Friday, February 28, 2014

FRESH ON FRIDAY: Avoiding the Sophomore Curse

I CAN'T COUNT the number of times I’ve had the conversation…
“I sold my novel,” a newer writer will tell me breathlessly. And then comes part two: “And they like it so much that they asked for a second book in the same contract.”
Not exactly.
When you sell a book, quite often you’ll wind up with an offer for more than that one book. Two- and three-book contracts are relatively common in the publishing industry.
With established writers, the multi-book contract affords the publisher a level of price protection. The contract guarantees that, even if the first book in the deal takes off as a runaway best-seller, creating a huge appetite for more of the author’s work, the publisher is not going to be priced out of the market on the second book.
That’s because the advance for all of the books in the contract is arrived at and agreed upon by all parties long before the initial copies of the first book roll out.
And with newer writers, a multi-book contract is a tool with which the publisher hopes to grow the author’s brand.
The first book establishes that writer in the marketplace, gets his or her name known, and may or may not prove to be profitable for the publisher.
Then the second book goes to market on the shoulders of the first, and hopefully does better.
In a perfect world, the second novel can even breathe secondary life into demand for the writer’s debut work.
But that’s assuming both books are equally good.
Now, think about it… If you are working on your debut novel right now, chances are you’ve been at it for a while. You probably have worked on it, off and on, for several months or, quite possibly, several years.
You may have taken it to workshops, gotten critiques, and revised it several times on the basis of that advice. If you have an agent, it’s likely he or she coached you on how to make it stronger, and you took that advice. Or an acquisitions editor may have said, “We like it a lot, but we’d like it even better if…” and so maybe you revised it again.
The bottom line is, you’ll put in a lot of time creating a first novel that is really and truly ready to sell. And once it is sold, you’ll be revising it, checking galleys, approving (and perhaps writing) catalog material and back-cover blurbs, and then promoting it as the launch approaches.
So, understanding that: what do you think the chances are of you writing an equally good, or even better, second novel, and having it in to the publisher a year or less after the acceptance of the first?
Second novels often suffer from that multi-book-contract deadline pressure.
The best solution to this is, after you have written a great first novel, to write a great second novel as well—a novel that both begins and ends well—before offering the first to a publisher, or bringing it out as a self-pub.
To most unpublished novelists, this sounds like heresy, because the thing they want most in life, or at least want only slightly less than oxygen, is to have a book in print. Their book. With their name on it.
But the eventual aim of most novelists is books—plural—and unless you are simply working on a novel to cross it off your bucket list, you will end up far, far happier in your work (and life in general) if you can get yourself ahead of the curve ... if, when you send out your first novel, you have an equally great (or possibly even greater) second novel warmed up, on deck and ready to follow.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TUESDAY TIPS: Going for the Group

PARTICULARLY IF YOU LIVE in or near a major city, locating a writers’ group is not difficult at all. A few minutes on Google or Meetup is all it should take to give you several to choose from.
But narrowing that field down to the groups that are right for you?  That’s going to take a little research.
First, even if the group is billed as a fiction-writers’ workshop, you need to find out if it is composed of your kind of fiction writers. If you write Christian mystery, and the group you are considering is composed primarily of people who specialize in erotica … that is probably not going to work out very well. If romance writers predominate in a group, they may come with some surprisingly rigid expectations regarding the relationships in your novel—expectations that may or may not fit with your vision. And if you write speculative or fantasy fiction, but your group is neck-deep into crime novels or thrillers, then neither of you may “get it” when it comes to the other’s genre.
Ideally, you want to find a group composed of people who love the sort of fiction you love.
By far the best way to do this is to know something about the group going in. If you have friends or colleagues who participate in writers’ groups, you can ask them about their groups: what they like about them, and where they feel they might fall a little short. Or if you’re the only writer in your circle of friends and family, you can do a little research; start with the reviews or comments online, look at the group’s blog if it has one, and see if they maintain a calendar and, if so, what sort of activities they have. For instance, some groups will have published authors in from time to time to talk about their work and share their path to publication, and that’s always a nice plus.
Look at the frequency of the meetings; anything less than weekly may not give you the consistent feedback you are looking for, while a group that meets several times a week will probably overwhelm you, if you are trying to both write and hold down a conventional job.
If the group has been running for a while, what success stories does it have? It’s always good to know that several of the alumni—or even the current participants—have written saleable fiction and are producing work that is welcomed in the marketplace.
Check also to see if there is a cost. A nominal amount to cover the cost of meeting space and refreshments is not unreasonable. Some groups meet in bookstores or libraries or church breakout rooms, and so the space is free, but they ask members to chip in to cover incidentals. But if the cost seems steep, that’s a red flag—the results you will see from a writers’ group will not be instantaneous, and you want to be certain that whatever you are paying is something you can foot month after month for years.
And if you can’t find this information online, phone up the contact person for the group and ask about it.
When you find a group (or two or three) that seems promising, reach out to the contact person and ask if you can sit in for a meeting or two and observe. Most workshops will be more than fine with this; they want people who are a good fit for their group just as much as you want to find a group that will work for you.