Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Three on a match

A writing friend called last week for advice. She'd found an agent, her book had been sent out to publishers and she was waiting. Agonizing, this waiting. Soul deadening. She wanted to know what to do with herself while she waited.

My answer wasn't very inspired or original. Write, I said. Write. What else are you going to do?

It was a good answer, but my reasoning was off. Over the weekend, at the International Quilt Festival in Chicago, I found the real reason why an unpublished author should be working on the next book, and the next.

Three books are easier to sell than one.

Midnight Ink has published three of my quilting mysteries in fourteen months. This was the first time I was selling all three at a major show. I've hand sold my books on these big festivals before. Quilters stream by the booth, I engage them in conversation and tell them about my quilting mystery. If I talk enough and am engaging enough, they buy a book. It's hard work.

This time was different. People were more excited than ever. Despite the economy, I sold several hundred books in about 8 hours. Mostly in threes.

I think there are several reasons why we sold many sets of the series.

#1. Readers love series. They love owning all the books in the series. No one wants to get the third book and have to hunt for the first two.

#2. Three books tells the first time buyer that you're worth reading. The reader is comforted by the fact that a publisher decided to spend its money on you.

And in case you're thinking this only works at quilt shows, I gave a talk at the Milpitas Alliance for the Arts luncheon. Only a handful of quilters in the crowd. We sold 70 books.

So keep writing. Write that series. If you're lucky, your publisher will get the books out quickly, put eye-catching covers on them and you can sell, three at a time.


Deborah Sharp said...

man, this is slow, hard work selling books! but when i read that you sell a couple hundred at a time (!), I have hope by the time I get to Book 3 in the Mama series, I won't be blown away by that number. Congrats, btw. Meanwhile, my best one-shot appearance has been 52 books ... and that was kind of a fluke, in a spot packed with old friends .. ah well, keep plugging, right?

Jess Lourey said...

Good work, Terri! My first agent also told me that series sell much better than single books, and you've proven her right.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Terri, you are so right about multiple books being easier to sell. I now have four books out and the sight of all of them lined up in front of me at a book event definitely creates more excitement than when I only had one or two. It gives you street cred to the readers who have never heard of you. And the more books you have published, the more groups invite you to speak at large events, which translates into those big one-shot sales numbers.

Just in case an event doesn't stock my back list, but only the most recent books, I always carry bookmarks or flyers showing all the books in the series. It makes it easier for readers to remember I have others and what they are, so they can pick them up later.

For an unpublished author, having 2-3 manuscripts in your arsenal when you are still shopping for a publisher is very beneficial. It tells a potential publisher that you are serious about your writing career and not just sitting around with one book in a "wait and see" mode.

G.M. Malliet said...

"For an unpublished author, having 2-3 manuscripts in your arsenal when you are still shopping for a publisher is very beneficial."

Exactly right, Sue Ann. When I sold my first book to MI, the first question they asked was whether there was a second in the works. Luckily, there was.

Anonymous said...

Great advice, Terri. And it's so fantastic to see your series hitting it's stride--you deserve it!

G.M. Malliet said...

Amen to Becky's comment. That is a ton of books to sell in one event.

Keith Raffel said...

Looks like I'm going to have to learn to quilt.

Terri Thayer said...

Thanks, everyone. Sue Ann, what you said. Street cred. It's all about the buzz.

Terri Thayer said...

So not the point, Keith!

Alan Orloff said...

Way to go, Terri! Selling books in big chunks takes some skill.

And Keith, I agree with Terri. That is sew not the point.

Julia Buckley said...

Great job, Terri! Those are some amazing sales. And I hope your friend gets good news soon.

Anonymous said...

I have a slightly different take on this. I'm not published, so my opinion is probably not valid, but I thought I'd share it anyway. ; )

I wrote the first book in a planned mystery series, snagged a top agent, and went on submission. I came up with a brief plot outline for the next two books (which came in handy when an editor requested them). I also started on the next book in the series. But as the rejections rolled in, it became harder to work on that book. I cried every time I opened the document. Meanwhile, members of my SinC group kept telling me I really should write that second book in the series--basically implying that I was shooting myself in the foot if I didn't. I felt even worse.

When the book didn't sell, my agent dumped me. I cried some more. And the unique hook I came up with? A few months after I got dumped, Berkley released the first in a series with the same hook.

After struggling with my writing for a bit, I finally landed on an idea I'm really excited about.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that as writers, I think the most important thing is to keep writing, whether it's the second book in the series or something entirely different. I wish someone had told me that instead of suggesting that I was doing the wrong thing by abandoning my second book.

G.M. Malliet said...

Anon: Your posting is a reminder, if one were needed, that writing is fraught with setbacks: Just when you think you've made it, you've got miles yet to go. I am still getting used to this fact!

As to the second book you mention - well, even if an editor had bought the first book, you'd have had about a year to finish a second. So maybe the best advice any of us can follow is to work on what moves you most on any given day, what gives you the most joy and satisfaction. That, I am happy to say, is where I'm at right now.

Good luck to you with the new idea! If you're excited about it, this may be the one!

Terri Thayer said...

Groan, Alan. Welcome to the club. You fit right in.

yes, Anon, as Gin said this writing gig can be a heartbreaker. Any advice even given with the best intentions can be wrong at any given moment. There's a bit of luck involved too.

Her advice is sound. Write what you love. And then cross your fingers. Good luck! Wish you the best.