Multi book deals: Pros and Cons
As an agent who has done single book, two books, and three book deals in the past, I was asked by Clarion to discuss the positives and negatives of single or multi-book deals.
Before I start, I want to point out that authors facing this decision should consult with their agent and talk over the issues until they feel like they have a complete understanding of their options. I’m not sure what to recommend to those un-agented authors who are facing this decision. This kind of decision is one of the reasons to get an agent, if you can. You might consider talking to authors you know who have had multi-book deals and what their experiences were like.
So let’s start with single book deals. Putting aside the obvious reason you do this because of factors beyond one’s control (only one publisher is interested and they only want one book), there are benefits to doing a one book deal. If this book does very well, you can hold the publisher’s feet to the fire for your second book deal, and get a bigger advance than you would have seen if you had sold a second book when the author was not yet published and successful.
If the book doesn’t do well, or the author and publisher do not get along for some reason, the author can walk away easily. That might be a better option than having to go through the motions for a second or third book with an unhappy publisher and/or unhappy author. It can feel a bit like a romantic relationship that is lurching towards break up but both parties are keeping things together for that big upcoming cocktail party they are hosting together—in short, awkward.
Two book deal: Putting aside what I said above, there is a case to be made for getting a publisher to buy two books. It often means more money than just a single book deal; it also means that the publisher is thinking of the author in the longer term. If there is a second book lined up, that puts a bit more pressure on the publisher for the first book to do well, and not lead to the awkward situation I mention above.
A three book deal: this often happens with commercial series, and the author knows this offer is going to be coming. When I’ve sold urban fantasy series at auction, the author has decided that they are willing to entertain a three book offer, knowing that while this does mean more money, it also means more commitment from the author herself. The publisher is telling the author, “I’m willing to work with you on three books, which will mean our relationship will last somewhere between two to three years.” And the author is responding, “I’m willing to work with you guys for three books—and make time to write those books over the next few years.”
Why no four book deals? They do happen. I personally have not done any. It’s too long a commitment for most of my clients. In some cases, you are doing deals for books that might not be delivered for four or five years, or more, and that’s far too much time for a client to be locked in at a certain advance level. I’ve asked editors about this, and they also don’t do many four book deals. Also, there is just something very natural to the plotting process about trilogies, or three book cycles. Something about the number 3—it’s almost coded into our genetics! Someone should write a science fiction novel about that….
When doing a multi book deal, you want to discuss certain clauses in particular with your agent that could be affected.
The accounting clause: probably the first and most important clause to consider when doing a multi-book deal. Specifically, is this contract jointly or separately accounted? Joint accounting means the entire advance has to be earned back before the author starts to receive royalties. Separate accounting means that only one book’s advance has to be earned out before the author starts to receive royalties.
First proceeds: What happens if book 1 is rejected? What happens to books 2 and 3? “First proceeds” refers to if the book is ultimately rejected, and the author sells the book to another publisher. They to pay back the advance from their now former publisher from the “first proceeds” they receive from their new publisher. What does this mean if books 2 and 3 are left behind?
Out of print/Reversion clause: If the author is able to get the rights reverted back to book 1 in the contract if the book goes out of print or for some other reason, what does this mean for the other book or books in this deal? Do they revert? Or if book 2 reverts before book 1, what does that mean for book 1?
Description of work: Let’s say you sell your first novel, SPACE OPERA EXTRAVAGANZA, to Apple Publishers—and they want to buy a second book from you. Make sure that second book’s description is as specific or as general as you want. If you want them to buy your second novel—whatever it is—have it be a very general description. If you want to make sure that your second novel with them is a very specific idea or proposal you have, discuss this early in the process with your agent and editor, and make sure that book description is specific enough to your liking.
Option clause: If the publisher has an option on a future book by the author, when are they required to consider it? If you are dealing with a multi-book contract, it could be years if that period is tied to the publication of the final book in the contract. Also, is the publisher allowed to consider any new work by the author? Or perhaps, if this contract is for a series, just the next book in the series?
There are other contract clauses that are affected by having a multi-book deal, but these are some of the more high profile ones.
A good agent will talk over the various options and issues that come from doing a single or multi-book deal.