So you've got a 2 book deal! Fantastic news! Your head's in the clouds. Nothing like this has ever happened to you before. The life-changing potential seems huge - as well as very very scary!
Everyone's telling you you've made it. You're a published writer. People who never gave you the time of day before are suddenly jostling for your attention.
You keep telling everyone that you just want to enjoy the ride and see where it takes you. That nothing's predictable and that you're still struggling on a teensy income and living in a council flat.
So then you get accused of spoiling your chances by not being positive enough. Which then makes you feel guilty.
But you feel having your books published is such an amazing feeling anyway - it's what so many people dream of.
When you first get signed up everyone tries to convince you you’re going to be the Next Big Thing. Cue huge fanfare. What they don’t tell you is that it’s going to be a case of one strike and you’re out.
Here’s how it goes:
• No matter how hard the publicist might work their socks off, unless there's been mega hype, first novels rarely get widely reviewed. So the number of copies sold to the bookshops is almost immaterial, as few people will actually know the book exists!
• The trade is dominated by the huge chains. Buying is done centrally with managers of local branches only able to order one or two copies of anything not ordered by head office.
• Publishers don’t have the resources to approach all the wonderful independent bookshops that are out there or to go to local branches of the chains.
• The chains reserve their space and energy for the books that are assured bestsellers – the front of house 3 for the price of 2s.
• Other books are on the shelves for a month or two at the most before being returned to the publisher if they are unsold by the end of that time.
• This gives no opportunities for a slow burn or spread by word of mouth. At the point when the book disappears from the shelves, no one’s going to stumble across it and they won’t have heard of it due to the lack of reviews, so are unlikely to go into a bookshop and request an order to be placed.
• When your second book is published, the chain buyers examine their records of how many copies of the previous book were sold, using a system called Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS). Most likely (given the points I’ve made above) sales won’t have been brilliant (even though you're personally blown away that there are 1500 or so people out there who have read the book YOU have written). The chain buyers therefore order very few of this second book.
• The second book gets more reviews than the first.
• The Catch 22. More people will have heard of your book but, alas, it’s not widely available in the shops!
It used to be an accepted truth in the book trade that authors often don’t take off until their third or even fourth or fifth books. Suddenly the word seeps out and they are ‘discovered’ by readers, at which point sales of their back catalogue would increase, often resulting in reprints.
Nowadays, this is well nigh impossible. If your first book doesn’t take off (against all the odds given the points above) everything is against you being able to make it with subsequent books. 3rd and 4th book deals are notoriously hard to come by for authors who haven't 'made it' commercially with their first two.
Even if there's a small but loyal band of readers who can't wait to see books 3 and beyond on their shelves ...
See what I mean about Catch 22?
If you’re an as yet unpublished author, I wish you loads of luck. Keep on writing and keep on trying for that elusive deal.
Enjoy the ride and, if you do get lucky, revel in the thrill of seeing your work in print and on sale. But try to keep expectations realistic at the same time.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to minimise the importance of positive thinking!
In retrospect, I really wish I had my site up and running when my first book was published in 2003.
Ah well, better late than never ...