I'm a fairly newish (in terms of publication) Australian writer, with one non-fiction book and one novel to my credit, both published by a large and well respected Australian publisher - the novel has also been sold to a major US publisher. I also have a wonderful and very effective agent from one of the biggest agencies. What I'm interested to know, having worked so damn long and hard to get to this stage, is what do I now need to do to *keep* my wonderful agent and publisher? Write good books that sell well, sure - but what sort of actual sales figures are publishers (and agents) looking at in this regard - 5000 copies? 10,000? (We're talking commercial/popular fiction.) Are sales figures all they're concerned with? Will the fact my novel sold to a big o/s publisher work in my favour at all? (My Aus publisher had nothing to do with this sale, which came about when my Aus agent got me a US agent who subsequently made the sale. My Aus publisher only bought Aus/NZ rights.)
If that question sounds a little paranoid, it is. I'm going a bit nutty waiting to hear what my publisher thinks of my second novel, and wondering how getting a foot in the door publishing-wise translates into getting and keeping the rest of me there too.
Well, Paranoid Pup, let's try to put your mind at ease.
1. What sort of actual sales figures are publishers (and agents) looking at in this regard - 5000 copies? 10,000? (We're talking commercial/popular fiction.)
For your first novel the sales figures they want are the ones that earn out your advance. That's the first thing to keep in mind. If you took a $5000 advance and earned $10 000 worth of royalties, everyone's happy, regardless of how many copies that means. But if you're talking about building a career, then over the course of novels 2, 3 and 4, yes, for commercial fiction we're talking about 10 000 copies. It's your publisher's job to sell that many copies; it's your job to give them a novel that can sell that many copies. If you can do anything else to help sell books - blogging, being friendly to booksellers, doing a sterling job at public appearances - that's great. And that will help your sales grow. But only take as much responsibility as is yours. It's your agent's job to make sure you're with a publisher who can reasonably sell that many copies.
2. Are sales figures all they're concerned with?
In a large multinational, generally, yes. Some publishing companies are a bit easier on first novels - if you have a commissioning editor or publisher who is willing to champion you, there can be a grace period for novels one and two, but the party's over after that. They're businesses. They need to make money or they disappear. And don't forget that you're a business too.
3. Will the fact my novel sold to a big o/s publisher work in my favour at all?
It will work in your favour if the novel sells well once it's published overseas. The sale to a US publisher, in and of itself, won't usually make a difference.
All of that aside, take some time to pat yourself on the back. Two published books, a novel that's sold into a foreign territory - this is the stuff of dreams for most writers. You obviously have something that people like. Trust that it's still there when you write your next novel, and don't overthink it. Overthinking is bad, especially if you try to work out what it was that worked so well the first time ... Just trust yourself - trust in a higher power if you prefer - but don't spend much more time being paranoid.
One last note: if your publisher has spent too long getting back to you about novel number two, talk to your agent about a strategy for getting it published elsewhere. There's a contractual limit on that first look at a new project - publishers need to honour it.