By Dr. Richard Mabry
The other day I was in a bookstore and saw my novels on display. You might be surprised to know that, rather than simple exhilaration, the experience generated mixed emotions. Sure, I’m thrilled that I’ve reached this point in my writing journey. I’ve made it to a place many of my fellow writers would love to occupy. But I’m also wondering, “What’s next?”
You’re probably shaking your head, saying, “You’ve got it made. A published author has a leg up on all the rest of us.” At one time, I thought that was true. Like most of you, I’d heard that published authors had some advantages. You don’t need a completed manuscript—the publishers know you can do it. You’re a known quantity. You have name recognition. You understand the industry. But, as Gershwin so eloquently put it, “It ain’t necessarily so.”
Let’s start with the manuscript. Your published works demonstrate your ability to put the words together. They show that you can finish a book. But you still must produce a sample of your next book. Along with that, an editor wants to know the story arc you have planned. In other words, they want a synopsis, and everyone—even a published author—has to write one. My best description of a synopsis is a single-spaced, three- to five-page outline of plot that writers hate to write and editors may not read. But try putting together a proposal that doesn’t contain a synopsis, and see how far you get.
How about being a known quantity as a published author? That’s true, but whether that quantity is good or bad depends on your sales figures. A few authors are an instant success, but most of us build a readership over time, and if the sales numbers for the first book are low, there may not be an opportunity for the second or third book to serve as stepping-stones to increasing readership. Good sales numbers are a definite plus, but bad sales numbers are harder to overcome than a garlic sandwich before a first date.
As for name recognition, that hardly ever comes from one or even two or three published books. There are other factors involved, and they all require work on the author’s part. We must have a presence on the Internet and social media. Nowadays, editors want to know about the traffic our website and blog generate. They are interested in how many Facebook followers we have. We must have a “platform,” and publication doesn’t guarantee one.
What about knowing the industry? True, the experience of being published shows us a lot about the publishing industry. But sometimes what we learn makes us even more doubtful that anyone will give us another contract. The industry is constantly changing, no one really knows what effect e-books will have in the future, and self-publication continues to sing its siren song. Yes, a published author knows the industry, but sometimes it’s a matter of “the more you know, the unsure you are.”
Despite my concerns, I’m continuing to write my next novel. I’ll have three books coming out from a recognized publisher over the next year and a half. After that, I’m not sure what will happen. But no matter what happens, I suspect one day I’ll stand in a bookstore, look at my books, and wonder, “Now what?”
Richard Mabry is a retired physician, now the author of “medical suspense with heart.” His novels have been a semifinalist for International Thriller Writers’ debut novel; finalists for the Carol Award, Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, and Romantic Times’ Reader’s Choice Award; and winner of the Selah Award. His next published novel, his eighth, is Fatal Trauma, which will release in May 2015. You can follow Richard on his blog, on Twitter, and his Facebook fan page.