On Pitching a Series of Novels

A number of my Loyal Blog Readers left comments yesterday in response to Jacob’s question and my answer about how to portray Evil in fiction. I took the liberty of asking my friend, freelance editor Meredith Efken at the Fiction Fixit Shop, to comment on this issue on her own blog. She had some interesting things to say, and her closing comments raised a point I hadn’t thought of — that the really scary thing about evil is its capacity to turn a good person bad, as with Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.

Tim posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

I have asked many different professionals in writing about how to pitch a series, but never really get a answer. It is always a run around. I heard for the first time novelist publishing companies might want to sign you to a 3 book deal due to the costs, to me this makes more sense to write a series for your first book. Anyway, could you please talk about the best way to pitch a series to an editor or agent and even the benefits or pitfalls of having your first book part of a series. Thanks

Randy sez: You pitch a series almost the exact same way you pitch a one-book deal. If you’re a first-time novelist, you almost always must have a complete polished novel before you can sell it. When you’ve got that in hand, you query agents with your book idea and you can mention that this book is the first in a series, but you really don’t need to say more. If an agent is interested, he’ll ask for either a proposal or the full manuscript or both.

In a proposal, you tell all about the book. And somewhere in your Executive Summary for the book, you add a paragraph explaining that this is the first in a series and then you tell a very little bit about the series. You don’t have to tell much. You’ll sell your book (or fail to sell it) based on the polished manuscript you have.

Many publishers prefer to do a multi-book deal with a new author. The reason is simple. They figure that marketing a new face is expensive, and they’d prefer to spread that cost over several books. If you turn out to be a good selling author, they’d like to have you in their stable for several books.

There are of course some publishers that prefer to do one-book deals. Your agent will know which publishers like the multi-book deals. Some categories are very commonly done as series. Mysteries, for example, often feature the same detective in many, many books. Likewise, fantasies are often multi-book series. Romance novels are most often standalones, for the simple reason that most romances end with a wedding, and that’s generally a non-repeating event for any given pair. However, even if a book is a standalone book, many publishers will still want to do a multi-book deal. In that case, it’s not a series; it’s just a multi-book deal. Yes, even first-time novelists get multi-book deals.

In my view, it makes all kinds of sense for an author to sign a multi-book deal. Then you have some reason to believe that your publisher will work reasonably hard to promote your book, since they’re investing more money. (But even so, never assume that a publisher will promote your book. Bad things happen in publishing and books sometimes just all through the cracks.)

I don’t know of any real pitfalls to a multi-book deal. It’s a good thing to have a pipeline of books you’re working on, with one book just coming out, one book being polished, and another book being concepted. If you can schedule your books at regular intervals (maybe 9 months or a year apart), then you’ve got that pipeline going nicely, and you probably won’t get hammerlocked as you might when working with different publishers, neither of whom cares to compromise with the other.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

6 Comments

  1. Tim June 4, 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Thanks, that helps. Thanks for answering my question.

  2. Meredith Efken June 4, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    Thanks for the trackback, Randy. Also, as far as multi-book contracts vs. single contracts, I’d add (as one who has only had single contracts to this point) that there are some additional pros and cons that I see:

    Pros:

    –Multi-book contracts should mean that the company is more invested in your career, whereas single book contracts can mean you’re with that pub on more of a trial basis.

    –As you said, it’s also nice to be able to focus on writing the books instead of preparing book proposals each and every time.

    Cons:

    –Multi-book contracts are still no guarantee that the pub will keep you. I’ve seen authors have series canceled half-way through or things go south with the relationship. Getting out of a multi-book contract can be sticky and potentially costly for the author if they have to buy back the rest of their contract.

    –Multi-book contracts usually come with “basket accounting” where you don’t earn royalties on any of the books until all of the advance for the entire set has been earned out. This means that if your first book does well, but the subsequent books don’t, you may never see royalties on any of it despite the success of that one book. There is justification for doing it this way, but it is something for writers to keep in mind.

    That said, I would still try for a multi-book contract if given the opportunity because I think the pros are strong enough to make up for the potential risks. But there is a freedom to being under only a single contract as well, so if you are so fortunate as to be offered one, go for it.

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