Ask the Agent: Having It Made

How about shedding some light on whether getting published and “having it made” are synonymous. It seems to be the feeling among writers that once you get a contract and have a book or two published, all you have to do is run up a decent proposal and your publisher will buy it. I hear rumors that some successfully published authors have had subsequent proposals turned down. Does this happen often? And when it does, what is the most common reason?

Hahahahaha….. I bet a number of our published Rants & Ramblings readers would LOVE to take on this question! Speak up, those of you who are published. Do you “have it made”?

Clearly the answer to this question depends on your definition of having it made. If you mean “my lifelong goal of being published has been realized” then yes, getting published is having it made. If you mean “I can quit my day job and support my family with my writing,” then no, you probably don’t have it made. (I’ll address making a living as a writer in another post.)

If you mean, “Now I have a free ticket to keep getting book after book published…” then you still might not be able to say you have it made.

Once you’re published, the standard wisdom is that the road to further publication is easier. But it’s generally true only if your first book does well in the eyes of the publisher. Did it live up to sales expectations? (This could be anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 copies or more, depending on the book and the publisher.)

If your first book met or exceeded sales expectations, AND your second book proposal is good and the publisher likes it, then yes, getting that next book deal should be pretty easy.

If your first book met or exceeded sales expectations, BUT the publisher doesn’t like your second proposal, they’ll probably work with you to help you come up with one they like. In this case, it’s still going to be MUCH easier to get that second book deal than it was to get your first.

If your first book doesn’t live up to sales expectations or it truly tanks, then you definitely don’t have it made. It will be hard to get a second book published. In fact, many editors say that it’s easier for a first-time unpublished author to get published, than an author who has one or more books with poor sales.

(This is one of the reasons I’m always harping on platform. In these difficult publishing conditions, you really want to do everything you can to help your book sell. It’s much better to wait until you have a platform and give your book a good shot at strong sales, than to go out too soon, with no platform, and publish a book that tanks.)

If you’ve published a book, and it had average sales (the publisher isn’t ecstatic but neither do they feel they made a mistake) then the likelihood of getting subsequent books published is dependent on the market, the strength of your next book idea, the strength of your (hopefully growing) platform, and probably other hard-to-quantify factors. In these days of publishers “cutting back” their lists, the decision can rest on publisher circumstances that have nothing to do with you.

On a related subject, I notice that a number of authors have gone from one publisher to another. Failure of the original house to buy a subsequent work, or the result of an auction by their agent?

Very successful authors are often wooed by other publishers. Once you get to a certain level of success, if your agent has made sure that your contracts don’t lock you into one publisher for too long, you have the freedom to shop future projects elsewhere. However, authors who are treated well by their publishers and who are getting top dollar for their work rarely have the motivation to switch and will stay loyal to a publisher. But this isn’t always the case. Many factors play into an author’s decision to switch publishers, such as finances, marketing, editorial, distribution, and whether the author feels appreciated.

For “regular” authors, i.e. not bestselling, they often switch publishers because their original one declined to contract their subsequent projects, so they’re free to shop them elsewhere.

Whether you are “allowed” to shop projects at another publisher is determined by provisions in your current publishing contract.

So, what do you think? Does being published mean having it made?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Gloria McQueen Stockstill on June 25, 2008 at 10:20 AM

    >I was one of the blessed ones who went to a writers’ conference to see if God was leading me to write and, while there, had four chilren’s books picked up.

    That’s the good news.

    While it is a plus to put in my query that I’ve got books published, it has not been a great door opener. I am still receiving rejections. Each royalty check may pay for a meal at Burger King (only if I don’t super-size).

    So, don’t get the idea that a few books is going to make you big bucks and provide notoriety. Of course, if you write a blockbuster, all of the above is negated!

  2. Anonymous on June 25, 2008 at 2:07 AM

    >My novel is coming out next summer, and I *do* feel like I have it made.

    I know there are a lot of next steps: Maybe I’ll get bad reviews, or not get reviewed at all. Maybe it won’t do well. But, even worst-case, I’m not going to be back where I started.

    I finished a book that was good enough to make it this far. I have an agent who’s committed to looking after my whole career. I’m in the game! There’s no guarantee of winning, but at least now I’m in the game.

    I wouldn’t want to go back to querying agents, wondering if my book really is as good as I think it is. I like where I am now.

  3. Anonymous on June 24, 2008 at 7:39 PM

    >I hear you, travis, but it worries me that idealistic types (and I am one), especially in a Christian community, might be nodding in agreement. But if a writer sells only 4,000 copies, it might be a short career.

  4. Travis Griffith on June 24, 2008 at 4:52 PM

    >I had a book published in 2005. It’s sold just over half of its initial printing and the reviews have been absolutely glowing! Which is very cool. So- do I have it made? Financialy, not by a long shot. But that’s not why I write. I write because I love it, and because sometimes the things I write have a real impact on people. In my mind, that’s what ‘having it made’ is. I’d rather sell to 4,000 people who LOVE the book than 400,000 who don’t.

  5. Marla Taviano on June 24, 2008 at 4:13 PM

    >anonymous 2:28, I’d love to know your name (unless it’s a secret).

