I have a few clients who are very prolific. As soon as they’ve finished a manuscript (including getting outside feedback and going through a few rounds of revisions) they’re always excited to move on to another. They immediately brainstorm a new story and get going on it. They can write two or more terrific manuscripts in a year.
The problem comes with a writer who is contracting with a publisher for the first time. Let’s say the publisher loves their writing and we get a two book deal. And with a prolific writer, those two books may already be complete before we even sign the contract. They’ll have edits and revisions to deal with over the next couple of years, but they’re going to want be writing also, since that’s what makes them happy. So they start on a new project.
Six months later, they’ve finished that new project and they’re antsy to do something with it. Unfortunately, it may not be that easy. We are now in the dead zone between signing a contract, and actually having a book released and some sales figures to show for it.
There’s a good chance we can’t shop or sell that new project, because the original publishing contract for those first two books prohibits an author from doing so for a specified length of time, which may last until the first book – or the last book – in the contract has been released.
That publisher may even have an option on the author’s “next work” and their contract may specify that they won’t exercise the option until a certain time. Their goal will be to get some meaningful sales data on that first book before they decide whether to buy more books from the author.
They also don’t want the author confusing their brand or cannibalizing their own sales by putting out books from another publisher while that first contract is still in play.
Of course, sometimes we try to soften these clauses in contracts (with varying success), but we also have to remember that the publisher needs to protect their investment in you, their author, and these clauses do make sense.
So what about my author who just got a two-book deal, both books are complete, a third is also complete, and she’s nearly finished with a fourth? I’m advising her:
1) Keep writing. We should be able to sell those books eventually.
2) Since there’s no hurry to write more books, spend more time on carefully building her brand and platform, including planning and writing her blog.
3) She can find other ways to make money from writing during this time. She can consider writing articles, or ghostwriting.
4) Selling other books under a pseudonym could be a possibility, but not one I recommend. All her books are firmly in her genre—the brand she’s trying to build. If she were writing under two names, she’d not only be competing with herself in the market, she’d also have to try and maintain social media presence under two names—something most authors won’t have the time or energy to do, especially when they still work the day job and have children at home.
Later in your career when you’re an established author, you’ll have more freedom and you may be able to publish with more than one house at a time; we’ll also have more leverage to negotiate these sticky clauses in publisher contracts.
But if you’re a new author, be aware that in the beginning, if you sign with a major publisher, that contract may be your only one for a year, two years or more.
Of course, that’s a pretty nice problem to have, don’t you think?
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