How to get a second book deal

Guys, my new coworker is a bad influence.

how to get a book deal

Look at how she shamelessly propped her little snout on my trackpad and pinned my hand down with her paw. Because my typing was getting in the way of petting. And because she hasn’t put it together yet that typing = work = money = more treats for her. Pretty shortsighted, if you ask me.

Speaking of shortsighted, I thought it would be fun to take the long view today and talk about second book deals. Since you all have been loving my post from a couple of weeks ago with case studies of debut book deals, I thought it’d be helpful to also talk about what comes next: the second book deal! A second book deal is the real holy grail in publishing. Yes, receiving a book deal at all is an enormous accomplishment, but it’s that second book deal that cements an author as an expert in his field.

A second book deal means an author has proven that she can sell books, and therefore, that she’s making an impact on the world with her work.

That right there is why I do what I do. And I know it’s also why authors do what they do.

So as exciting and motivating as it is to hear about top-line numbers like advances, it’s even more important to focus on back-end numbers: namely, copies sold. (To learn more about the pros and cons of 6-figure and 7-figure book advances, read this.)

Focusing on copies sold as your key metric is the best way to take the long-view of your own career, as that’s the number that ultimately determines whether you’ll be able to get a second book deal, and therefore, more opportunities for you and your business.

I thought it would be most helpful to illustrate the path between a first book deal and a second book deal by telling you about one of my lovely clients who successfully made that leap. And lucky us, Becky was generous enough to share a few tidbits about the differences between her two publishing experiences, as well as some great advice on how she made her business stand out in a crowded world.

Becky rapinchuk clean mama how to get a book deal

Becky Rapinchuk is the writer and creator behind Clean Mama, one of the most successful homekeeping blogs and brands online today. Becky and I first started working together when I was an editor working at a medium-sized nonfiction publisher, and I was lucky enough to acquire her first book, The Organically Clean Home. Becky was working a day job at the time but putting in long nights and weekends building her blog, which had just gotten started.

At the publisher, we were encouraged to brainstorm book ideas in-house and then scout bloggers or other experts to pair them with the project. I still remember when I first stumbled across Becky’s blog—it was so much more beautiful and professional-looking than everything else out there! It was also immediately obvious that Becky was so passionate about cleaning and committed to sharing that with readers. That’s what struck me most: Becky was that perfect mix of passionate and committed that I always look for in authors.

Back then, Becky’s readership was small but growing, and so she was the perfect fit for a concept-driven book like The Organically Clean Home. The book deal that resulted also meant that she was finally able to quit her day job and work on her business full-time, which helped solidify her as an expert in the cleaning space. Over the years, the book sold very well, largely driven by Becky’s marketing savvy and her commitment to making it a success.

As Becky’s brand continued to evolve and she began experimenting with selling other products to her audience (have you seen her adorable cleaning goods line?!), her traffic and social media numbers kept growing.

When she was at the point where she was one of the leading voices in her space, we started chatting again about what a second book could look like. I was a literary agent by then, so I knew Becky’s platform was strong enough that larger publishers would be interested in working with her.

We put together a proposal for the book Becky had always dreamed of writing: a comprehensive manual on her signature cleaning routine, which shows readers how to clean their homes in just 10 minutes a day. We took her proposal out wide to lifestyle editors, and within a few days, had received two fantastic pre-empts from Big Five publishers. Becky decided to work with the Touchstone imprint at Simon & Schuster, and now we’re just 2 short weeks from welcoming that dream book, Simply Clean, into the world!

To be clear: there wasn’t any secret shortcut to getting that level of excitement from major publishers. Editors loved the project because Becky had earned her place as a leader in her category, and we had done the research and brainstorming necessary to offer a unique concept in the marketplace. Becky had spent the years between her first book and her second book doing the hard work: writing blog posts, scheduling social media, guest posting, connecting with other bloggers in her space, promoting her first book so it had a strong sales track record, creating new products, and earning the trust and goodwill of her readers.

Now let’s hear from Becky herself about what it was like to write her second book, as well as what one thing most helped her build her business and platform (I hinted at it earlier!).

