Conventional wisdom seems to be that while a writer has their book out on submission to agents/publishers they should be working on their next book. But what should the next book be? Should it be the next book in the series they’ve envisioned, or should it be an entirely new book (because if the first book doesn’t sell, chances are the second can’t either)?
Also, I’m assuming that if an agent has a book out on submission, that they would urge the writer to write the next book in the series. Is that correct?
Thank you so much for asking this question. It’s actually a post I’ve been meaning to write but haven’t gotten around to yet.
I’m going to start from the bottom of your email up. I would never urge a writer to work on the next book in the series while I’m submitting the first. When a series idea is on submission I talk with the author and encourage her to start coming up with fresh new ideas. Why? Because if the first book in the series isn’t going to sell, it’s very likely the second book isn’t either.
When I’m in a pitch appointment with an author there are few things that make me wince faster than an author saying that she’s pitching me the third book or working on the second, third, or fourth book. There are so many reasons why a book isn’t picked up by an agent—writing, voice, marketability, etc.—and if the first book in your series isn’t deemed marketable enough, the second and third won’t be either. You can always go back to the series when you get an agent or get that publishing contract in hand, but you can’t go back and get the time you spent writing books you can’t even submit.
Now there are exceptions to these rules and the biggest is when your series is very loosely tied together. Sally MacKenzie is an example of this. Her “Naked” series is technically a series. Many of the same characters appear in the books. However, they are loosely connected in that the protagonists change from book to book and the “continuing” characters play secondary roles. In this case it’s really a series of stand-alone romances, and when initially selling it I probably wouldn’t have thought of it as a series, but instead as a historical romance. Karen MacInerney’s Tales of an Urban Werewolf series is another story. Each book has the same protagonist and is somewhat of a continuing story. While you can read them in any order, each is a stand-alone book, there are some continuing story lines. In this case I would not have encouraged her to work on the next book in the series, and I didn’t. She had begun to think of new ideas and work on new things while I had this book, Howling at the Moon, out on submission.
Think of always moving your career forward. Don’t get stuck working for years on the same book or the same series. If you truly want a publishing career, and not just to write books, you need to be in search of the next thing.