An author’s future in publishing depends on market reception and agent representation more than we might think.

Many authors of fiction want to be more than a one-hit wonder, and most editors of fiction are looking for long-term publishing relationships. While there are many examples of author-editor relationships that achieve both of these goals, forecasting the success of any author’s career is often guesswork. But is there a way to figure out the most consequential predictors of an author’s continued success?


Henrik Fürst’s research in “The Curse of the Difficult Second Book: Continuation and Discontinuation in Early Literary Careers” provided an answer to this question. Using data on 1,479 novelists in Sweden from 2001 to 2010, Fürst implemented a binary logistic regression model to determine variables that strongly predicted authors’ career continuation. To measure continuation, he examined books published with an ISBN in Sweden and defined continuation as authors who had a first book appear between 2001 and 2010 and then a second book appear within 10 years after. Fürst examined authors of genre literature (the sample included crime novels and some science fiction and fantasy) and of literary fiction (books “with, or with ambition, of having literary merit going beyond generic formulas” [p. 4]).

The first of these variables—and the one that proved to be statistically significant in the final models—was the type of publishing house that served the authors. Both genre authors and literary authors who published books through a semi-core publishing house (a medium-sized publishing house with fewer employees and possibly an imprint of a larger publisher) had higher odds of publishing a second book than those who published at a larger, core publishing house. However, the data indicated that genre fiction authors have a higher rate of continuance than literary fiction authors through semi-core publishing. The other variables that appeared to have the most impact on an author’s continuance rate were whether the author had a literary agent and whether the author’s first novel appeared on a bestsellers list.

Ultimately, while many factors can affect continuing publication, these three factors—publishing at a semi-core publishing house, working with an agent, and appearing on a bestsellers list—appear to create the most significant improvements in chances for continued publication. These factors, in turn, create longer publishing relationships and longer author careers, often a main goal for both author and publisher.

“These initial tests seem to show that the type of position of a publishing house in the institutional literary space of publishing houses matters to a great degree to whether or not the author will publish a second book.”

Henrik Fürst (2022)


These results provide empirical support for current publishing practices, vindicating the standard practices of actively seeking the next bestselling book and seeking agented submissions. 

For authors attempting to turn writing novels into a career, this data repeats what they may already know: if publishing traditionally, find an agent; if self-publishing, try to write at a level that would attract an agent; and if you don’t get published by the large publishers right at first, there’s still hope.

And, for editors trying to establish long-term relationships with successful authors, this data indicates that looking for the next bestseller is indeed a viable strategy toward that goal. Additionally, to achieve that goal, the data suggests that editors should aim to work with authors at semi-core publishing houses (or encourage authors to submit to these publishing houses). The medium-sized houses may give authors the individualized attention they need for getting to that second book.

With this continued focus on book quality through various forms of gatekeeping, authors will have a greater likelihood of career continuation and publishers will have more long-term publishing relationships.

To learn more about factors that impact the continuation of an author’s career, read the full article: 

Fürst, Henrik. 2022. “The Curse of the Difficult Second Book.” Poetics 92(A): 1–14.

—Merlin Blanchard, Editing Research


Find more research

Read Henrik Fürst’s (2022) article for more research on success among new authors: “Continuing in a creative career: Claiming an artistic identity and aligning trajectories among early career novelists.” Poetics 100: 1–13.

Look at this Editing Research article for more tips on how to maintain a good work-home balance: “The Fundamentals of a Successful Work-Home Balance.”