Sell­ing Your Sec­ond Book

Poets and Writers - - The Practical Writer -

PEO­PLE will trash your sec­ond novel no mat­ter what,” one of my grad­u­ate pro­fes­sors once said. “You might as well get it out of the way and move on to the third.” This pro­fes­sor was a writer I had idol­ized since my teens and whose work was, to me, flaw­less. She used her cell phone to pull up the Ama­zon re­views on her sec­ond book and be­gan to read aloud com­ments so cruel they seemed to warn against pub­lish­ing any­thing at all.

Shortly af­ter my first novel found a home, I be­gan work on my sec­ond with a hefty dose of trep­i­da­tion. Af­ter all, warn­ings about the fate of sec­ond books ex­tended far be­yond my pro­fes­sor’s red flag.

If your first book didn’t sell well, good luck get­ting a pub­lisher to buy your sec­ond.

And once it’s out? Well, no me­dia wants to cover a sec­ond novel.Un­less your first book was a smash hit, readers won’t want to buy it ei­ther.

If your first book was a suc­cess, good luck: Readers will hate the sec­ond book if it’s too dif­fer­ent from the first. Come to think of it, though, they’ll prob­a­bly hate it if it’s too sim­i­lar, too.

And yet, as my pro­fes­sor had pointed out, it was im­pos­si­ble to move on to a third book with­out writ­ing a sec­ond. Be­sides, I had an­other prob­lem: I liked my sec­ond book. I wrote fever­ishly on week­ends and made what progress I could on week­days, star­ing at the com­puter screen in the early morn­ings be­fore I left for my job in so­cial ser­vices.

“This is the book,” I told my agent, Mar­garet Ri­ley King of Wil­liam Mor­ris En­deavor (WME). “The book I was meant to write.” Un­for­tu­nately, it was also my sec­ond.

If your first book didn’t sell well, good luck get­ting a pub­lisher to buy your sec­ond.

Agent Do­rian Karch­mar, whose clients at WME in­clude Amor Towles, Jen­nifer Haigh, and He­lene Cooper, has spent al­most twenty years in the pub­lish­ing busi­ness. In that time, she says, it’s only be­come more chal­leng­ing for sec­ond nov­els—par­tic­u­larly when they fol­low de­buts that were not per­ceived as suc­cesses. “Two decades ago we had Bor­ders, a very nascent Ama­zon, many more

CHLOE BEN­JAMIN is the au­thor of The Im­mor­tal­ists, forth­com­ing from Put­nam in Jan­uary 2018, and The Anatomy of Dreams, which re­ceived the 2014 Edna Fer­ber Fic­tion Book Award and was long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty-Dun­nan First Novel Prize. She is a grad

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