Thursday, November 03, 2016

Multi-book deals

I'm wondering why a debut author would want a multi-book deal. It seems to me that the only thing the author gains is a guaranteed* amount of money. But they lose the ability to get paid more for the second book if the first book does better than expected. That effectively means they're betting against their own first book. If it does poorly, then yay, they get their guaranteed advance for book two. If it does amazingly well, then boo, they get their guaranteed advance for book two. Why isn't it always in the interests of the author (and agent) to negotiate a deal for the second book after the first one is published?

* for certain definitions of guaranteed.

You are misunderstanding how book contracts work. The amount of money an author is paid upfront is an advance against royalties. In other words, that money is recouped to the publisher before the author gets paid more.

So, if Book #1 does really well, the publisher recoups the advance, and then pays royalties to the author.

If Book #1 tanks, the publisher does NOT recoup the advance  (the author does not need to repay it) but there probably aren't going to be any royalties.

Notice, this has nothing to do with Book #2.

Your premise is that if Book #1 goes stratospheric, the author would be in a better position to get more money.  That's not true.

The author might get a larger advance, but that money must be recouped to the publisher before the author sees another Susan B. Anthony dollar.

In other words, it only affects when you get paid more that's different;upfront or via paid royalties.

But, let's shine  the cold cruel light of day in here.

Most second books do appreciably worse than first books.

And most first books don't earn out.

Thus, you can see the attraction of a two or three book deal.  It means my guy gets paid even if the book doesn't earn what we hope.



Bethany Elizabeth said...

*Misty eyes* Two or three book deal... Oh man, I need coffee so I can get back to writing!

On topic, though - it feels like news articles and movies always make advances seem like bonuses, even though that's not really how they work.

What if an author gets an enormous advance for a book, and the book sells moderately well but nowhere near well enough to make back the advance. If the author doesn't have a three book deal, is the fact that they received a huge advance that the book didn't earn back going to hurt their chances of getting their next book published with that same publisher? Or would the publisher focus on the fact that the book sold reasonably well and just offer a much smaller advance (if any)?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I just wish I had a...

Am staring into the blank void of whatever, what if, wouldn't it be nice and why

DLM said...

One more reason the state of a pre-published author has its advantages: hope.

Theresa said...

I always love reading dream scenarios first thing in the morning. It's like I'm getting extra sleep/dream time. 2-3 book deal! Wouldn't that be something!

At the risk of raising partisan ire: Yay Cubs! My mother is a lifelong fan and I know she's over the moon today.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It ends up basically being the same amount of money in the end because royalties like the shark says.

Psychologically, I want my debut to earn out as I suspect this gives the publisher a warm fuzzy so that future books are more appetizing to said publisher. So a smaller advance probably wouldn't bother me much.

However, I suspect agent wants as big an advance as can be negotiated so that some of his or her efforts are rewarded. Agents need to eat to or so I read somewhere and better writer does, the better it is for agent.

On that note, I best get back to NaNo'ing. If I am to one day feed an agent and give some publisher a warm fuzzy. Cheers Reef.

Unknown said...

"But, let's shine the cold cruel light of day in here. Most second books do appreciably worse than fist books." which brings us right back to yesterday 's post. Meanwhile, we're all, like, "he'll yeah. Sign me up!"

Colin Smith said...

A big advance is a nice show of confidence from the publisher, but I'd much rather gain the publisher's confidence by earning out. So, like Elise, I would probably lean toward a modest advance. But I guess I would have to re-think that in the event of a bidding war... but even then, I don't have to base a decision on which publisher to go with on money, do I? I've always liked the look and feel of Penguin paperbacks. Gary Corby is with SohoCrime. My favorite editor in the whole wide word is with Knopf. Could these be factors in the event my novel gets competing offers? Does it have to come down to who's willing to give the biggest advance?

On the topic--yes, a multi-book deal would be awesome. As hard as it is to get trad published once, that second sale is not at all guaranteed, and might be harder. It would be lovely to have a publisher contractually obliged to take my follow-up. :)

Meandering thoughts from a brain soaked in primer fumes...

Colin Smith said...

P.S.: For the record, I do like the look and feel of Penguins (paperbacks, that is--I've not stroked a real penguin... though I've eaten Penguin bars... mmmm... Brit chocolate...), and Gary is with SohoCrime, but I don't know any editors at Knopf. I presume they are all marvelous. :)

RachelErin said...

I saw in an author's blog post the statement that ten years ago eight out of ten debut authors did not publish a second book.

