Do You Have to Sign One?
In my May 3 post, “Will Your First Book Be Published?” I mentioned multi-book contracts, and blog reader Marion asked: “Do you have to sign for a multi-book contract?” Her concern was mainly that she wasn’t sure she wanted to be locked into deadlines since her first book took her ten years to write.
The short answer is no, you definitely don’t have to sign a multi-book contract, and you may not even be offered one. (You certainly won’t be offered one if you don’t have more than the one book.)
There are some cases in which you wouldn’t want to sign a multi-book contract even if offered one and you wouldn’t have any problem delivering the manuscripts. This has to do with specific publishers and the terms they’re offering. For example, if the publisher insists on joint accounting or “cross-collateralizing” all books within a contract, you might be better off only signing for one book at at time with them. (See this post from agent Kristin Nelson.)
But there is a larger issue here: It’s not usually good business for an agent or a publisher to commit to an author who may only have one book in them. There is a huge investment of time and money, especially when it comes to building an audience. We would hope that audience-building would be for the long haul… that your fans would follow you through multiple books. The publisher wants to build a following for you that would extend to many more books down the line (that’s their hope), basically amortizing their costs over multiple books. It takes a lot of effort to launch a new author, so it makes sense that you’d want that effort to benefit the sale of multiple books.
So, while you may only be offered a single book contract to start with, be aware that agents and publishers typically are looking for authors, not just books. They’re hoping you’ll have something else for them after this one.
Of course there are bestselling authors who are famous for a single book, and that’s a possibility, of course. I think that one book would have to be so good and have such amazing potential that the agent and publisher aren’t concerned about subsequent books—they believe the first one will be worth the effort in itself. The literary world would certainly be poorer without To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee), Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell), or Dr. Zhivago (Boris Pasternak). But those authors are the exceptions. For the most part, we’re looking for writers with more than one book in them.
Q4U: How does this “multiple book” goal serve you as a reader? Do you search for books from authors you like, or do you just look for good books regardless of the author?
© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent