Backlist soup

Dear Miss Snark:
Have you ever had a situation where you signed an author only to find he/she has an backlist of unpublished novels? I'm not talking a plethora of drawer books, but solid, decent titles that didn't find homes because the market turned or they just weren't breakout enough. How do you handle this? Do you deal with one at a time, or perhaps pitch a few, looking for a multiple book deal? What if you don't love the books as much as the one you signed the author on?

sorry, lots of questions, I know. I'm just looking for a glimmer of hope, here.

thanks in advance, juicy soup bone to KY.

KY says thanks for the mastodon soup: yummy!

Miss Snark says: I'm pretty sure every client I've EVER signed has a bunch of novels they think are good and that didn't sell. Generally the back list comes out for consideration when we're trying to find book two. I read them one at a time. So far the record is six: six reads to find the one I thought I could sell.

And I've had clients fire me cause I didn't like what they had up their sleeve too. Not fun, but from their standpoint, the right decision.

And I've sold books I didn't love.


Mrs V said...

Ah Miss Snark speaks the truth again (you should add this to your labels). I think this is one of the contributory reasons for so many lacklustre second novels. When I got a book deal, I worked hard at not going back to try to fix the old stuff that hadn't sold because, if I was being totally honest with myself, it wasn't good enough. Literary band aid is see through.

Anonymous said...

It's always tempting, but I think one of the reasons for second novels seeming less good than first is because they're not second at all - they were dragged out from under the bed and dusted off.

I'd be very worried if I didn't think that my novels weren't getting better with each one. So why publish something less than the best I can do, even if my agent and editor think it's 'good enough'?

And as a writer, I wrote that then, not now: publishing it would be like insisting on putting my High School poetry in my current collection.


Kimber Li said...

Sure, I have about twenty other books I've written, but...I never tried to sell them! I was too busy living life and I knew the publication process would require a lot more emotional fortitude than I had before now.

David said...

That's not really a backlist. Or I should say, I've always heard "backlist" used to refer to previously published novels, usually now out of print.

The unpublished novels are the contents of the author's trunk!

Unknown said...

So when you say the record is six reads, is that the minimum or the maximum?

ORION said...

Well...I queried my first book and my third but not two or four. I plan on rewriting number one.
"Thar's gold in them thar hills!"
Ya may just have to dig it out!
Second novels.
OK... MAKE me nervous!
All I can think about is number one.

Mrs V said...

Number two haunts you in your sleep. It tracks you in the night. It ruins your every waking minute. Everything they say is true, sorry...

Upside is you end up researching much more deeply into ways to publicise your first, you find new and exciting outlets for your creativity, your house gets really clean and tidy, you discover how to code in html and dig up hidden corners of the internet you might never have seen else...

Good luck :-)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for saying you've sold books you didn't love. I knew it was done, but not many agents own up to this.

Anonymous said...

I never assumed that so many second novels were weak because they were actually earlier novels. I'd expect most agents to reject those crappy novels-from-the-drawer just as Miss Snark usually does.

I always thought it was because the pressure to produce a follow-up forces many first-timers to knock out the new book in half or a third of the time they spent writing, revising, and polishing the first one.

The only deadline for your first book is the one you impose on yourself. Once you're published, that's not true for no. 2, unless no. 1 was such a huge hit that you can take your sweet time (e.g., Donna Tartt).

Just one more reason to get started on no. 2 *while* you're trying to find an agent for no. 1.

Anonymous said...

"And I've sold books I didn't love."

Thank you for this sentence! Don't we all have to do this at least once in a while.

Dan Leo said...

And then you have Gustave Flaubert who wrote his first version of "The Temptation of St Anthony" in 1849, reworked it off and on as he wrote other great novels like "Mme Bovary" and "A Sentimental Education", and finally published the final version of "Anthony" in 1874. But then this is the Flaubert book that practically no one has read. I know I haven't, and I'm a fan; hell, I've even read "Bouvard and Pecuchet" twice.

The odd truth is that authors tend not to be the best judges of their own work, past or present. All you can do is put it out there and see if anyone digs it.

Oh, and adding my tiny voice to the great chorus of joy: welcome back Miss Snark! Hope you had a lovely vacation.

Dave Kuzminski said...

I admit I'm curious about those books you sold and didn't love. Were they part of a package deal? Maybe lost a bet? Or did it to win a bet? Did you find yourself obligated for other reasons?

Anonymous said...

wait, hold the phone! I thought writers couldn't "hire" or "fire" agents. just being a literal pain in the ass. haha! can't kick me - I'm in Japan!


Anonymous said...

"...publicise your first, you find new and exciting outlets for your creativity, your house gets really clean and tidy, you discover how to code in html and dig up hidden corners of the internet you might never have seen else..."

I find this true even before the first has sold. My agent has been shopping my first novel, and I wake each day, intending to focus on writing book number 2, but progress is slow and I'm easily distracted.

I've been thinking that second novels aren't as good simply because they are more difficult to write.

Daisy Bateman said...

On the flip side, I don't think there's anything wrong with having your agent take a look at your earlier works, as long as you're willing to take "this blows chunks" for an answer.

Ole Blue The Heretic said...

Reminds me of the times when you hear about writers "unpublished novels" after they die.

Sometimes you wonder why the texts were never published and most times, I understand why they were never published.

Not all of writer’s books are good. Some should stay in the drawer or closet forever.

Anonymous said...

John Fowles's first published novel ('The Collector') was actually the third he wrote, and he later published his first-written novel ('The Magus') to great acclaim, so sometimes it works.
Or, it works, but only if you're John Fowles. Who most people aren't.

Anonymous said...

I could count the number of writers I know that THINK they have a number of "solid, decent titles that didn't find homes because the market turned or they just weren't breakout enough."

It would take me a long time, but I could count them.

It wouldn't take nearly as long to count the ones who are right.