Multi-Book Contracts

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

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  9. Roslyn Rice on May 11, 2011 at 9:25 PM

    >Just like my nail tech and hair stylist, I am loyal to the person that captivates me. The same is true with an author, I will follow them and their journey through the experiences in their books.
    Thankfully, I am co-authoring with twin sister so we are interested in writing many books, not just one.

  10. The Pen and Ink Blog on May 11, 2011 at 2:47 PM

    >When I find an author I like, I devour their every book and I look forward to each new release. I think a multiple book contract is a good thing.

  11. Lauren on May 11, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    >If I read a book that I like, I always look for another book by that author, whether it be a standalone or part of a series.

  12. Martha Randolph Carr on May 11, 2011 at 9:54 AM

    >This is where a trusted agent becomes invaluable because every situation is different and it takes someone who isn't so emotionally attached to the deal to steer an author to the right spot. I have been following Rachelle's advice for a couple of years now and while I'm not famous, yet, I can see how I'm building a strong base for the first time in a career that already is over 20 years with a lot of accolades and great stuff but no consistency. Great agent will help every time.

  13. Shelly Goodman Wright on May 11, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    >I like knowing there is a series if I really get into the book and not all the ends were tied up. However, I don't mind a stand alone novel as long as the story has a strong ending.

  14. Ishta Mercurio on May 11, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    >Once I find an author I like, I read everything they've written until I've gone through them all. In the in-between times, I read whatever people are buzzing about or whatever a friend has recommended to me.

  15. Sarah Thomas on May 10, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    >Yup–if I enjoy a book I immediately check to see if there are any others by the same author. And I HAVE gotten annoyed when their other books are too different.

    Which brings up a question. If you have more than one book does it make a difference if subsequent books are related to the first or completely different? What do publishers prefer?

  16. Mary Ann on May 10, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    >As a writer, I must say that the "problem" of multi-book deals is not one I've had to deal with. Darn it. Maybe someday.

    As a reader, I do look for familiar names. If I've liked a previous book, I'm likely to give a new one a shot. As a George R.R. Martin fan, I know all about the agony (!) of waiting for a new book in a series.

    That said, if a writer disappoints me several times in a series (I don't ever give up after one or even two books I didn't like), I'll quit and probably never go back, no matter what he/she writes. I've "divorced" five or six former favourites, writers whose books I used to pounce on with glee. It's sad I suppose to walk down a bookstore aisle and not even pause at names that used to thrill me.

  17. Kristin Laughtin on May 10, 2011 at 6:24 PM

    >I think there's also the fear that refusing a multi-book contract means you won't get even the first book published. But I too understand the fear of being able to deliver on time and worried for a while that the publishing company would want me to write much quicker than I can, but decided that was putting the cart before the horse a little bit.

    Oddly enough, I wrote a post on the plethora of sequels in SF and fantasy on my blog last week. I like finding books by authors I like, but way after they are written; I can get impatient if I have to wait a long time for the next book! At least my reading list is so long now that I always have something to fill in the between-times…

  18. Anne Gallagher on May 10, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    >May I ask a follow-up question?

    Do you have to have book proposals on all the other books in a series before the publisher will offer a multi book contract?

    Or do they take it on faith that you will write them?

  19. kristen on May 10, 2011 at 5:03 PM

    >As a reader, I love series. Of course they have to have fantastic characters that I want to keep reading about, and that's the beauty of the series. I get to spend more time with my "friends" than I would with a single book.
    The thought of writing a series scares me. I'm just trying to get through one book!

  20. Siri Paulson on May 10, 2011 at 2:56 PM

    >As a reader, if I like an author I'll definitely want to read more of their work (whether in series or not), but I'm also very open to finding good new-to-me authors. Since I don't read that fast, there are plenty of books in both categories to keep me happy.

  21. Rick Boyne on May 10, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    >Oh to have the struggle of whether or not to sign a multi-book deal!

  22. Laila Knight on May 10, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    >I mostly follow series, but you have to leave your options open or you may miss out on an opportunity. No sense going sailing through life with blinders on. Me, I'm ready for both one-book, multi-book.

  23. Holly Ruggiero on May 10, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    >I definitely have a loyalty to my favorite authors. If an author I enjoy has a new book out I’ll pick that book up first.

  24. Liberty Speidel on May 10, 2011 at 12:29 PM

    >In non-fiction, I usually am a topical reader, so will read multiple books by the same author if they’re on the same or related topics.In fiction, I tend to prefer series books, so it goes without saying I like multiple books. I’ll read stand-alones, but I don’t like breaking in new characters quite as much, so I usually stick to a favored few authors. Since I am a writer, I am trying to be a bit more broad in my acceptance of stand-alones, and having free Kindle offerings is definitely helping me in that aspect!

