Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Art of the Two-Book Deal

Authors these days are so savvy. Before I even submit a book on their behalf, they often ask me if I think it will be a two book deal.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, unless you actually have a second book written and are clearly submitting two books--say a short story collection and a novel, or a series, or if it’s genre fiction.

That said, once in a while, there are exceptions, as in the case of Meg Mitchell Moore and  her two book deal with Reagan Arthur Books/Little Brown.

We sent Meg’s debut, The Arrivals out in early September of 2008 and a few days later, Reagan emailed to say that she really liked the book. I actually dug up her exact email because she quotes one of my favorite lines from the novel and I knew, she got the book.

“Hi there - I really like this!  That line about baby knuckles really got me. But the whole thing is great. I'm going to get reads.  My bberry cut off your letter - do you know what she wants to do next?  (Early to think along these lines, I realize, just curious.)”

So, while Reagan wasn’t offering a two-book deal, she was entertaining it.   And while Meg hadn’t specifically asked me about two-book deals before the process started, I had asked her what she was writing next, so I knew she had a book in the pipeline, if only in her head  I asked her to put it to paper and emailed it to Reagan the next day. A few days later we accepted a pre-emptive two book offer. 

EW: Meg, what was going through your mind when I mentioned that RAB was thinking about a two book deal?

MM: First, I was shocked. Then: excited. Next came relief, then (months later) terror. I understand how difficult it is to sell one book, so I was not expecting to sell two at once. That was the shock part. Next, it was very exciting to think that someone liked the first book enough to sign up to publish another one. The relief came in when I realized I could write this book (unlike the first) without having to worry about going through the submission process again, and that the publication of my second book is not tied to the sales of my first book. That allowed me to focus purely on the writing. The terror has been intermittent throughout. If I let myself think about the fact that I had sold the book on a single paragraph I could really feel myself starting to freak out. I tried not to think that way too much during the process. When those fears crept in I had you to talk me down. Thank you!  I remember when we first got the offer you said this offer was "a real vote of confidence from Reagan Arthur Books." That has stuck with me. 

EW: You've mentioned in the past that author friends of yours have balked at the idea. What is the reasoning?

 MM: Yes, I  have heard more than one author say, “I would never take a two-book deal!” This is sometimes followed by an admonition: “And you shouldn’t either.” The reasons behind these statements go something like this: What if you turn out a bad book because you’re writing it under pressure? Alternatively, what if your first book goes the way of The Help and you’ve already sold your second book for less than a gazillion dollars? And don’t you feel guilty about taking money for something you haven’t yet produced?

 EW From your lips to God’s ears, let The Arrivals be the next The Help!

MM: Ha. Yeah, me and every other debut author in the world. I certainly see the point of the statements above. But. Most first novels do not become The Help. My advance will be paid out over the course of the two books; I didn’t take money for work I didn’t produce. And the pressure? There were days when I felt it, I’ll be honest, but for the most part it I think that pressure made for a better book. I worked as a journalist for a long time. I don’t miss deadlines. If somebody asks me to write a 1,000 word magazine article by next Tuesday and I say yes, I’m gong to do it. If somebody asks me to write a 90,000 word novel by next January, and that person is going to sign my paycheck, I’m going to do that too, and I’m going to do it as well as I possibly can.

EW: Was writing a book that you were contracted to write hard to do?

MM:  At times it was tortuous. I don’t think it was harder because of the two-book deal, but because the plot is more complex and at times I felt like I’d gotten myself into a pickle. But knowing this book had a publication date and knowing that I had an agent and an editor who already had a stake in it made me work harder, ask for help when I needed it, keep my eye on the prize. Without the two-book deal, I think I would likely not have a second book completed just as my first is coming out. I can see how a debut novelist could become paralyzed by a first novel’s success or its failure and be unable to work on a new project for a while. I understand now that authors get stretched in many different directions as publication day nears. There are plenty of distractions. But I want The Arrivals to be a springboard to a career as a novelist, not the beginning and end of one, and I’m grateful to have a built-in second chance, whichever way things go.

Thanks, Meg!  The Arrivals pubs today! To read more about it and Meg, go to


  1. Thanks for another wonderful interview and a sneak-peak behind the big curtain of the publishing world.

    I think having a defined deadline would totally freak me out and shut my creative juices down, but at the same time having the 2nd book already lined up with a pub is pretty awesome security.

    But wow congrats on beating the odds Meg!

  2. Congrats to Meg and you, as her agent, for her book being in the stores today. I read about her query to you on Guide to Literary Agents and came to read your blog. Best wishes from Canada.

  3. Big, huge congratulations to you! I wish you all the best.