Thursday, July 9, 2009

Writing for Multiple Publishers

Hey all. Sorry for the weeks with no posting--I was writing and revising a novel due July 1, and since turning it in have been trying to find my head.

Alexis asked: "2)How do you juggle multiple publishing houses? Not in regards to getting the books written, but on the relationship side? Do you keep it to one genre or sub-genre per each house? Does one of them ever try to get you exclusively? How does that all work?"

I am amazed at the number of authors who write for two, even three, houses nowadays. I know authors who write for Dorchester and HQ/Sil; Dorchester and Kensington; Berkley and HQ/Sil; Berkley and St. Martin's; Berkley and Dorchester. And that's just off the top of my head early in the morning.

It has become increasingly common not to be "exclusive" to one publisher. This is especially true in the midlist, where advances and print runs can be low, and authors want to gain the most exposure they possibly can.

Things to keep in mind:

1. Be very careful about the language in your contract. Publishers have an "option" clause, which means that you must submit your next work to them before offering it to others. Now, this option clause can be worded to your liking. The standard wording is "Next book-length work" (meaning anything you write, even a cookbook). Your agent can get that changed to: "Next book-length historical romance by Alexis ..."

For example, I submitted my historical mystery series to Berkley even though I'd been picked up for romances at Dorchester, because Dorchester didn't publish cozy historical mysteries (at that time), and Berkley had the Prime Crime line which specialized in it. Likewise, I submitted my erotic romance to Berkley, because again, they had the line, and Dorchester didn't. Both times I took a different name (Ashley Gardner and Allyson James), both because I was asked to, and because to me, it signals to readers better what kind of book they're going to get. Also, I published with an e-publisher, doing category length erotic romance, when no one in NY was doing it. (Note: e-publishers too have started putting option clauses in their contracts, which weren't there when I started.)

I know of an author who has her option clauses written very carefully so she can publish different subgenres at different houses of her choice, under one name. In fact, most of the authors I know who write for more than one house don't take psuedonyms. When I started, I was rather naive, and I didn't know I could have my option clause so tightly worded that I could take my name elsewhere.

So, if you do wish to publish at more than one house, make sure you read your option clause carefully, and tell your agent exactly how you want it worded. Change option clauses to your advantage, as much as you can. (But be flexible--give and take is better than rigid demands).

2. At some point, a publisher will want you exclusively. A couple of authors I know of who published at two different houses are now exclusive to one. If the publisher wants that, in my opinion, they need to pay for it. It is not to your advantage to write for one house exclusively if you're still getting $5K to $10K advances. You will be tied to their scheduling, and if your books come out too far apart, your income will not be good, and in this reading climate, readers will forget about you!

Now, when a publisher "wants" you, they might be signalling a willingness to publish you well (i.e., good advances, scheduling your books fairly rapidly, good marketing push for your books). They might be investing in growing you. (Or not! You have to be careful. :-) )

It can be an advantage to be exclusive at one house (the "investment" in you). But until you're a guaranteed lead with guaranteed big print runs, in my opinion, it's a good idea to try different arenas.

3. That all said--if you don't think you can juggle two publishers, DON'T! You will find yourself on a crazy schedule, tying to finish two books at once, trying not to make what you write for each house too similar so you don't violate your option clauses, being bombarded with revisions on two books at once. It can be a nightmare.

I hope that answers your questions. In my humble opinion, writing for multiple houses is a great advantage for the midlist and beginning author. You have more exposure to more audiences, and can build a strong base, so that when you are asked to be exclusive (and paid well to be), then your audience is established, and you can move up well. That's the theory, anyway! :-)

1 comment:

Alexis Walker said...

Thanks, Jennifer. That was very helpful. I imagine it gets a bit tricky when it comes to deadlines. At the National RWA Conference PRO Retreat an agent talked about the option clause which was very helpful. Wow, there is so much to learn on the business side of writing!