  25. Rachel Rossano on May 10, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    >As a reader, I follow authors. If I find an author I like, I will go looking for more books like them. However, I will also pick up individual books by and author I am not as drawn to based on the topic and concept of the book.

  26. Larry Carney on May 10, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    >The question already raised of whether or not the specific contract gives the writer ample opportunity avoid churning out a book is a valid one. Yet as a reader who sees authors being dropped left and right from publishing houses I feel that giving authors the opportunity to grow their base (and give us readers the full story and not having a series be left in limbo) is a boon.

  27. Robert Trevino on May 10, 2011 at 12:10 PM

    >I would be more worried about what if you had a horrible time with the publishers on your first book. Problems with story adjustments they want you to make, the book cover, and other minor details. If you had a bad experience with the first book why would you want to go through all that again on subsequent books? My main issue with going the Big 6 route is that the book publishers get your movie rights. Do you have any advice for people like me who want to be published but also want their books to be made into movies (I am going to take a film making program at a college to help me make this a reality). Although I would love to be published I do have big dreams and I am doing everything I can to make them a reality but I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot either.

  28. David A. Todd on May 10, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    >All I Want This Conference(to the tune of “All I Want for Christmas”)All I want this conference is a two book deal,a two book deal,just a two book deal.And if I could obtain a two book dealthen I would have a happy conference.It seems so long since someone said,”Send me your proposal and some chapters.”And if I could get a five-figure advanceI’d feel like I’d been raptured!All I want this conference is a two book deal,a two book deal,just a two book deal.And if I could obtain a two book deal,then I would wish you happy conference.

  29. Sarah Forgrave on May 10, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    >Very helpful information, Rachelle!I never thought about the downsides you presented here. Your post just underscores the importance of finding a good agent before I navigate this bumpy road called publication.Thanks for sharing your insights. I always know I’ll find great information here. 🙂

  30. Melissa Jagears on May 10, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    >As a reader, I do like the series books if they are stand alones as well. I remember with Linda Chaikin, I’d get so mad that the story didn’t finish, but I liked her well enough that, knowing she put out trilogies, I’d wait til all three were out before purchasing. It was terrible to read a book in a day and wait for a year to finish the story! Not appealing. What would happen if #3 got cancelled? Then I would have bought none of them, and I’m sure my purchasing plan didn’t help her sales numbers. I look at authors I like first, see if they have anything new out in the genre I prefer, then if not, I move to looking for something else interesting in my genre.Usually to catch me outside of my genre it has to be by an author I like or word of mouth and then I’ll decide by the story itself.

  31. Jill on May 10, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    >Oh, yes, I look for more books by authors I like. Sometimes, I wait impatiently for the next book, haunting author websites, wondering why it takes so long for Brit books to release over here. Wondering why it takes so long to publish a novel.

  32. Maril Hazlett on May 10, 2011 at 10:55 AM

    >Yes, as a reader absolutely I enjoy multiple books in a series. They don’t always have to focus on the same main character each time, either. I like having a chance to explore the world of the story a bit more each time, and from a different angle, too. As a writer, I think the pros and cons of a multibook contract totally depend on the contract terms. Questions: What exactly does it take to demonstrate your multibook potential to an agent or editor? For a query letter, do you just mention it? Further in the process (if you are able to get that far), does it require additional proposals, outlines, or even full manuscripts? If so, at what stage might those materials be required?Thanks 🙂

  33. K.L. Brady on May 10, 2011 at 10:25 AM

    >I signed a two-book contract with an option for a third. At the time, I thought it would be advantageous because I knew the second book would be a sequel to the first. I suppose I was wishfully thinking that if the first did well, it would ease the process for getting the second book published, also realizing the opposite would be true if it didn’t do well. Since I originally self published I had no qualms about self publishing the sequel if necessary so I was willing to take my chances. My debut has been out a month and my publisher just gave me a pub date for the sequel, so I’m hoping that bodes well. 🙂 Some question my wisdom in signing a two-book deal not knowing if I liked my publisher. Several signed one-book deals and are now having problems selling their second book. Some of them are losing their contracts altogether. Knowing what I know now, I think the multibook contract really gave me a little bit of security. But just a little bit. Still got to sell sell sell, as well as continue to write quality material to stay in the game.

  34. Beth on May 10, 2011 at 10:16 AM

    >As a reader, I always want to know what happened next in the life of characters because I get close to them while I read. They become real. I think it’s more for that than for the sake of the author that I hope for more books.

