Before we went to Colorado, I got the first six chapters of my new novel finished, prettied up, and sent to my agent. Which started me thinking...while there’s a ton of information out there about getting that first book published, few people talk about what happens after that. What about books two, three, and more?
I used to assume that once an author got that first book deal, she’d be in like Flynn—her publisher would snap up the manuscripts as quickly as the writer could scribble `em down. Once published, always published, right?
As it turns out, there’s a reason most agents tell their writers to hang onto the day job. Writing—especially novel writing—is not even close to a stable way to earn a living. Just because someone wanted one of your books doesn’t guarantee they’ll welcome another. As New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerrittsen has said on her blog*: “A writer is only as good as his last book.” Ouch.
But the process does change. Most significantly, I have my amazing agent on my side. Some months ago, I told her my idea for book #3 to see what she thought. She gave the thumbs-up, and so I plunged forward. What would’ve happened if she thought the idea was a dud? Then we’d talk: does the concept just need some tweaking, or does it need to be scrapped altogether? This is one of the reasons a writer really, really needs a good agent. Someone who is interested not only in your first book, but in your entire career. Someone who knows the market and how your work might best fit. And someone who can sweetly push you to do more than you ever thought possible. I’m lucky—my agent is all those things, and more. She’s the bee’s knees.
So, backed by her encouragement, I wrote the first six chapters. I also wrote a synopsis—my vision for the book as a whole, including major characters, conflicts, and narrative arc.
Now what happens? My agent will read what I’ve written so far and give me her opinion. Do agents ever reject work from their clients? Sure they do. If your agent doesn’t think the book will sell, then it’s her job to tell you, so that you don’t spend a year or more on a futile project. Bookends Literary Agency has a great blog post on that subject here. (Do authors ever disagree with their agents? Yes. Sometimes spectacularly so, as when Garth Stein’s agent rejected his novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain. Stein believed in his book so much, he rejected the rejection and sought new representation. The book has been published to great acclaim and translated into 26 languages. This is a huge exception, but it does happen.)
What do I do while I wait to hear back from my agent? Keep writing, of course. My goal is to have a new chapter ready for my writers’ group next week. And I’m putting together two presentations for media events early next year. I'll fill you in on that sometime later. Perhaps when I have a clear grasp of what I'm doing...although I'm finding that that usually happens only when the whole thing is over. (I guess that's why they call it a learning curve...)
*If you want to know what it's really like to be an internationally best-selling author...book tours, insomnia-producing anxieties, warehouse book signings (did you even know there was such a thing? I didn't), then you've got to visit Tess. She's gotten flak for not being all sunshine and roses, but she says hey--if you don't want the truth, don't read the blog. Publishing is a weird, weird industry, and Tess--having published twenty books in twenty years--is one of the best tour guides ever.