Becky Rapinchuk of Clean Mama on Writing a Second Book

How was the publishing experience for your first book different than for your second book?

There were a lot of differences but the biggest one was that I understood the process from the first book, making the second book easier from the beginning.  I was able to plan backwards because I understood the big picture and process.

I did not have an agent for my first book and I would never have thought that I needed one until I actually had one.  This was probably the biggest game-changer from the first book to the second.  Having an agent eliminates so much stress in the process – there’s no guesswork, the agent has your best interest in mind and knows the ins and outs of the entire process.  It was so much smoother of a process.

I had different publishers for each book and while there are a lot of similarities, the differences are also there too.  Make sure you are looking at all your options and if you have the opportunity to offer your book to multiple publishers, take it.  You’ll be working very closely with an editor and a large or small team of people for a while – make sure you work well together and that the editor is excited about your book too!

What was special to you about your first book?

It’s something that I never expected to do. My first book really launched my platform and authority in the online cleaning space.  I grab it all the time and mix up recipes from it – it’s a resource that I am so proud to have brought into the world.

What’s special to you about this new book?

 Simply Clean is the book I was searching for when I started on my own homekeeping journey in my early 20s. It’s different from any book out there – complete with challenges and how-tos with a dose of realism. I truly loved writing Simply Clean – it was so much fun to put my ideas to paper and think of the homes that would be a little cleaner too!

What one thing–if you had to pick just one!–do you think most helped you build your business and your author platform?

Branding – having a cohesive and recognizable brand sets you apart from everyone else, and it solidifies your voice in the noisy online world.

What advice would you give to other bloggers interested in writing a book?

Find your own voice and don’t just write a book because it seems like it’s the next logical step or because everyone else is writing a book.  It’s a long, difficult process – make sure you’re up for the challenge!

What’s the most important thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Cleaning doesn’t have to be complicated, and a clean, organized home in minutes a day is possible!

Simply Clean Becky Rapinchuk book cover

I love Becky’s book because (I know this is hard to believe), she actually makes cleaning cute and fun. Really. Her cleaning routine works no matter your work schedule or house size, and it takes all the stress out of thinking about when and how to clean. (Which is the part that always trips me up!) But I love that Becky takes you by the hand and shows you how to clean each part of your home in only 10 minutes a day, so that you can build habits that become automatic and effortless. And if there’s one thing I never want to stress about again, it’s cleaning. 🙂

Simply Clean is in stores on March 21st, but you can preorder it here! (And if you preorder, you’ll get great free gifts from Becky, like The 7-Day Simply Clean Kick-Start, a 1 month subscription to her Homekeeping Society, and over $30 worth of products from Grove Collaborative, including Mrs. Meyer’s soap, a cute kitchen towel, and beautiful walnut scrubbers. Just don’t forget to enter your receipt information here to receive the gifts!)

By the way, next week I’ll be sharing an in-depth post on how the publishing experience differs between small publishers and large publishers and what questions authors should ask when considering working with any publisher. If you don’t want to miss it, make sure to sign up to receive new articles below!

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What I’m Reading This Week

Add a Pinch cookbook on QVC (Robyn Stone on In The Kitchen with David): This was such a highlight of the week! My lovely author, Robyn Stone, had so much fun sharing some of the recipes from her cookbook with David Venable. If you need a giggle today (and who doesn’t?) watch as David near loses his mind over Robyn’s Sweet Cream Cheese Biscuits at the 5:15 mark!

You Don’t Have to Finish Every Story You Start (Jane Friedman): “How often do you abandon an early draft? I have abandoned far more drafts of personal essays and short stories than I’ve ever completed. In fact, the ratio is rather embarrassing—maybe twenty starts for every finish. … Writer David Ebenbach discusses the wisdom in abandoning a draft—in not seeing it as wasted time, but as an inevitable part of the creative process that produces great work.”

The Art of Storytelling As Explained by Pixar (Pixar Directors and Story Artists on Khan Academy): If you want a hands-on, free, and short course on how the masters at Pixar craft stories, then ta-da!

