How long should I let my publisher consider my next book?

Posted on June 10, 2010

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I have a contract with a major publisher that includes giving them the first look at my next picture book story. I sent two stories shortly after signing the contract because the editor asked to see them. No response. I sent her a third story four months ago. She suggested making changes but wasn’t terribly interested. I sent her another story three months ago and I haven’t heard back despite queries. My contract says that they would let me know within two months whether they are interested in my “next book”. I am getting very frustrated. How long should I let my publisher consider my next book?

Negotiating with publishers usually involves a lot of hurry up and wait. Not because editors or publishers necessarily want to make writers suffer, it’s because they’re usually swamped with work. In most houses, final decisions about manuscripts are made by an editorial committee, which adds a huge time factor to the whole process.

In my opinion, since you have already sent the editor three manuscripts, which she has not accepted, you have probably met the “next book” terms of your contract. But I haven’t read your contract. So let’s focus on the manuscript your editor is currently holding onto. You said that according to the “next book” provision in your contract the publisher has 2 months to make a decision. Two months has passed, therefore you have honored the terms of the contract by giving the publisher exclusivity. Now you are free to submit the manuscript elsewhere. You aren’t legally obligated to notify the publisher that you are submitting elsewhere. It’s up to you, if you feel you should do so, as a courtesy. As for the other three manuscripts, you are also free to submit those manuscripts elsewhere.

I checked with a few resources and there is no hard and fast legal rule concerning “next book” provisions in contracts. In his article, “Next Book” Provisions in Publishing Contracts, Ivan Hoffman explains the issues and offers advice for negotiating with publishers. You will find more valuable information at Darcy Pattison’s Book Contract Essentials page.

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