The Pros And Cons Of A Two-Book Deal, by Alison Booth
Why have a two-book deal? The rationale the publisher will give you is that the two-book deal will help you write the next book quickly. In a way it makes a lot of sense. It helps deal with the much talked about phenomenon – the second-novel syndrome – which is the deep anxiety that writers can undergo after an initial success.
It’s good to have started on the next book before the second book is published. Why? Because you’re on track before the reviews and the comments about the first book start rolling in. If the reviews are favourable, the writer might be nervous that they won’t be able to achieve that success again. If the reviews are unfavourable, the writer will be nervous that they have no talent and will stop writing the second book.
The publisher might also tell you that they’re offering a two book deal to build up a following or fan-base – yes, really! – so that your name doesn’t get swamped in the tidal wave of authors of other books. They might tell you they want to ‘build up a product’ – and that is you! Of course, they also want to make a profit and to stop you going to another publisher.
Don’t forget that the publisher also locks themselves in with a two-book deal and thereby they absorb some of the risk. Their offer indicates their faith in your work, and it’s really great to have that security and support while you’re writing your next book. Both your incentives and those of the publisher are aligned in the two-book deal, at least so far.
However, the publisher might constrain you when they make an offer. For example they might say they like your first novel – your debut novel – so much that they want a sequel, and they offer you an advance on this as well. Tempting, isn’t it? Too bad if you’ve already got the characters of the first book off to bed. Too bad if you’ve resolved all the plotlines and killed off the baddie. Too bad if you have the plot of a different novel in your head that you are dying to start writing.
So what should you do? You could flirt with the idea of refusing. If this is the first publisher you’ve tried, this might be worth considering. Your agent might be annoyed with you but you could try it. Don’t forget the parlous state of the book industry and that a chance like this might not come your way again. Then there’s the money. How attractive two advances seem, especially when maybe you thought you’d never make any money from your writing.
So you discuss possibilities with your agent. Perhaps you begin to get excited, you’re a creative person after all. Maybe you see new avenues to explore and you start to think the project is worth doing, even though this option wasn’t your initial choice.
At this stage, should you ask for a short or a long completion date for the sequel? The publisher will push for a short completion date. My advice – which is stating the obvious I guess – is to ask for the longest one possible, and one that is realistic for you given your work commitments, family commitments and so on. This is one area in which you probably do have bargaining power against that remorseless profit motive – whoops, sorry, that desire to help your development as a novelist.
But bear in mind, if you are committing to writing a sequel, that there’s another compelling reason for trying to get a first draft of the sequel done before the proofs of the first book are finalised. This is the fact you can still make small changes to the first book, and you may want to do this in order to match up with the second book. I found this invaluable when I was writing The Indigo Sky, the sequel to my first novel, Stillwater Creek.
Did the two-book deal work for me? On balance, I think it did. My publisher and agent were fantastically supportive, and we moved on to signing the contract for A Distant Land, the third book in the Jingera trilogy, before the second was published. I was keen on the third book because I found that more storylines were emerging in the second book, and I wanted to find out what happened to the younger characters growing up in the turbulent times of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I also wanted, in the third book, to explore the impact of the Vietnam War on the folks back home.
Would I do it again? Knowing what I’ve learnt over the past four years, I’d happily sign up to a two-book deal again if I were starting out. But I would try to get six months leave from my day job – or a six-month longer completion period – so that I wasn’t working day and night. That is my only regret about the two book deal – it had me working way too hard.
Would I do a trilogy again? Probably not. It was a great adventure and I loved every minute of it. But there are other shorter adventures to be had, and I’ve headed off on one right now.
Alison Booth’s author website: www.alisonbooth.net
Writing Novels in Australia