Was/Is that true? Does anyone compile statistics like that, or is mostly known on an agency-by-agency basis?

One of last year's YA fantasy debuts got a one book deal (even though it was intended to be the start of a series), and after a few weeks on the NYTBS list plus a couple thousand Goodreads reviews begging for the next book, the author announced she got a contract for the next four books. I found that interesting, perhaps publishers are experimenting with saving the multi-book deals for super successful debuts.

Ann Bennett said...

You mean I might not get rich and become a gazillionaire with book two.

Ruhroh, Toto, We're not in Kansas anymore.

I have no idea why I am still writing. But fantasy land is where all us cool people slip off to everyday. It doesn't pay the bills. It's just cheaper than wine with none of the calories.

Unknown said...

I’ve heard (many times, including on this blog) that a big advance motivates the “holy crap, we need to earn this back” reaction from publishers. This, in turn, spurs promotion.
Presumably publisher promotion comes in the form of prominent placement in catalogs, bigger stacks of books going out to book stores (whichmight then motivate the bookstores to move those big stacks, so they stick them way up in the front of the stores), sexy posters for the book stores to use, sending copies to influential readers … I’m curious about Janet’s take on the full list of publishers efforts and the effectiveness of them.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Hmm... now RachelErin's got me thinking... I wonder if there are any authors who had poor-ish sales with the first book in a series, couldn't get a second contract, and self-published the rest of the series successfully. Is that even allowed? I guess I don't know much after all. :)

Craig F said...

My current line of justification runs this way:

Editors and/or publishers are not omniscient. A lot of humanity can flow by during the time it takes the glacial melt of publishing to put fart out a new book. This is even more applicable with a new writer. There is no telling what the world will look like in a year or two.

They do know how to bet though. They place a bet on you as an author. Part of that is for you to still be relevant and strike a cord with buyers. If you do there is a hope that you can become a brand name. The second book is an attempt to solidify that brand. The odds are low but it happens often enough to offset the loses of those who falter.

So, if you are offered a two or three book deal, suck it up and sign. Then continue as if you are the next big thing.

Colin Smith said...

Bethany: Is that even allowed? As I understand it, ANYTHING is allowed as long as you haven't signed that right away in your contract. I'm not an agent, so take this for what it's worth, but my understanding is that your contract for the first novel will (or should) give rights to the novel to the publisher, but you retain rights to the characters, world, etc. So, if you want to self-publish other novels with those characters and that world, then that shouldn't be a problem, as long as you are not re-printing that first novel. If novel #1 goes out of print, then, according to your carefully worded contract, the rights to that novel should revert back to the author. At that point, you can self-pub it, or shop it to another publisher--whatever floats your boat!

Janet and others who know better, please correct if I am mistaken. :)

Elissa M said...

The problem with writers (especially writers of fiction) is that our imaginations tend to work overtime. We can imagine nearly any scenario and the possible outcomes, but we rarely limit this to our writing.

The OP's question reminds me to keep things in order. The book must be finished before anything else, and honestly, finishing the book is the only thing over which we writers have any real control. After that it's pretty much a crap shoot.

Colin Smith said...

Thinking about Bethany's question some more, perhaps we shouldn't get hung up over what's "allowed." Maybe it's more helpful to think in these terms:

1) What you're able to do: Anything you are physically and mentally capable of doing, which includes writing 600,000 word epic poetry, transcendental haiku, sci-fi romance otter novels--whatever! Yay for the First Amendment (and similar freedom of speech rights in other countries). :)

2) What's legal: If you write libel, or try to publish certain kinds of illicit material, you'll find yourself on the wrong side of the law. People have a tendency to divorce freedom from responsibility, so sometimes the law has to remind us that they go hand-in-hand. :)

3) What's advisable: This is where most writing, querying, and publishing "rules" fall. You might consider editing down your 600,000 word epic poetry. You don't have to, but you'll probably have a hard time selling it to an agent and publisher.

Yeah, a bit off-topic... sorry! :)

Julie Weathers said...

I'll settle for whatever my agent can get. That's why I went into partnership with him or her when the time comes.

Advances aren't the only parts of the deal to take a look at. One publisher might be more attractive who offers a smaller advance for various reasons. Yes, I would definitely like to have a multi-book deal. It gives me some sense of security that they'll stick with me and hopefully I can earn that trust.

Now, on to new words before the doctor appointment, which may hamper new words. I think I tore my rotator cuff...again.

Brigid said...

