These days, publishing veterans talk about "the death spiral" of authors' careers. A first novel generates terrific reviews and good sales, but with each succeeding book, sales get weaker and the chains cut their orders until they don't stock any at all.Additional discussion on the topic from Sarah Weinman at Galley Cat and Lee Goldberg at A Writer's Life.
When retailers base their decisions on a spreadsheet, all they see are numbers -- attached to the name of the author. That spreadsheet cannot explain the circumstances, mistakes perhaps made by the publisher or the distributor, or other forces simply beyond the novelist's control.
With all the mergers and buyouts, and with the independent booksellers struggling, more and more of the book publishing industry is being put into the hands of fewer and fewer people. The system could be headed for a place -- (if it has not already arrived) -- where it is impossible for a novelist to build a career. In this environment, many of today's biggest selling authors would never have made it: Instead of having a "breakout" with their fourth or fifth (or tenth) novel, retailers might have already dismissed them.
On a happier note, though, there is a tradition of authors who choose to write under multiple names, sometimes quite openly. For branding reasons, Evan Hunter used his own name for his more literary aspirtations, and wrote as Ed McBain for his enormously successful crime fiction.
Outlines: Follow the Map
Hope for us all
Don't quit your dayjob(s)
Writing for a living
IN FOR THE LONG HAUL