At some point, whenever I speak with an un-published author I will ask the question, “What is your third book?”
The purpose of the question is to elicit a response to get an idea if the author is interested in being a professional author or simply publishing a book.
Those are different goals entirely.
Agents mostly represent professional authors, not books. Agents are “in this” for the long term so we look for authors who are as well. You can understand how someone trying to get a book published with no plans or ideas for what happens next will find it difficult to find an agent, much less a publisher.
So, what is your third book? The question is intended to uncover your strategy. Your second book might be relatively easy to determine, but book #3 takes some thought.
The first time I encountered the implications of this was about 25 years ago when an author wrote a book, which sold pretty well. So well, in fact, the publisher offered a multi-book contract for subsequent titles.
The author could not deliver book two. For the life of them, they only had the one idea. They burned off all their thinking in the first book. Re-shuffling chapters and re-stating concepts from book #1 did not constitute a new work.
After some time, the book contract was cancelled and advance money repaid.
It was painful for everyone.
If the author and publisher had thought about a third book, they probably could have determined rather quickly there was no second book.
So how do you develop a writing strategy? First, you need to know what it is not.
It is not a test of your creative ability.
It is not a test of your writing ability.
It is not a test of your value of your message.
Developing an extendable writing strategy so you can write more than one book is a function of whether you know who you are and where your limits are drawn.
You know your own unique approach.
You have an audience in mind.
You have a core message in everything you do.
You’ve all heard something about developing a brand. One of the “dark” sides for creative people of developing a brand is the concept of intentionally limiting creativity. Brands are the creative boundaries you stay within.
You cannot become well known for something unless you are known for something.
It seems counter-intuitive, but creativity flourishes inside boundaries. Outside the boundary are random thoughts and confusing plots. Structure provides clarity for the author and the reader. It is similar to knowing the size of canvas you are painting.
So, here’s how to determine your book three (because book two is comparatively simple):
- Accept your unique approach – I worded it this way intentionally to use the word “accept.” You know what your unique style is, but the creative lobe in your brain fights it. You are a researcher, an explorer, an encourager, and a forgiver you know who you are. It could be the exercise of your God-given spiritual gift in writing. If you know your spiritual gifts, you know your creative approach. Easier said than done, but not impossible. If your dominant spiritual gifts are teaching and encouragement, then this is your unique writing approach…to teach and encourage. Accept it, don’t fight it.
- Accept the fact you probably have one primary core message – this is actually quite liberating. Much of publishing is writing the same core message to different audiences. Once you accept you have one core message, accept the challenge of communicating the same thing to different people. The vast majority of authors will publish three or fewer books in their lifetime. Accept the reality your author-window is relatively brief and highly focused.
- Accept the fact you will be limited – unless you are a one-in-a-million writer (or self-published) you will not be known for writing novels, narrative non-fiction, cookbooks, text books, kids books, picture books and coloring books. Accept the fact you will be known for one thing…one type of writing.
- Accept input from others – Your first book was your idea. Probably number two was pretty much your idea. Others might heavily influence your third book. You need to make sure it fits with your unique approach and core message, but when publishing people and readers start suggesting a direction for number three, you might do well to listen. Accepting suggestions does not make you less of an author. It makes you a willing participant in communicating to others through the written word.
So, are you a professional writer (published or unpublished) or do you want to get a book published? There are more opportunities (and more agents looking for you) for the former than the latter.