Thursday, 10 January 2008

What Readers Expect and What Publishers Want

There's an interesting discussion going on in one of my writing communities at the moment about two book deals and the pressures authors feel when writing "that difficult second novel". Apparently publishers are very keen, when they offer a two book deal, for the author to follow up their first book with one that is very similar in tone/theme because readers who enjoyed the first book will want more of the same in the second book (and the third book and the fourth book etc.) It's how you build up your readership.

And that got me thinking... is my second good similar in tone and theme to my first book? Well, it's another book that involves the supernatural (although explored in a different way) and there's a love story (but again quite different) but, is the second book similar in tone to my first book? I went back and re-read the first chapter of novel #1 and then looked at what I've written so far for novel #2. Guess what I discovered? Completely different tones. For a start novel #2 wasn't particularly funny and I'd meant it to be at least a little amusing (novel #1 is distinctly light-hearted, particularly at the beginning). Now I know I shouldn't be revising anything at this stage but, as I said in one of my previous posts, I can't settle into writing a book unless I've got the opening right. So... I went back and revised the first page, adding in an extra 200 words or so of what I hope are amusing observations. I still haven't quite finished but that's okay, this is the type of editing I really enjoy.

Don't get me wrong I'm not trying to write two identical novels - far from it - my novels can't be identical because my two main characters couldn't be more different and, because both novels are in the first person, they have different voices so whereas character #1 would say something in a breezy, light-hearted manner, character #2 has a much drier, slightly sarcastic sense of humour. So both novels have humour, but different humour. As long as I keep the humour that's all that matters (in my book anyway).

So anyway, three bits of advice that came out of the discussion:

1) If you create a fantastic character in novel #1 (and that book gets signed by a publisher) be ready with ideals for more novels involving that character. Apparently publishers really go for series that are based on a really popular main character (just look at the success of the Shopaholic series)

2) If you've finished novel #1, are looking for an agent, and are about to start novel #2 have a good think about your idea and whether or not the two books reflect your style. Obviously you're not going to write a chick-lit novel first and then a horror book or a thriller (well, you could, but good luck with that when you tell the publisher!) but think about whether or not the readers of book #1 would also enjoy book #2. If they wouldn't you might want a rethink.

3) Don't forget about novel #3. One of the writers said that, when the publishers were considering her first novel, they asked for synopsises and the opening chapter of novels 2 and 3 as well before they made their decision (and she hadn't started either of them!).

Current word count for novel #2 : 4,531 / 100,000 words (4.5% done)


Wayne said...

Makes an interesting point. I'll keep pluggin' away at my first for now.

SallyQ said...

That's very interesting, Cally. I think you're right in that if a publisher takes up a novel from a writer, they want more of the same. But some writers use different pen-names for different genres, so that's one route to consider if you're writing books that are significantly different. But of course you still have to come up with the goods for your original publishers.

L-Plate Author said...

That's why I was struggling to decide which idea to go with for book three. One idea was similar to book one, which you know the saga of and, although only slightly different, the other idea was similar to book two. In my position now, I've decided to go with book two and the idea that leads on from that. I also have an idea to take a character from book two to book three...hmm

Leigh said...

This is really interesting stuff, and useful too. My first two are very much linked together, no.2 being a continuation of no.1 and I could easily write a third in the series (I say easily - ha!) if I had to.

So, what you say here is all worth bearing in mind for subbing time.