  35. Michelle DeRusha@Graceful on May 10, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    >When a read a great book, I definitely search for other books by the same author, and then I typically go on a one-author binge and read everything he/she written. I’m a loyal reader that way!

  36. Jessica Miller Kelley on May 10, 2011 at 9:19 AM

    >Speaking of Margaret Mitchell, I thought I’d throw this fun fact in. I read a biography of her recently and learned that part of why she never got around to writing another book was that she was determined to handle all her international rights for GWTW herself and pursuing those who translated her book illegally. Good reminder that publishers serve many purposes so that writers can focus on writing! (and these days, promotion too!)

  37. Cynthia Herron on May 10, 2011 at 8:56 AM

    >I love to discover authors who become my “new” favorites! If I like their voice and what they write, I have the tendency to follow them in the future, devouring everything by them I can get my hands on. And I think it only makes good sense for authors who are in the midst of career building to consider the potential that first book has(especially if it’s one that has many multi-layered characters to draw from.)

  38. Dunx on May 10, 2011 at 8:44 AM

    >Thank you for this post! It’s relevant for me since I am working on a trilogy with good potential for sequels and prequels, quite apart from the other stories I want to write, so I am fairly sure that (should a deal be forthcoming) that multi-book would be the way to go, but it is reassuring that it is not critical.

  39. MJR on May 10, 2011 at 8:33 AM

    >Sometimes I wonder if these multi-book contracts hurt writers and readers. The debut novel is strong, but subsequent books are often weaker because there is less time to work on them etc. In the past, I think authors may have had more time to come up with 2nd, 3rd books. Now they have to churn ’em out.

  40. Lisa Hall-Wilson on May 10, 2011 at 8:24 AM

    >Your comments echo that of many other agents and editors I’ve spoken with at conferences. It makes total sense. Some readers, perhaps it’s more genre based, are very loyal. My mom buys the next J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts book as soon as it’s out and doesn’t care what it’s about. How many bought the entire Left Behind series – I still own the whole O’Malley series by Dee Henderson. Once I’m invested, I’m going to keep reading as long as the writer keeps me interested. I’ve learned that having marketing saavy and platform/audience are half of being published. People need to know about you now, very few books are ‘stumbled’ upon to become best sellers.

  41. Lisa on May 10, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    >Interesting. So many query tips out on the Internet suggest an author limit a query letter to one book and not mention other books, yet agents/publishers really are looking for multi-book potential. Sounds like I need to redo my query letter. Thank you for the helpful information.

  42. Sandra Ardoin on May 10, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    >Thanks for the link to the post on Pubrants, Rachelle. Joint accounting was a new term for me. I can see where that kind of practice would not be advantageous to the writer or the agent.I love series books–reading and writing them. So often, a secondary character intrigues me and I want to know what happens to that “person.” And, yes, I’d love a multi-book deal as long as it gave me a reasonable deadline and no ulcer.When I find a writer I enjoy, I’ll read everything I can by that person. As for discovering new writers, my focus tends to go first to the title, then the cover, then the back copy blurb.

  43. Peter DeHaan on May 10, 2011 at 7:34 AM

    >I read primarily non-fiction and find that no matter how much I like an author’s book, I am less enamored with them as I read more of their work. If I persist in reading them, I can even get to the point of “familiarity breeds contempt.” I’ve often wondered if this is because they only really have one good book in them and the rest are variations on a theme or inconsequential, but published anyway in hopes of capitalizing on their earlier work’s success.

  44. Richard Mabry on May 10, 2011 at 7:32 AM

    >I appreciate your tackling a question most aspiring authors haven’t yet considered. Your link to the blog about joint accounting or cross-collateralization of books on a multi-book contract is a must-read. It gives an excellent explanation of something many authors may not think about until they’re in the midst of a contract.Thanks for continuing to share your expertise.

  45. Kristy K on May 10, 2011 at 7:09 AM

    >I’ve been thinking about this a lot! I’m working on my non-fiction proposal (THANK YOU MARY DEMUTH!) and I’ve put a lot of through into the next book as well. I want to have solid ideas for at least one or two more related books.

  46. K. Victoria Chase on May 10, 2011 at 6:39 AM

    >As a reader of category romance, an author with multiple books keeps me interested because although each book can usually stand alone, there is that thin thread to tie them together and it’s like reading history. For example, Linda Lael Miller has a SERIOUS generational history story going on with her McKettrick and Creed clans. She essentially has a lifetime of stories to write, and that’s a business for her and a fun experience for her readers.