How the Internet Changed and How Our Lives Changed With It (Young House Love): It’s tempting when you’re building your platform to stay laser-focused on the immediate tasks ahead: building traffic, securing brand partnerships, writing posts, maybe getting a book deal. But once you’ve arrived–once you have that massively successful blog and that New York Times bestselling book–what does that look like? What’s on the other side of the mountain? Sherry and John Petersik have been answering this question, and this retrospective on their careers and the way the internet has changed is fascinating.

Deep in the Weeds of Publishing Economics (Mike Shatzkin): A great and wonky look at the economics of publishing P&Ls–worth a deep read if you like this sort of thing, too!

When Your Launch Fails–How to Avoid It and How to Recover (Kirsten Oliphant of CreateIf Writing): I love this post from Kirsten–it’s brave of her to share her failure so that others can learn from it. And all of this advice is spot-on! This article is a must-read for anyone planning, or even dreaming, about launching a product, whether it’s a book, a course, or anything else.


What We’re Eating This Week

Certain unnamed parties in my household have said I’ve gotten out of hand with slotting in too many new and multi-step recipes for us during the week, especially when we have volunteering shifts or Pepper’s training classes to run off to. While I can neither confirm nor deny the validity of this accusation, I have benevolently agreed to plan us a week of Just-the-Favorites. Nothing fancy here!

Monday: Burrito bowl salads and guacamole with chips

Tuesday: Lemon thyme roasted chicken with cruciferous crunch fritters and roasted cauliflower (Ha, ha, I snuck this one in, convinced that it would “be a snap!” to roast a chicken and two separate sides after a busy workday. Oy.)

Wednesday: Repentance: the sausage and kale penne recipe we’ve made a thousand times.

Thursday: Lemon chicken noodle soup, another recipe I’ve made a zillion times and which was originally inspired by this recipe.

Friday: Yaya’s Tortilla de Patata (read: fried potato frittata) and a simple green salad–very restrained for a Friday night, if I do say so myself!

Cheers!

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The One Piece of Advice I Give Every Single Aspiring Author

literary agent advice for writers to get published

But first, the book publishing stories worth reading this week:

Your Biggest Book Marketing or Platform Building Roadblocks – And How to Overcome Them (The Book Designer): This is a wonderfully detailed guide that tackles the 5 biggest obstacles writers face when trying to get their books out into the world. If you’re having trouble reaching your “dream readers,” feel like you don’t have enough time or money for a platform, or are struggling to see engagement on your platform, this is a great place to start.

J.K. Rowling posts letters of rejection on Twitter to help budding authors (The Guardian): “When she pitched under the name Galbraith without revealing her true identity, she faced many more snubs. Since then, Galbraith has published three successful novels but the first was rejected by several publishers, and Rowling was even advised to take a writing course.”

The Art of Influence: Who’s an Influencer, Who’s an Endorser, and How Do I Talk to Them? (Chadwick Cannon): “People don’t trust brands. They rarely trust strangers. But they do trust familiar people.”

The Charming Doodles Charles Darwin’s Children Left All Over the Manuscript of ‘On the Origin of Species’ (Brain Pickings): “In contemplating family, work, and happiness, Charles Darwin proclaimed: ‘Children are one’s greatest happiness, but often & often a still greater misery. A man of science ought to have none.’ And yet he and Emma had ten.”

Relevant (Literary Agent Donald Maass on Writer Unboxed): “Being relevant is not the same as being topical. Nor is it the same as being resonant. Topical stories have the quality of being current, ripped out of the headlines, a take on what is happening right now. Resonant stories are less immediate. They echo in the mind. They cause us to reflect and ponder. ”

The One Piece of Advice I Give Every Single Aspiring Author

The weather is gorgeous here in DC, submissions to publishers are in full swing, and the spring publishing season is chockfull of wonderful books. (Try this gorgeous cookbook, or this personal favorite.)

And today I’m on Kirsten Oliphant’s podcast, Create If Writing, chatting about everything from how the traditional publishing process works to what I look for when signing clients. Kirsten is incredibly savvy and hard-working–she writes books, hosts a podcast, leads online courses, and writes a blog, all while being a mom and wife. I actually think she may be the Beyoncé of our little writing blog community. All signs point to yes.