Oh, Julie, ack! Maybe don't try to wrestle two rattlesnakes and a bull singlehandedly any more, eh? Or was it the kickback from using a smallish cannon as a rifle again?

Joseph S. said...

I’m joining in on Colin’s 8:15 comment. When I make my imaginary list of what I’m looking for in a publisher, I seldom list ‘advance’ near the top of the list. The two that seem to work their way closest to the top are the ones Colin mentioned: the presentation or ‘feel of the books, and a really great editor who works well with me and will identify ways I can improve on my next book. (I'd also like help with a map.)

I’ve wondered how many conflicts arise between authors and agents if one has fast money as their objective and the other values long term or aesthetic goals.

Robert Ceres at 8:59 brings up an interesting point, too. Does a large advance or a large multi-book advance affect how the publisher treats the book? In promotion, quality of editorial staff, speed, distribution, etc. I’ve been on both sides of that fair haired boy/red headed stepchild (two phrases I haven’t seen in many a year) treatment. It makes a difference.

Finally, one point not explicitly stated is a writer could come out ahead with larger advances if the books don’t ‘earn out’ their advances. (Janet Reid has reminded us time and time again publishers can make money even if the author does not earn out the advance). That said, I’d rather my books earn out their advances. (FWIW – for my academic books, there were zero advances.)

And a second finally, do third books generally do better or worse than second books?

Friendly reminder: Don’t spend the royalty check before you receive it.

Julie Weathers said...

Brigid I actually have a small cannon, but it wasn't from wrestling that. I fell down the stairs again. I simply have to stop getting drunk so much.

Beth Carpenter said...

I'm mulling over why second books tend to sell appreciably worse than first. You'd think having two books out would double your discoverability.

I guess if it's a series, people would start with the first book and if they didn't like it, go no further. But if it's not a series, you'd think which book people pick up would be random, or maybe skew toward the second due to name recognition. I believe DiVinci Code was his third.

Or maybe to get published the first time, you have to knock someone's socks off. What are the chances you can do it twice in a row, and under deadline?

Colin Smith said...

Beth: It does seem that working under a deadline would result a work inferior to that first which took years to craft. Yet, as I think about it, some of my best work has been done "under the gun" so to speak. Indeed, while I love all Gary Corby's novels, his first, THE PERICLES COMMISSION, is not my favorite. At the moment, the one that gets that honor is a toss up between SACRED GAMES and the latest, THE SINGER FROM MEMPHIS. And of the Potter canon, THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN is my favorite, not PHILOSOPHER'S/SORCERER'S STONE. So perhaps there's a reasonable expectation from the publisher that an author's subsequent novels will be better than the first?

CS said...

Thanks for the response (OP here). I'd just like someone to clarify one thing.

I do get that advances are recouped against royalties, and that you don't get any more money until you earn out. And I can see how getting a two- or three-book deal gives you a lot more security about what you earn.

But still, isn't it at least true that if you negotiate a one-book deal, and the book does much better than expected, you would be in a position to negotiate a larger advance for the second book? So taking a multi-book deal is hedging against your books doing more poorly than expected. That's basically what you're saying: "it means my guy gets paid even if the book doesn't earn what we hope."

Publishers, having a large number of authors, can take a little more risk. They're going to be okay if two out of three authors never sell well, as long as the rest make up for it. Authors, on the other hand, are a sample size of one, and so (like you say) will probably take a lower-risk deal with more guaranteed money.

One interesting thing is that agents, having multiple authors, would probably be able to take more risk (at least, more than each individual author). Which means that it might be in their interests to avoid multi-book deals. Of course, the authors would have to agree in each case, and respectable agents would hopefully be pushing for what's in the client's interest.

I get that I'm totally overthinking this. It's just an aspect of publishing contracts that I think is interesting.

Colin Smith said...

Hey, CS Opie! If you don't have an agent, then this is a bit cart-before-horse, since ultimately you'll talk about this with your wise and experienced agent and get his/her advice. As has been discussed above, a big advance isn't always a good thing. I suppose if you're counting on your novels as a source of income, then that fat check means much more to you than to those of us who are paying the bills some other way. Otherwise, it might be easier to consider that advance as "earnest money" that is quickly recouped so everyone can start enjoying the royalty checks. That's how I tend to think about it. Of course, once I get an agent and face this situation IRL, my thoughts might change. ("Penguin is offering $1 million advance, plus a lifetime supply of Hobnobs, Colin. Interested?") :)

Joseph S. said...


