Compared to my Hartline colleagues, the number of fiction proposals I've evaluated is relatively small. But the percentage of proposals that leaves me asking this question is fairly high.
Is this writer another Margaret Mitchell? Or maybe the next Harper Lee?
Yes, Margaret Mitchell enjoyed fairly brisk sales with Gone With the Wind. And Harper Lee did all right with To Kill a Mockingbird. But those were their only novels. (Lee worked on another novel, but never completed it. And after GWTW, Mitchell never wrote another.)
These days, publishers seem to want writers with more than one good book in them.
I can't blame them. As a reader, I own the full set of Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin novels (20 books) Tony Hillerman's Navajo police series (18 books), John D. MacDonald's colorful Travis McGee series (21 books), and many more by authors who produced multiple novels.
When you read a story by an author with skill, it's only natural to look for more of the same. Imagine if your favorite restaurant had a no-repeat-customers policy.
Maybe because most of the proposals I review come from first-time novelists (and therefore first-time proposal writers) they're exhausted by the process. Or perhaps they're plagued by doubt, not daring to hope someone would want to see more.
For whatever reason, when I get a proposal for a good one, I usually have to check back and ask the writer if she has anything else in mind. A sequel or two to this story? Or perhaps something else in the same genre.
Publishers will want to know. And so will readers.
Who wants another Margaret Mitchell?