We were able to get in deep and talk about some of the most important topics that plague aspiring writers today:

  • How to get excited about building a platform (even when you really, really don’t want to)
  • Why you don’t need to be a used car salesman for your book
  • What a typical day in the life of a Literary Agent looks like (spoiler alert: a lot less glamor than you’d think)
  • How to avoid a lie-awake-at-night-in-fear book launch
  • How focusing on your own personal development can also help you in your writing career
  • Why you should buy your name as a domain (and how I failed at this)
  • The one piece of advice I give to every single aspiring author

Click here to listen to the full interview!

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Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform?

do fiction writers need platforms literary agent blog

But first, the stories worth reading this week:

Hachette Again Reaches Deal with Perseus Books (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times): So, that happened. Again. What does this mean for authors working with either publisher? Nothing at all right now. It seems that PBG will continue to operate as a separate publishing division within Hachette, and as the Times points out, “Adding heft will probably help Hachette in a cutthroat media landscape where publishers are increasingly being squeezed by major retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.”

Making Time for Writing? 7 Simple but Powerful Productivity Tips (Ali Luke for The Write Life): “Do you ever sit down to write for a couple of hours, only to find yourself with only a paragraph or two to show for it? It’s really easy to get distracted, especially if your work involves online research. One link leads to another and another and … oh look, a cute cat video!”

The Martian Started as a Self-Published Book (All Things Considered, NPR): “Self-published authors often dream of snagging a big contract with a major publishing house. But after Andy Weir’s self-published ‘The Martian’ online, its next stop was not print. Instead, it got picked up by a small Canadian audiobook company. Of course, it was eventually made into a movie and nominated for multiple Oscars.”

A Warning About Writing Novels That Ride the News Cycle (Todd Moss on JaneFriedman.com): “My first book contract was a fluke of good timing. Al-Qaeda, Muammar Gaddafi, and French Special Forces are all, in part, responsible for my writing career. But I’ve since discovered that it’s risky, and probably unwise, for a novelist to chase current events too closely.”

The Revenant Author Michael Punke Has a Day Job (Alexandra Alter, The New York Times): “In addition to being an international trade policy wonk, Mr. Punke is the author of ‘The Revenant,’ a 2002 novel about a 19th-century American fur trapper’s epic struggle for survival in the wilderness, and the inspiration for Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s film. The movie is up for 12 Oscars, including best picture, and has catapulted the novel onto the best-seller lists.”

Do Fiction Writers Need a Platform?

Here it is. The long-awaited post on one of the big questions out there: do fiction writers need platforms?

It’s no secret what I think of this (ha, ha, says the girl who writes a whole nerdy blog on it), so I thought it would be much, much more interesting to hear from a fiction writer herself. Kristen is a fantasy writer and creative writing coach, and she runs the popular site She’s Novel, while also working on edits to Dreamworld and The Dark Between, her fantasy debuts.

She has such an interesting take on what it’s like to be building her platform before her first book is even out, and I think our conversation touches upon many of the concerns I most hear from writers:

  • Do I even need a platform?
  • Is it really worth my time?
  • But don’t agents and editors not care if a fiction writer has a platform?

So before we jump into the conversation with Kristen, let’s clear the air. There are so many conflicting opinions about this out there, and even industry professionals disagree with each other. But here’s what we do agree on:

You don’t need a platform to get a book deal.

You do need a platform and marketing savvy to have long-term success as an author.

Why? Well here are 4 reasons why it’s important to build a platform as a fiction writer:

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Interview with Amy Newman

Happy Day 7 of the World Cup!

In case you’re trying to distract yourself from the jitters of Brazil playing at 3 pm, head on over to Amy Newman’s blog for a quick interview with me. Amy was kind enough to feature me as part of her agent interview series, and she let me talk about how I got started in publishing and what I think it takes to succeed as a writer.

And I definitely encourage aspiring writers to sift through the other agent interviews on her site–Stephen Barr’s interview is particularly hilarious!