You know the drill: Times are perennially tough, some publishers are closing shop, lists are shrinking, blah blah I don’t want to repeat it but I have to for purposes of this post blah.
As a result, authors constantly find themselves on the lookout for new homes, and as a result of that result, agents see more and more queries from previously published authors.
Which is great! Agents want to hear from previously published authors.
The challenge for previously published authors
But these queries often take this form:
I published this book, it got these reviews, etc. etc. etc.
I teach here, I have a blurb by this person, etc. etc. etc.
I am a professional writer, I am back in the game, looking for new representation, etc. etc. etc.
Did I mention my previous book that was most definitely published? Here’s more about it etc. etc. etc.
And oh by the way I have a new project.
Previously Published Author
Often the new project is not even described, or if it is described, it’s the barest of bare descriptions. Essentially: the author is banking on their credentials carrying the day. And by going about it this way they are either inadvertently or er, advertently projecting an attitude that they have it made in the shade.
I wish credentials carried the day
Look: I wish you had it made in the shade. I really do. I wish a published book or two, especially a successful published book or two, were a guarantor of an agent taking you on or of your next book also finding publication. You’re talented! You got published! I don’t blame anyone for being proud of that and thinking they have an advantage.
But it’s often easier to place a debut than it is a book by an author with a mixed sales track. A previously published book is not necessarily an advantage. It can be an advantage! But not always.
The reasons for this: chains basing their ordering on previous book sales even if the new book is different and/or much better, publishers wanting sure bets and shying away from mixed or quiet track records, and agents knowing all of this and following the publishers’ lead because, well, they’re the people agents have to sell to and agents can only sell what they will buy.
Now, before all previously published authors jump out the window (hopefully you’re reading this on the ground floor anyway), let me just say that all hope is not lost. Far from it!
You may not have a full leg up, but you have some leg up. Like, to the knee at least. A publisher liked your writing enough to pay you for it. An agent’s eyes are going to prick up when they see your query.
But it’s so important to recognize that your previously published book isn’t going to be what sells your new book. Instead, what’s going to sell your new book is… well, your new book.
Your new book is the key
So yes – by all means mention your previously published book(s).
But focus the query on your new book. Instead of inadvertently projecting the belief that you have it made in the shade: know the reality of the situation. Focus on your terrific-sounding and actually-terrific new project. That’s what’s going to sell or not sell or attract an agent or not attract an agent. Project yourself as a writer on the rise.
You want to build off of your last book, but it’s going to be the new book that does the building.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Allegory of teaching by Juriaen Jacobsze