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.

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