Monday, 9 February 2009


It's often said that when you've been published once, you have "got your foot in the door". What's less often but equally truthfully said is that if the door is very heavy, this can be a singularly painful and stupid place to have your foot.

Of course, being published the first time is a wonderful feeling. For a while, the future doesn't matter: the present is everything. You don't care whether your book sells in pallet-loads - after all, you won't have to give back your advance, your parents / children are proud of you at last, and what else matters? You're still heady on the cheap Cava from your (self-funded) launch. Your friends are proud to know you. Your mum is talking about, "My son, The Author". You are still walking into Waterstone's and loudly asking for your own book.

But what next? Or what after the second book of the precious two-book deal is written? Friends are already asking "What are you working on at the moment?" and you begin to realise that everyone expects you always to be "working" on something. Being an author is not just about the glory. (The what?)

No problem - you are writing another book. Surely your publisher will want it, if it's good enough? After all, the list of authors who didn't achieve fame and fortune on their first, second, third, even eighth book is as long as .... ooh, well, long anyway.

Thing is, two things are making that door very heavy nowadays and unless you've got steel-capped boots, you're going to feel the pain.
  1. Impatience, fuelled by the "bottom line" - nowadays, publishers have to get a faster and more predictable return on their money; they have big overheads, mean share-holders who weirdly expect a profit, and hundreds of writers coming along who might be the next cash cow if you're not. (No offence meant.) Unfortunately, the current climate means that publishers are more often looking for big sellers - and the gap between biggest sellers and the rest is widening. The mid-list is becoming a scary place to be, instead of just the normal authory place to be.
  2. Damned computers - and Electronic Point of Sale - meaning that because of clever databases like Nielsen Bookscan, your agent cannot massage fictitious life into the pallid sales figures of your first book. Authors used to call themselves "best-selling" if they'd been No 7 on the South Devon Mind Body Spirit List. Now any potential publisher can see exactly how minuscule your figures are. And not be impressed.
But what if your next book might be your "break-through" title? Well, you have to find a publisher who will believe that. There are publishers who will stay loyal to an author they believe in but there are others who won't. Sometimes I sympathise with them; sometimes I don't.

Why am I telling you this?
  1. Because people often ask and I'm one of those people who thinks a question should be answered. (I'd never make a politician.)
  2. Because unpublished authors often think that those who are published are set up for life - it's not a helpful delusion.
  3. Because published authors (and you, the moment you are published) need to act to protect those future contracts.
But how? I would hear you ask, if I wasn't in my garret and you weren't in yours.
  1. By understanding the market so as to produce ideas that publishers will want. (While never selling out to commerciality. Oh no.)
  2. By understanding the market so as to produce hooks, synopses and covering letters that publishers must want.
  3. By using the market and doing loads of clever things to maximise book sales - there's so much that authors can do. Yes, yes, yes, I will do a post on it, but meanwhile you should take a look at Alison Baverstock's Marketing Your Book - an Author's Guide
  4. By being the nicest most publishable author ever. Yes, yes, yes - jolly good idea: I will do a post on How To Be a Nice and Very Publishable Author. Using my own extensive experience.
I feel that this has been a sombre post - oops, nearly typed sober there - so, to make up for it and to reward you for the attention which my trusty stat counter reveals you to have been displaying, I will tell you the story of the funniest day I ever had as an author. Though it wasn't very funny at the time. But not today - on Thursday, when (if) I have come back from the snowy wilds of Scotland where I am doing some school events.

And when you hear this sorry story of hilarious ineptitude, (mostly not by me, of course), you may decide to keep your foot firmly out of the door.


Sarah said...

Nicola, Janet Reid had a link on her blog to a great post* about high concept. It made so much sense to me, and explained the difference between a novel that appeals to a wide audience and one that is about vampires cause, hey, we've been seeing a lot of them lately.

I so enjoy this blog- especially since it makes me look up words like natter and crabbit. (Don't run into them often here in Virginia.) Thanks, and I'm looking forward to a story of hilarious ineptitude. It might distract me from my own.


Nicola Morgan said...

That is indeed an excellent article - thank you. (I've added it to Articles from Elsewhere.) It's along the lines of what I've referred to as a "hook" and I guess shows that some hooks are going to catch more fish than others.

Glad you like my blog, Sarah, and glad I have imcreased your vocabulary! I didn't even know that natter was British / Scottish! As far the story of hilarious ineptitude, just you wait!

Sarah Hilary said...

Oh yes please to advice on how to be a nice publishable author! I'm never sure where the line falls between being nice and being spineless. Not a problem for me in any other aspect of my life but for some reason the world of agents and publishers feels daunting, like a club with its own rules. Your advice would be gobbled up!

SueG said...

Sad but true, sad but true...I'm in exactly that predicament. The first book is out, I'm writing the 2nd and everyone keeps assuming it will get published "no problem." I try to explain, but they don't listen (not to mention having the additional complexity of first being published by a wonderful though small literary press). So although this excellent post is a bit depressing, it's also nice to hear that when I look to my future I'm not just being negative and a spoil sport, but actually realistic.

behlerblog said...

Nicola, I love you. This is such sound, sage advice. I have ordered my secretary, the unreliable beagle, to bottle this post up and send it to ever author I meet. Brava! And thank you.

Sarah said...

I'm glad you liked it!

Perhaps natter is used over here, but I'd not heard it before. Occasionally, though, I'll hear bits of a Scottish accent. I live close to the Blue Ridge, where many Scottish immigrants settled. I remember my amazement the first time I talked to a true local. He had a Southern accent, but pronounced 'about' as 'aboot'. The mix of the two is delightful.

Have a great time with the school events.

Nicola Morgan said...

How To Be a Nice Publishable Author just went to the top of the future articles list! (And if chocolate comes into it, it definitely comes well AFTER the submission has been accepted ...)

Thanks, all, for your comments.

Nicola Morgan said...

Blimey, Lynn, have just read your post(because, if you must know, my statcounter told me that people kept coming to me from you today, despite the fact that I am actually doing author events and shouldn't be able to check my stat counter because I am not here; but less of the existential twaddle). ANYway, as I say, BLIMEY. And thank you thricefold. Next time you're in Scotland, the haggis is on me.

bookchildworld said...

Hmm, well I think I'm doing OK on 2 and 4, and I'm trying to get 3 going, but I'm finding 1 really tough :(