  47. Carol Benedict on May 10, 2011 at 6:34 AM

    >I definitely look for books by authors I’m familiar with before browsing books by unknowns. I prefer single books over those in a series, but if I like the author’s style I’ll read anything they write. Books in a series sometimes seem too concerned with introducing characters the author plans to put in the next book, or talking about characters that were in earlier books, which I think can distract from the story.

  48. Sue Harrison on May 10, 2011 at 6:30 AM

    >I love the planning I can do with a multi-book contract, but I would expect a one-book contract until a publisher felt confident with my writing and my ability to garner an audience.I love to READ multiple books by one author. Watching an author grow in skill and in “poetry” as he/she continues to write books is a great joy. It’s like cheering on the home team!

  49. Wendy Paine Miller on May 10, 2011 at 6:12 AM

    >This shows a real commitment from the house. I’d get excited about a multi-book contract. Yes, yes I would.To answer your second question, I loved Still Alice by Lisa Genova and I’ve been looking forward to reading her second book, Left Neglected. I bought it as part of my Mother’s Day gift and I’m reading it now.~ Wendy

  50. Timothy Fish on May 10, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    >I sometimes look for other books by the same author, but only if there is something I particularly like about the way the author writes. Most of the time, I’m more interested in the story, so if the author doesn’t have other books that appeal to me, or if I just bought the book because I wanted to know how the author writes, I don’t go looking for the author’s other books.

  51. Brigid Kemmerer on May 10, 2011 at 5:05 AM

    >This is a great post. I sold my book the first week of February as part of a three book deal — the same week I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I now have a deadline to finish revisions on book one, and a deadline to present a completed book two. (Oh, and I have a full time job.) While the deadlines are fine (no less time than it took me to write the first one), there’s a distinctly different feel to writing a book knowing it MUST be done by X date, rather than, “I’d like to be done by this day, but if not, no one really cares.” I thrive on deadlines and I love challenges, so it’s not a problem for me. I have an extremely supportive spouse, and I wouldn’t take it back for the world. But the time factor in a multi-book deal is definitely something to consider.

  52. Rosemary Gemmell on May 10, 2011 at 3:18 AM

    >I like reading a single good novel, but if I find an author I love then I look for the next books. However, It doesn’t always mean the subsequent books will be as good.

  53. Nancy Thompson on May 10, 2011 at 2:23 AM

    >I’m always looking for new authors & their books but once I find one I really like, I dig my claws into them. I search out every book they’ve ever written & read them as fast as I can. Sometimes it can be disappointing, like when book #3 doesn’t live up to the previous 2, but for the most part, subsequent books reinforce why I first fell in love with that writer & his or her books. So as a reader, I’m all for multi book deals. As a writer, it kind of scares me not knowing whether I’d be able to reproduce the magic.

  54. Ted Cross on May 10, 2011 at 2:04 AM

    >My concern about a multi-book contract is that my story arc covers at least five books, with the first and last being science fiction but the ones in between being more fantasy than sci-fi. Since publishers tend to want you to produce similar books, I worry about them not liking that the follow up to the first book is not exactly the same genre.

  55. Anonymous on May 10, 2011 at 1:47 AM

    >When my book went to auction, I had some publishers offering one-book deals, and some two-book deals. In the end I went for the best one-book deal – the two book offers were significantly less than twice the amount and I felt that in principle I would hope to earn a little more with each successive book.Although a big part of my choice was because I liked the publisher best – it was not all about the money.

  56. David Jarrett on May 10, 2011 at 1:02 AM

    >I search for books by authors I like first, then browse for others that look interesting. However I strongly dislike series books unless they are historical fiction like John Jakes’ “The Bastard” series.The depressing part of your post here is that older writers like me don’t know how many more years they have to live, let alone how many books they will be able to write. If an agent or publisher is going to judge me based on my age, this is not a comforting thought.

  57. Rona Go on May 10, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    >I was just thinking if you have a multi-book contract and your first work has the possibility of turning it into a series, will it be advisable to have your next book the second of the series or put a totally different one? May not always be the case, but career-wise, if an author is known for a series and it ends, would the reader be as enthusiastic for a totally different book?

  58. Josin L. McQuein on May 9, 2011 at 11:46 PM

    >I have a semi-related question. Assuming you sell a book to a publisher, do you generally offer a writer’s next book to the same editor, or do you start the whole process over at square one?

  59. colleencoplick on May 9, 2011 at 11:38 PM

    >I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and liked this post. I am working on my first book (non-fiction, food related) and have gotten a lot of good feedback about the concept and what I have so far. my question is – if I know i have something sale-able, ought I go direct to publishers and query them or go through an agent? These early beginning times are the trickiest to navigate I’m finding! I’ll continue to look through your archives.