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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.

***Write with novelist Alison Booth near Hobart, Tasmania with Novel Writing Retreats Australia in April 2014

Alison Booth’s author website:

Alison Booth’s bio page


Stillwater CreekThe Indigo SkyA Distant Land     Burning LiesHouse for all Seasons by Jenn J McLeodThe Fragment of DreamsSavage Tide

Writing Novels in Australia

20 Comments Post a comment
  1. Interesting. I didn’t think that many publishers would take a risk on a two-book deal these days. Is it more likely to happen with the bigger houses, or the smaller ones?

    July 19, 2013
  2. Perhaps you are right. Mine was offered back in the good old days of mid-2009, and with a large publisher. Any more recent experiences from readers?

    July 19, 2013
  3. An interesting article, Alison. It’s great to hear of other authors’ experiences; it makes a solitary occupation a little less lonely.

    July 19, 2013
    • Yes, it’s certainly a solitary occupation, Gayle, and It’s great to hear of other people’s experiences, especially now the industry is changing so fast.

      July 26, 2013
  4. Alison Stegert #

    No, but that’s an experience I’d like to have. Here’s hoping! I like your advice about taking leave from your day job if you are the lucky recipient of such an offer. Thanks for this interesting glimpse into the publishing world we’re all aiming to enter.

    July 19, 2013
  5. Robert Schofield #

    great piece, Alison.

    I signed up to a two-book deal in 2012, with very similar experiences to yours.
    My publisher, Allen & Unwin, offered similar justifications: making sure I had more than one novel in me, building a brand, ongoing revenue stream, all that. They put a few restrictions in the contract: Book 2 had to be a sequel, set in Australia, with the same main characters. They put me on a deadline for the delivery of the synopsis and manuscript, although they did ask me how long I had spent on Book 1 and stipulated the same time frame for Book 2.
    I found it had the same benefits you mention: I had the synopsis of Book 2 accepted and 50,000 words down before Book 1 was released, so I felt somewhat insulated from the reviews, and could crack on with Book 2 with the confidence that I had my publisher behind me.
    I found the same drawbacks too. It is very different working on Book 2 now that I am a published author with certain expectations. Book 1 was a hobby, but Book 2 is a second job, and I haven’t decided yet whether that is a good thing or not. Certainly it’s tough keeping up the day job, helping to wrangle the kids, and write a novel to a deadline. A sabbatical wasn’t an option, and I’m not sure if it would have been easier with a longer deadline. I would have just procrastinated. I’m hoping that all the hard work I put in now might allow me to kick back later, if I ever manage to build up that brand recognition. Not that I get any sympathy from unpublished writers.
    On balance, the benefits of a two-book deal outweigh the negatives, and who would ever think about turning down any sort of publishing contract when you’re starting out?

    I was actually working on an outline for Book 3 today before I read your piece. Like you, I’m thinking of it as the final part of a trilogy. I want to plan it now, while I’m still writing Book 2, so that I can tailor the end of Part 2 to lead into Part 3. The risk there is that I don’t have a contract for Book 3, and I worry my publisher might think I am trying to lock them into the third book, or be disappointed that I left the end of Book 2 open.
    I thought about submitting the outline now, to allow my publisher time to think it over and give me leeway to change Book 2 if necessary, but my agent insists I wait, and submit the synopsis for Book 3 when I deliver the manuscript for Book 2.

    any advice on that?

    July 19, 2013
    • Thanks, Robert, and for sharing your experiences. My agent didn’t suggest asking for the contract for the 3rd book, a UK friend who is also an author suggested doing a treatment, which the agent then made some suggestions on, and duly submitted. Maybe submitting the treatment at the same time as the 2nd book is delivered could work well, since there’s still lots of time before publication- if A&u are anything like RHA!

      July 26, 2013
  6. Jenn J McLeod | Come home to the country... #

    Oh Alison, how timely as i am currently lost on edits for book two and panicking about those expectations, Robert!!!!!! You are spot on about the hobby that is now a job. Very scary.

    July 19, 2013
  7. Really interesting post Alison and one I haven’t seen covered before. As someone in the current ‘digital’ publishing arena, an ‘advance’ was never on the cards for me. I can only imagine the temptation of an advance on a two-book deal. I don’t think I for one would have that strength to say… err… “can I think about it?”
    Lily M

    July 19, 2013
    • Thanks, Lily. Saying you need a week to think it over is pretty costless if they’ve already made the offer. But you’re right, who would ever end up saying no even if if tempted to!

      July 26, 2013
  8. I signed a two book deal in 2009 as well. Book One had been fun to write, Book Two was hell, but I learned an enormous amount from Book Two. I’d sign up for a double again, but only if I was absolutely certain of the continuity and support of the people I’d be working with.
    I wouldn’t do a triple, not in this climate (not that anyone has asked me!). And in fact, for now I think a single book deal works best for the author. With such rapid change you don’t know from one year to the next where the industry will be.

    July 20, 2013
    • Phillips, I do agree with you, and we certainly don’t know where the book industry is heading right now.

      July 26, 2013
  9. Reblogged this on Seraglio and commented:
    Interesting post on two-book deals. I’d like to know if the same sentiments would hold if the situation was NOT for a sequel… I had a writing teacher advise not to accept a two-book deal, but maybe that’s coming from a person established and with a high profile. New writers are at the mercy of the publishers and on the face of it, a two- or even three-book contract looks fabulous, but it may not be. What if the first book flies, then you are locked in to a contract and can’t negotiate a better advance/royalty structure. Equally, if the first book sinks then you may not get an offer for the next book. Oh the agonies of the publishing world.

    July 20, 2013
    • Indeed, Jenny, the agonies of the publishing world when you don’t know what will happen next and where the industry is heading. All you can do is keep on writing, and I keep telling myself it is the writing that matters, though it’s nice to be able to choose what you will write about! Thanks for sharing your comments and for reblogging on Seraglio.

      July 26, 2013
  10. Good points, Jenny. As for being at ‘the mercy of publishers’ I’m not sure that’s an emotion they’re familiar with. I was directed to write the second book as a sequel and I remember being so surprised, (naïve, I know), that they should direct the content of my book. I’d worked and taught as a visual artist prior to writing and nobody ever, ever, dictated the subject matter. I knew nothing about publishing, needless to say.

    July 20, 2013
    • And apologies for misspelling your name – it started out correct and then that dratted auto-correct thing took over!

      July 26, 2013
  11. Agreed. Who wants to be told what to write about?

    July 26, 2013

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