  6. Pam Halter on June 24, 2008 at 4:12 PM

    >I think you have it made if you are doing what you want to do. Truly, it is harder after you publish and have a higher standard to keep to. There is more freedom to write before you are published.

    Still, if you love what you are doing and you are able to keep doing it, you have it made … whether you are financially set from it or not.

  7. Marla Taviano on June 24, 2008 at 3:36 PM

    >Here’s my publishing history for what it’s worth:

    Proposal #1: book (2006, now out of print)
    Proposal #2: book (2007, going strong)
    Proposal #3: sorry, that kind of book won’t sell
    Proposal #4: sorry, that kind of book is a little too crazy
    Proposal #5: book (2008, has sold over 5,000 copies in 4 months)
    Proposal #6: book (releases January 2009, different publisher than the first three)
    Proposal #7: To be finished by July.

    My first book went out of print because I sat in my house and prayed it would sell itself. The 2nd two are doing well, because I started speaking (mostly locally) and actually getting the word out about the books.

    I can buy milk and eggs (and more books) with my profits, and that’s about it.

    I’m living my dream (praise You, Lord!) but it looks much, much different than I imagined.

  8. Anonymous on June 24, 2008 at 3:30 PM

    >oops- that cut off…

    the so was an accident

  9. Anonymous on June 24, 2008 at 3:28 PM

    >I guess I’m the odd one out. I do feel like I have it made.

    My first contract was for two books. The first one hit maybe 12000 the next one definately bombed with maybe 2000 copies sold so far (lots of transition in marketing and the first one although did ok still wasnt as great in sales as they thought it would be).

    Since then we’ve sold two different books to two different houses (my agent is amazing!) and have still got decent, realistic advances (the first one was crazy over the top).

    The books have given me more of a platform for freelance writing. Now I am able to stay home and write and am having a baby soon that I can now be with at home.

    God has opened this door for me so that I can stay home and write, even though just a few years ago it never would have seemed possible.

    I thank God for this blessing and that I can be home with my family. I never ever thought it was something I would beable to afford to do, but if I continue to write books and freelance articles I can.


  10. Anonymous on June 24, 2008 at 2:30 PM

    >I have nine books published.

    Do I have it made? No way. You have to prove yourself every time. Published writers sink out of sight every day.

    Listen to Brandilyn. The most “freedom to write” comes BEFORE you publish. If you do achieve the dream of signing up multiple books, you will learn what deadlines are all about. You will turn writing into at least some semblance of a 9-5 job, if not the identical thing, and you probably already HAVE a 9-5 job that you cannot afford to quit. Your next books will have to be perfected in way less time than you had for the first one.

    I don’t think getting the first book published is the hardest. I’d say the SECOND book is. Now you know how hard it is, and you have to do it again and prove you are not a fluke.

  11. Chatty Kelly on June 24, 2008 at 2:19 PM

    >My goal this year was to get published. I have an article being published in November. So after I did my happy dance “I’m getting published, I’m getting published…”, my next thought was “what is my next goal?” To get published again! So do I feel like I have it made? well, it does feel mighty good to have not been rejected (again), but does it make the next one easier. nah.

    And one day maybe I’ll write a book, but I’m a fan of starting small.

  12. Matthew Botsford on June 24, 2008 at 1:36 PM

    >I too have had two books published and have sold very few so my POV would it is an honor to be published but in no means have the books been able to effect their intended audience en masse. My question at this point is do I find a literearary agent to represent me? the 2 books are out of a 7 book series for youths in process of penning.

  13. Jessica on June 24, 2008 at 1:16 PM

    >I don’t think it’s having it made. An honor, yes. A possible career, yes. But it will still be work, it will still be hard.
    This is a great post. Thanks, Rachelle.

  14. ~ Brandilyn Collins on June 24, 2008 at 10:50 AM

    >Being published for the first time is not the end goal. It’s only the beginning. You will never feel like you “have it made.”

    Even as regular contracts come in, everything else gets harder. Writing gets harder–you realize how little you know of the craft. Reader expectations mount. Your own expectations mount. There’s always a higher number of books to sell. Most of all–the deadlines. As an unpublished author, never underestimate the incredible ability to be able to walk away from writing when you want to. Can’t do that on deadline. You write when you’re sick, when your family life’s a mess, when you have no ideas, when you’d rather be doing anything but writing. It is a whole other thing writing because you HAVE to, than writing because you WANT to. A different level of craft altogether. And for me–never easy.

  15. Kristi Holl on June 24, 2008 at 9:32 AM

    >The question gave me a chuckle. 😎

    I’ve had 35 books published in general interest and Christian markets since 1983. It was a huge shock to find out that subsequent books after the first few weren’t automatic sales. The push for platform in recent years has been a change too. About the only place a seasoned author “has it made” is in handling rejection and down times and editors leaving. After enough cycles of it–and seeing God work neat things out of an apparent mess–you finally (nearly) stop stressing about it all. You say “Rats!” when you get a rejection, maybe eat some chocolate, and then get back to work. You’ve realized by then that it’s the writing that brings the pleasure, like the “Chariots of Fire” quote above.

