Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sophomore Slump

There's been some discussion on one of the writing lists I'm on about the sophomore slump, brought on by reports that the follow-up books by authors whose first books were bestsellers aren't doing so well. Of course, being the raving paranoid that I can be, that's made me start worrying.

I'm not sure what the long-term career impact a slumping sophomore book will have on those authors, and their initial books sold well enough that they won't be resorting to food stamps anytime soon. But for someone on the lower end of the midlist, it really is something to worry about. Publishers try to build authors, so that each book is supposed to do better than the last, until eventually you move your way up the list and break into bestseller ranks, or at least get to a place where you're doing better than the newcomers in your niche. When your numbers take a downward turn, it can become very hard to get the next contract. Some authors have had to resort to starting over under a new name after a book has underperformed because the booksellers will no longer buy into a book by the "tainted" name.

That's scary. I like my name. It's the only name I want to write under. I've had a pen name before, and I HATED it. I like being me, and I forget to answer to the other name. I also really hate "real" jobs. Having to go back to work because I can no longer get book contracts would be devastating. So, yeah, I worry.

It's too early to have accurate sales numbers yet on Once Upon Stilettos, other than Amazon rankings, which are meaningless because they represent such a tiny percentage of overall sales, and B&N.com rankings, which are kind of a mess because their system hasn't updated with all the info about the book, and it doesn't seem to show up when you're browsing for that kind of book. But I'm not getting a sense that this book is having the kind of buzz I saw around the last one. I got a lot fewer reviews this time around, and my Internet searches aren't showing that it's getting talked about in blogs or on message boards like the last book was.

Then there are the reports about people not being able to find it, having to go to multiple stores. It could be sold out, but it also could be because it never made it to those stores in the first place. It's really hard to sell a book when it's not in stores.

My second local booksigning last weekend wasn't nearly as big as the one I had with the last book. I know a lot of that is because I didn't push it as much to my friends. That's the awkward part of being a writer. When you expect your friends to buy your books, you start to feel like you're selling Amway and using your friends to make a living. I figured that I pushed the first book, and after that, if they liked it, they could decide on their own about the next book. I know a lot of people were busy and have bought the book elsewhere, so I'm not that worried on that front yet, and my local fans showed up for the signing the previous weekend. But I am kind of having panic attacks about what might happen this weekend in Austin, since I don't have any family there or many pre-existing (as in, before the books) friends that I'm still much in touch with. I'll be relying solely on readers/fans (gulp). So, if you're in the Austin area or know someone who is, please come or encourage the people you know to come. Bring friends! Make it a party!

Meanwhile, I'm brainstorming on anything I can do to help generate buzz, to get people talking so that more people will hear about these books, maybe get some publicity. I love the strategy part of PR, but I suck at the execution, which is why I'm now writing novels instead of doing PR. I guess this is where I overcome my distaste of begging people to do stuff like mention my books in their blogs, message boards or MySpace pages. I really want to write at least one more book beyond what I have contracted for this series so I can end it properly, and that won't happen unless this book sells really well.


Stacey said...

Already mentioned it in my blog as a book on my buy list.

I'm planning to buy the book at RT next week so I can maybe get you to sign it for me. : )

Shanna Swendson said...

Yay! Thanks! And I'll definitely be happy to sign for you at RT. Try to stop me! I'll be doing the Bookfair, and I imagine you'll also find me hanging around the beach or pool with drinks with little umbrellas in them (that's my fantasy of the convention, anyway).

And if I ever write a vampire into one of my books, he will have to be named Zovapnos, which is the word verification I have to type in.

Stacey said...

LOL! That's pretty good. My word verification is always gibberish, too many consonants and not enough vowels. For example, ccyaqe.