Renée Dahlia is an unabashed romance reader who loves feisty women and strong, clever men. This author & fellow 17 Scribes member was kind enough to share an article about what happens after you've published your first book.
Getting a publishing contract for a book is similar to climbing a mountain – it’s hard, and it’s a massive achievement when you reach the top. The odds of getting a deal with a large publisher are still fairly small, with most agents and publishers getting up to 100 submissions per week, and often taking on less than one new book per month. My own publisher, Escape Publishing (an arm of Harlequin Australia), tends to put out four books per month, but the majority of those are not by debut authors. Just to get here represents a gigantic achievement.
A new problem becomes apparent when you reach the top of the mountain. As far as you look, all you see are more mountains. There are a multitude of articles out there for the aspiring literary author that talk about the creative challenges of following up a debut book with another one.
For a romance author, the problem is different. No romance author makes a living off one book. This is a game where a career is built from many books. Many mountains, if you will. One of the best pieces of advice for writers is to read, particularly in the genre that you intend to write in. (Btw, don’t pick romance because it’s perceived to be formulaic and easy – you’ll never get a publishing deal with that attitude. Romance is probably the most competitive genre out there). Any romance reader worth their salt will have noticed that their favourite authors put out a few books per year, and tend to write in short series of three to five books. Typically, these series are based on a family, or a group of friends, where each of the original set of people get their own book, and their own happily-ever-after (HEA).
Because of this, I purposefully planned my first book to be one of three in a series. The first book, To Charm a Bluestocking, is not just the story of Josephine and her hero, Lord St. George, but the setting involves a group of three female friends. For any reader of romance, it’s obvious that Josephine’s two friends will get their HEA in each of the next two books. The second book, In Pursuit of a Bluestocking, has just been accepted by Escape, and will come out in December 2017. I’m still writing the third one, and if I could send some advice back into the past for myself, I’d say that I should have written more of the whole series before pitching it to a publisher.
For every great moment, there is a downside – and for me, getting my second draft of my first ever novel accepted for publication was a whirlwind ride. The downside is that I have to write the rest of the series while the first one is in the pre-order then published stages. It means more time between books, and the possibility that readers have forgotten about To Charm before In Pursuit comes out. Purely for the point of comparison, another writer in an online writers group with me recently had a book accepted for publication, then only a month later, another one came out. The short gap was because the second book had been written prior, and only needed a few tweaks to bring it up to the right level. It means this author has plenty of traction in the marketplace. So if it takes you a while to get that debut novel out there – keep writing other books just in case your agent or publisher wants to know what else you have. Not only will you get more practise, you might find that one book leads to several books, and that idea that you wrote once that’s been languishing in a drawer might just get another crack at the world.
But what about those quiet months between books? That time hasn’t been quiet for me, as I’ve been madly holding down a day-job, organising my family, and writing the next books. By quiet time, I mean the perceived quiet time by readers. If you’ve been lucky enough to find readers who love your book, how do you keep them interested in you until the next one comes out.
For writers, like me, with a publishing deal, it is not enough to say ‘well, I wrote a book that was good enough for Harlequin – readers will like it too’ and then just sit back with shoulders shrugged. For writers who have strong marketing skills, it is often a better option to control the process and go down the self-publishing route. No longer is there a stigma around self-publishing, but it does mean that for someone new to the publishing industry, there is more to learn than just how to write a great book.
Being with a big name publisher does give you a bunch of benefits. You get to be in their marketing newsletters, on their website, in their social media. They’ve spent money on your acquisitions editor, copy editor, contract lawyer, and on your cover (as a bare minimum) and they’ll invest in marketing to get a return on that spend. I’ve been lucky enough to get into a big Australian book seller, Booktopia’s newsletter thanks to my publisher, and this bumped my book to Number Two on their New Releases section for a while. This also led to another interview with them, which has kept my book in front of reader’s eyes for longer. But it’s a big competitive world out there. You can’t do nothing. Or, well, you can - but you won’t sell many books unless you augment the marketing your publisher does.
The best form of marketing that works for me is cross-promotional marketing with other authors. I interview them about their book, and social media the heck out of it, which gets my website in front of their followers. And in return, they interview me about my book, and ditto re social media. Or we swap guest posts on our blogs, with the same results.
And going back to the advice above, if you have another book in the works – one that will come out in the twelve months after your debut, then you’ll have something new to talk to your readers about just as the buzz wears off that first one.
So my advice - keep writing. It’s the whole reason why you wanted that book deal in the first place.
About To Charm a Bluestocking
To Charm a Bluestocking is set in 1887: Too tall, too shy and too bookish for England, Lady Josephine moves to Holland to become one of the world’s first female doctors. With only one semester left, she has all but completed her studies when a power-hungry professor, intent on marrying her for her political connections, threatens to prevent her graduation. Together with the other Bluestockings, female comrades-in-study, she comes up with a daring, if somewhat unorthodox plan: acquire a fake fiancé to provide the protection and serenity she needs to pass her final exams.
But when her father sends her Lord Nicholas St. George, he is too much of everything: too handsome, too charming, too tall, too broad and too distracting for Josephine’s peace of mind. She needed someone to keep her professor at bay, not keep her from her work with temptations of long walks, laughing, and languorous kisses.
Just as it seems that Josephine might be able to have it all – a career as a pioneering female doctor and a true love match – everything falls apart and Josephine will find herself in danger of becoming a casualty in the battle between ambition and love.