Dr. Mabry: Would-be authors often think that once they’re published, they’re home free. Most of us know that’s not true. It appears that some houses are more willing to take a chance on a new author than one whose previous books sold a respectable but not earth-shaking number of copies. What kind of sales figures does it take to interest a publisher in a previously published author’s work?
Nick: My first response to a fiction proposal doesn’t factor in previous sales at all. Since I’m an editor, my primary consideration is an editorial one. Does this novel work? And if so, does it fit with our fiction program at Harvest House? If the answer is no, then an author’s previous sales history doesn’t really matter.
But let’s say the answer is yes to both questions. This is a good novel and it fits in nicely with Harvest House’s fiction program. To be honest, there again, I will not likely be swayed by an author’s previous sales. If I like the book and it fits us, then I’m probably going to take it to the committee. If the author has published previously and their sales are good, then naturally that fact will be part of my presentation to the committee. But if the sales were poor, then I’ll have to try and find a way to explain why, and hopefully overcome the reservations the committee will likely have. I’ll have to have done some homework for this tough question. I’ll have contacted the author and/or their agent to find out why, in their minds, the previous books didn’t do well. Sometimes there are valid reasons for poor sales. The wrong publisher, lack of promotion, the wrong genre, inferior writing which has since improved are all common reasons.
In the wording of Dr. Mabry’s question, he supposes an author whose sales were “respectable, but not earth-shaking.” Gosh, I’d love to find some fiction authors who write what we publish and whose previous books had respectable sales. (Earth-shaking would be welcome too!).
Having said all that, I will offer up a figure I might use as a gauge. If an author’s previous books have sold 15,000+, that’s not bad at all for someone just starting out. Numbers below that figure are going to have me asking the author and agent as to what went wrong with the previous books.
In a competitive fiction market, it’s understood that an author’s first book and possibly their second may not go gangbusters. If we believe in an author’s potential, we’ll stick with the author as long as we can. We stuck with one author I acquired for nine books, only to come to the conclusion that this very talented author was probably not a good fit for us after all and might do better with another publisher.
Write your best, submit to the right publisher, promote your books, and just keep going. Change publishers if necessary, but just keep plugging away—improving your writing and promotional abilities as you go. Most writing careers are built slowly over time. Instant success is rare and often short-lived. I’m thinking now of a novel that was all the rage several years ago, but the author of that book hasn’t published anything in years.
Just keep going. Write, learn, promote, publish.
I’m out of town later this week, so if I don’t get to it before I leave, watch for my next blog early next week. The question I answer then will be from author BJ Hoff and is about my own reading tastes.