Monday, January 14, 2008

The Deal with Deals for a Series

Anyone who uses a tiny envelope as an SASE for a normal-sized query letter already has a mark against them when I open up their query. It's not fair, but I'm declaring it. I hate stationary envelopes. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Anyway...

Did you sell the series as as series? Or did you sell the first one as a standalone, with hopes that it would sell well enough to get the subsequent volumes picked up as well? I keep reading conflicting advice about whether to tell an agent that your book is the first of a series or not.

I sold it as a stand-alone first book even though both editor and agent knew very well I had a series that was mostly written. Remember that this was a case where the editor made the offer first (she took unsolicited submissions) and then I got myself an agent. She discussed (briefly) a multi-book deal but dropped the subject when I said I had an agent, knowing that the agent probably wouldn't go for it.

First of all, once you have an agent, tell them everything. Well, not what you had for breakfast, or what you think of their new skirt, but the point is, holding back from your agent will only hurt you, not help you.

Second, multi-book deals are a complicated thing and they're pretty rare except in certain genres, or if the author is already fairly established. That's probably why I've never personally seen the contract for one. Also, there has to be serious money on the table for a multi-book deal to happen, because if the first book takes off, you've just lost possible high advances for the rest of the books. It also doesn't guarantee that the publishing house won't drag its heels on publishing the books, especially if the first one doesn't do well, or break the contract altogether.

Further complicating it is if it's a series or not. Some well-known authors (well-known in that they sell a lot of books) get deals where they promise to write a few books in a certain genre for a certain amount of money over a certain period of time. The books are usually only connected by genre. Then there's books that are actually a series, meaning one follows the other, with the ultimate intention (most of the time) of ending. Publishers like series a lot because each time a new book comes out, there's be some buying up by new fans of the older books, and they make a considerable portion of their money from their backlist. On the other hand, they're slow to commit to the first one, especially if it doesn't stand-alone (meaning, it requires the other books for the series to end, so they have to buy the whole trilogy and whatnot). They're trying to forecast the market and not lose money, like any company that wants to stay in business, but any browsing through the sci-fi/fantasy section will tell you that publishers love series for that genre. (Romance and thriller, not so much. Certainly not thriller, but sometimes you can get a "series" of romances that are different characters but the same setting)

backlist - earlier books that are still in print because they're still selling. Backlist books are more likely to have earned back their advance and are now just making more money each printing, as all of the work (except for printing the books and shipping them) is done.

frontlist - books currently being published and promoted by the company.

15 comments:

David said...

midlist - A strange beast, partly mythical, possibly associated with some amorphous fossilized remains.

Statlady said...

Thriller: See the Prey series by "John Sanford." More common in mysteries, starting with Agatha's lines.

Romance... Well, in chick lit there are many. For instance, there's Meg Cabot, who always seems to generate a series, and the Shopoholic series, and a number of others. But you are right, I can't think of any romance writers who write in series.

But note, both in chick lit and in mysteries, there isn't an established endpoint. Grafton may have to wrap things up with Z, but Evanovich can keep up with the numbers for a long, long time. And people like Robert Parker just keep hacking them out, perhaps long past their main characters are viable...

moonrat said...

*i* HATE stationery envelopes, too!! people who send queries with mini SASEs don't deserve to get any response from me. rar.

D. Robert Pease said...

It seems to me that fantasy writers especially love to write a books as a series. Nearly every, as yet unpublished fantasy writer I encounter is working on a trilogy. In my mind this is a bad idea for a first time novelist. Write something really good. One book with a beginning, middle and end. Get it published. Then think about expanding it to a series. What agent is going to pick up a new author who's "trilogy" is really just one 350,000 word story?

crinklish said...

I think you may be overstating the rarity of multibook contracts a bit...at least in the romance genre. As a rule, when I make an offer, I see little reason to buy only one book if I can buy two--that is, if I liked the ms. enough to buy it, it's worth it to acquire a second book. And these aren't huge contracts; usually in the range of low five figures.

But I'd say that in genre fiction it's easier to get a multi-book deal than for a novel that's just general fiction (or a nonfiction proposal). And I hate those stupid little envelopes, too.

X said...

Meanwhile, for the series to stand out, you've got to have an original idea. And where do you get those? How do we make up for what life is missing?

Rick Bylina said...

Note to self: dump the lifetime supply of 3 5/8 by 6 1/2 inch SASE envelopes.

Note to self: create more books in a seven book mystery series. Let agent know.

Note to self: get a day job, getting published is going to take a lot of time.

Note to self: buy more whiskey.

bonafidebookworm said...

I second the comment on multibook contracts. The publisher I work for rarely does a single book contract; it's usually for two or three books. If the company is going to put all this money into promoting the book and the author, we want to stay with the author long enough to reap the rewards! A career rarely takes off with the first book. Granted, the fiction we publish is of the less literary variety (more romance, mystery, etc than the next KITE RUNNER), so maybe that's the difference?

The Rejecter said...

I've rarely seen them, but I guess my boss just doesn't do a lot of them.

Termagant 2 said...

So what're we supposed to send rather than a #10 envelope? A tyvek? A box? Sheesh. A #10's good enough for the brevity of the rejection slip you're gonna send anyway. Put the MS in the recycling bin and move on, and leave us our #10 SASEs!

2HyperWriter said...

Termagent: #10= good. um, right?

REJECTER:

so say you've written a book that would work just fine and dandy as a stand alone, but you're working on the sequel at the time of querying. do you mention it in the query or wait till you've signed with the agent to decide whether or not to add the second book?

Thanks :D

The Rejecter said...

2HyperWriter,

Wait until the agent becomes your agent.

Candice Gilmer said...

There are tons of writers in the romance market that write in series, and it's very common for romance novels to be written in trilogy, in catagory romance as well as full length novels.

As a matter of fact, I'm kind of a series 'junkie,' in that if I buy or am given a book in a series, I must have all of the books in that series. I tend to make my husband a little nuts with this obsession.

Series authors, (off the top of my head) Julia Quinn, Tracy Ann Warren, (both historical romance) Susan Kearney has a series of scifi romance novels (5 in total, I believe), JR Ward, Mary Janice Davidson, (paranormal romance), and let's not even get me started on the number of series in catagory length that I've read.

So in that respect, romance varies a lot from other markets, I guess, because they seem to like or in some cases prefer books in series.

Anonymous said...

"Wait until the agent becomes your agent."

Hmmm... Sounds very much like "Don't mention the sequel in your query letter" to me.

Zoe Winters said...

I know everyone says to send an SASE, but is an SASE strictly necessary? A lot of agents and editors don't reply back even with a form letter so if I don't hear back I assume disinterest or it got lost. If there is interest it's never done with an SASE, but by phone or email. So isn't an SASE some kind of cosmic "Please reject me, pretty please, I'm even giving you the noose to hang me with?"

As for returning the manuscript, I usually make a new copy of whatever has been requested because if it's bent or has coffee stains or anything else it looks unprofessional.