and take chances. Writing within a formula gets monotonous for a writer and their readers. I hear readers say, "I read all of her books, which are pretty much all the same." And I wonder why keep reading the same book over and over. Maybe some fans are like people who eat in the same fast food restaurants because they know what to expect each time. There's nothing new I can say about readers who complain but keep on eating a Big Mack every meal and complaining about it when there's hundreds of choices out there.

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  7. In many ways, writing #2 is harder than #1, because you probably have a contract and are on a tight deadline. With #1, you have the luxury of taking as much time as needed. Plus, everyone is expecting you to out-do your previous work. Definitely, it's pressure.

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  8. Anon 10:27, that is a very important point. With the first book you can take all the time you want. I took three years to write my first book. After that, it was 1 year each under contract with a hard deadline. New writers have no idea what facing a deadline means. My second thriller, THE LAST SECRET, was finished on the day it was due. Fortunately, the due-date fell on a national holiday and the publisher was closed. So my co-writer and I bought an extra day for a final read through.

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  9. I think the second is much harder - because you are probably on deadline and expectations are greater - with each book you should be getting better as a writer (which places just a wee bit of pressure on you!). Don't foget by book 2 you also have a track record with book 1...which publishers and booksellers will know.

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  10. Oh Joe,
    I'm right there writing book #2 for my first three book series. The process is scary. Mostly because book #1 won't be out till May 2011 via a legit publisher and I won't know how readers will respond to it let alone book #2. So all I can do is write the strongest story I can and hope to keep the readers interested.

    This is begining to sound like a good topic for Tuesday. Because I'm new at this, what's the BEST way to know you are writing a better, stronger book for the next and the next?

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  11. I signed a two book contract, so the second was guaranteed publication. However, as Clare said, it was a challenge. Partly because I suddenly had just six months for the first draft, secondly because there was that pressure to surpass the first novel. I was fortunate in that my numbers went up dramatically with the second book (BONEYARD). That made it easier to get the next contract for two more books.

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  12. This is a curious topic. I'm currently unpublished and working on the draft of my first novel, but it makes me think to the future. Assuming your first book is a stand-alone, do you generally find it easier to sell/promote a second book based on the first's story world -- or is it easier to create a whole new stand-alone volume? I'm curious because as I've worked through my drafts, I continually find potential plot offshoots that deserve stories in their own right.

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  13. Richard, your question is almost impossible to answer. I would keep track of any story threads and ideas for future books, but my advice for an unpublished writer is to focus solely on that first book and don't be distracted with what might happen. Write the best story you can. With any luck, once you've signed that first contract, the publisher will want more. But stay focused on book #1. There will never be a book 2 without it.

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  14. Jillian, you've answered your own point. There's no way of knowing the future. Like I suggested to Richard, stay focused on the task at hand and assume everyone will love your first book. Good luck.

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  15. If your standalone is successful, you can expect pressure for a sequel using the same characters. If not for book #2, then for number three. I was under pressure to use the same characters from my first book for number two and it didn't work because I was done with those characters mentally and I could not get them to work in another book. It's a tragic story and precautionary tale, far too long and involved to tell here, maybe anywhere.

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  16. On a somewhat related note--though I'm sure it varies, is there an "average" amount of time you get to write your second and subsequent books? Would it be fair to say a year is standard? (and I assume it also depends on the genre/category you are writing among other variables)?

    As an unpubbed writer, my first manuscript has taken years. And given that most authors can't rely solely on income from writing to survive, it's not like publishing a book is suddenly going to free me from the drudgery of the day job. So leaping from years to months to finish a book just seems completely unrealistic.

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  17. BK, one year is the general rule.

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