Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Not Another Margaret Mitchell by Andy Scheer

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?


Linda Glaz said...

I wouldn't mind. What hurts is that readers seem to want fast today. Get to the story, get there quickly and then on to the next. It removes the chance for a novel that bends a bit to literary. I don't necessarily mean literally, per se, but a smattering of something lovely along with the story. I miss that. I must admit to being one of the readers who wants the story quickly. Let it unfold, get me to the meat of the matter, but a beautifully turned phrase every now and then isn't exactly a turn off and breaks the monotony.

Rick Barry said...

Although I certainly understand how an agent and publisher would like to groom and continue to work with authors book after book, your post does raise an additional question that authors have been discussing. The word on the street is that, due to the iffy economy, publishers have swung the pendulum away from series and now look more favorably on stand-alones. (Or perhaps more clearly stated, stand-alone after stand-alone.)

The purported explanation is that publishers hesitate to start book #1 of a series by a new voice if next year's economy will force them to abandon that series in favor of sticking to tried-and-true authors. Any comments or clarifications on that?

Davalyn Spencer said...

I think this is why I return to books like M.M. Kaye's, The Far Pavilions. Sometimes I just want to slow down and enjoy the view along the way, taste the culture, feel the time period. So much in life is fast. It's nice to once in a while ...escape!

Sharon A. Lavy said...

When I find an author I enjoy, I do tend to look for more books by that writer.

Andy Scheer said...

Interesting that the discussion has turned to fast vs. quality. Maybe I included something between the lines that I didn't realize. (Or perhaps it wasn't my day for irony.) Whether an idea for a series or for a succession of stand-alones, I can't imagine a publisher not wanting more from a good writer whose books do well.

Millie Samuelson said...

HEY -- Since both Mitchell and Lee's award-winning novels have sold more than 30 million copies, plus had award-winning movies of them made, what's not to like about being like them?? :-)
BTW, Mitchell did have a second novel pubbed many years after her death. And I'm guessing Lee has at least one or more waiting to be pubbed after her death. . . Just hope I live long enough to read it/them!

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Mitchell's second novel was actually an earlier ms than GWTW.