  16. Anne L.B. on June 24, 2008 at 9:16 AM

    >It would be nice to comment from the experience of being published rather than from only vision, but here goes.

    To the unpublished, it seems to me that the affirmation of being published (an arduous achievement in itself) is one small measure of “having it made.”

    To sell books and have my words affect others positively is “having it made.”

    Eric Liddell is quoted as saying, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

    I believe God gave me a gift. Some days, I feel His pleasure in my writing. THIS is “having it made.”

    I live not to be published, but for the day I hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things … Enter into the joy of your lord.”

  17. Stephanie Reed on June 24, 2008 at 8:26 AM

    >”It seems to be the feeling among writers that once you get a contract and have a book or two published, all you have to do is run up a decent proposal and your publisher will buy it.”

    I have two novels with Kregel Publications. Kregel is wonderful to work with and they respect me as an author. My first contract made pretty clear that Kregel had first right of refusal on a second book. Not the first right to buy–the first right to *refuse*. At least that’s what stood out to me.

    I worked extremely hard to make my second book even better than my first. Why would I or my publisher strive for anything less?

    I started writing as a stay-at-home mom to earn a college education for our two kids. That was my plan. Last fall I went back to work part-time, knowing that my second book was coming out in the spring. God’s plan was that we now have one kid through college (without loans or scholarships) and one to go. My royalties helped pay for a few text books. God has honored my resolve to write for Him–my job is in the public school system and now kids know me as an author who chooses to spend time with them. God opened up that door. He also opened up a new book festival for me when another one turned me down. With regard to platform, I write about an Underground Railroad family in Ohio. Books by the Banks is in Cincinnati, home of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I was born in Cincinnati, and both books are partially set there. Platform!

    The common reason for a subsequent book being turned down is probably the book-buying market and what will sell. The publishers know what will sell. What I like about Kregel is that they strive to be good stewards of their profits. That’s important to me.

    A Christian author saying, “I have it made”? Hahahahaha, as Rachelle said. Onward, Christian soldiers! It’s a battle out there.

  18. Janelle on June 24, 2008 at 8:17 AM

    >Having it made. I touched on this in one of my recent interviews. There are no guarantees. I have one book published and a second contracted, yet as Rachelle said, it’ll depend on the strength of my idea in order for the third of a series to get signed. But when you try to publish with the same company in a different genre, it’s like starting from the very beginning. You still have to prove you can write well enough in that genre, well enough to raise eyebrows, to get a chance at a contract. Great writing is the closest you’ll get to a guarantee and even then it’s up to what the house is looking for or their current circumstances.

  19. Cindy Thomson on June 24, 2008 at 7:06 AM

    >No, getting published does not mean you have it made!!

    So much pressure is put on authors these days to help sell their books that its common for authors to blame themselves when their books don’t sell well. You can work very hard to build a platform and publicize your book, but there is only so much an author can do. If I sell 100 or even 200 books by my own effort, that still will not affect sales enough for the publisher to consider my book a success. This was my experience. Yes, it’s good and it shows you are behind your book, but they are looking for thousands of sales. I think authors should do what they can, what they know how to do and are able to afford to do, and trust that God to work out the rest.

    And if we ever think we “have it made” we will surely be knocked down a notch. We should be constantly working and striving to do better, not kicking back.

  20. Richard Mabry on June 24, 2008 at 7:02 AM

    Thanks for addressing this situation. One additional comment: An author’s track record is meaningful insofar as it proves that you know how to string the words together and have a decent platform… for that book. It doesn’t prove you can write in a different genre. I can attest that being published in non-fiction may get that same publisher interested in a fiction proposal but there’s no guarantee they’ll go for it. I presume the converse holds true as well.
    Again, thanks for keeping the flow of information coming. This is almost better than American Idol.

  21. Anonymous on June 24, 2008 at 6:56 AM

    >’Having it made’ – now that was a great chuckle with my morning coffee! My first novel was published in 2002. A worthy feat considering it was co-authored with another first time author, and we had no real idea what we were doing. However, halfway through the publishing process our book was ‘orphaned’ when most of our editorial team left the publisher – including the editor who signed us – all the way up to the senior fiction editor who supported our book.

    Rachelle said, “This is one of the reasons I’m always harping on platform. In these difficult publishing conditions, you really want to do everything you can to help your book sell. It’s much better to wait until you have a platform and give your book a good shot at strong sales, than to go out too soon, with no platform, and publish a book that tanks.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Our book was well received, but way under-marketed and therefore made the step of getting the next book published that much harder. Long story short, the publisher turned down the two sequels they had options for, and it’s been basically back to square one as far as getting another book out on the shelves.
    The whole process was so draining that I pretty much put my writing on hold and am only now thinking about getting back to the grind of trying to sell my work.

    Rachelle’s insight as well as many of the other blog writers have been a great encouragement to me.

    If you dream of getting published (and it is an amazing moment when you first hold that book with your name on the cover!) set your expectations straight – if you manage to get published once, realize that everything you went through to get there is just preparation for what’s ahead. Press on and persevere!