Take care of yourself. And take it one step at a time.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Colin - Thanks for the food for thought! I guess by 'allowed' I was wondering about the line between 'legal' and 'advisable' - but it's good to imagine that I can write a 25,000 word dinosaur suspense as a sequel to my 110,000 word high-fantasy flop if I want to. :)

It's not just literature that suffers from the 'sophomore slump,' either. The music industry often has the same problem, and I imagine film does as well - for directors, maybe. Strangely enough, my favorite books in my favorite series (Butcher's Codex Alera) are odd-numbered. I like books 1,3, and 5 and disliked books 2 and 4 (six broke the pattern - great stuff!).

Beth Carpenter said...

Colin, good point. So far, I think my writing has gotten better with each book, but that probably levels off over time. I agree, my favorite from an author is usually not the first one.

Julie, heal well. Hope it's not too serious.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I just got my Indie Pick book list and Dixie Dupree is on it. Great to see!

Donnaeve said...

Julie I tend to trip up the stairs. I hope you haven't done the *we won't mention it and maybe it will go away* injury.

"Most second books do appreciably worse than first books." As if my nerves aren't shot already. :)

"What are the chances you can do it twice in a row, and under deadline?" agent said you have your whole life to write your first book and about a year to write the rest. This is why writing THE ROAD TO BITTERSWEET was nerve wracking and H.A.R.D. Not only did I keep comparing it to DIXIE, I also felt it could never be as good. I couldn't massage the words ad nauseum, polish this phrase or that, give it a few months to sit and age, then go back and read fresh. But, I set goals and did my best to meet them.

In other news, I've become obsessed with Amazon rankings.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...


(Colin, can you do the linky thing?)

Colin Smith said...

The linky thing for Melanie: :)

Julie Weathers said...


Unfortunately, I can't raise my arm even to shoulder height and the thought of extending any weight from it makes me weep. It's gotten to the point it's painful to pick up a cup of coffee. On the plus side, I'm becoming ambidextrous.

They're setting up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor agree something was wrong.

Donnaeve said...

Yay Sharyn!

Joseph S. said...

Julie wrote

"Unfortunately, I can't raise my arm even to shoulder height and the thought of extending any weight from it makes me weep. It's gotten to the point it's painful to pick up a cup of coffee.

"They're setting up an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon. The doctor agrees something was wrong."

My second thought was "Gee, what was the doctor's clue something was wrong?"

Beth Carpenter said...

"In other news, I've become obsessed with Amazon rankings."

Donna, I just ordered, so that might be a tiny uptick. I'm looking forward to meeting Dixie. And I'll bet the ROAD TO BITTERSWEET will be another hit.

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely cynical when it comes to royalties from trad publishers. From basket accounting to suspect definitions of "net" to other odd shenanigans, I'm not sure I'd ever expect to see royalties. Too many moving parts. I'd have more of a mindset to get as much "up front" (that is, paid in 3-4 installments, less commission, over time) as possible. But I'd also tend to respect and trust the advice of an agent who has experience dealing with these things. My cynicism isn't so crusty that it can't be swayed.

Julie, ouch! I hope all you need is a shot of cortisone and some rest.

Donna, I've decided that the more views a book page gets without it resulting in a purchase, the worse the ranking gets. Might not be true, but it got me to stop looking at mine. :)

Between watching the CMAs and then the end of the game last night, I've fallen behind on my goals for NaNo. But holy guacamole, what a game!! Definitely worth the distraction for the chance to see that happen. Back to work, now.

Donnaeve said...

Beth Thank you! Based on what kdjames just said, I won't go least not tonight. :)

Thanks, kd! Good to know. Hey, I won't be able to look at them tomorrow...I'll be gone all day. Amazon algorithms will finally be able to go back to normal...and they'll be wondering why. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Donna, I have no proof, or even solid evidence, to suggest that is what happens. It just made an odd sort of sense when I started thinking about it. And at the time I really really really needed a reason to stop obsessing. So I convinced myself it was true. It might be completely wrong.

CS said...

This is complete thread necromancy, but -- OP again. I happened to be googling info on two book deals and this thread was one of the hits. The reason I was googling is because I got an offer the other day from a publisher for...two books. Not final yet, but some amazingly good news! And I asked my agent some of these same questions and unsurprisingly got mostly the same answers.

Janet - I learned a lot from your blog and from the answers you gave to my questions (this and a few others over the years), so I just want to thank both you and the community here. Places like this are few and far between.