Posted On September 12, 2012 by Print This Post

Sara Megibow Sells Romance – A Second book deal – the cause for REAL celebration!

Sara Megibow returns to her monthly gig with us to talk about what happens after the first book honeymoon is over.   Check it out!

A second book deal – the REAL celebration

Publishing is a competitive business. 36,000 queries to our agency in 2011 turned into 5 new clients for me, which turned in to 4 book deals so far. I am a firm believer in celebrating every success – celebrate, confetti, shout out loud, cheers – that first book deal is an amazing accomplishment. And yet, the importance of breaking into publishing is dwarfed by the accomplishment called The Second Book Deal. It’s just as rare to go from slush pile to book deal as it is to go from book deal to career author. Ultimately, the second book deal is more important to your career than that first one (in my opinion).

So, what are some of the elements important to securing this coveted second book deal? In no particular order:

1) Earn Out Your Advance.

Personally, I think authors talk too much online about what they did or did not get for an advance on their book. Stop it! Ok, I’m off my soapbox now. 

My opinion (as an agent) is that advance money should be roughly what one book will earn in a year (with modifiers for foreign rights, audio rights, etc). In a first book deal, this number is a bit of a shot in the dark. Some people say that when a publishing house pays a higher advance, they put more effort into the book (thus creating more sales which make it easier to earn out). That hasn’t been my personal experience so far. So far in my career each publishing house with which I partner has worked very, very, very hard for our books regardless of size of the advance. However, when it comes time to talking about the second book deal, proof that we’ve earned the advance has always been very important. Earn out = higher interest in continuing to publish our books. Don’t earn out = yikes.

2) Write an incredible second book.

Your first book deal might be for one book, two books or three books (or, like Allison Rushby’s upcoming e-serial THE HEIRESSES, six books). I tend to keep a list of books my clients want to write – I update that list constantly and when the books on their first contract are delivered, we prep for the next submission. Very occasionally, I do shop for the next book deal using a proposal. But (gasp) usually we require the next book to be 100% complete before going for it. So…get ready to work just as hard as you did on Book #1. We’re not starting from scratch once we’ve published, but we do have to be just as exceptional as the first time around.

3) Keep an active online platform

Ok, before y’all eviscerate me – this is NOT a deal breaker. I mention it because, let’s face it, the connection an author has with her/his readers is easier to quantify when there is an online platform to monitor. If you love blogging, keep it up! If Facebook or twitter is more your thing, then don’t stop. I am the first to acknowledge that the amount of work piled on new authors is always overwhelming. Being organized and disciplined is going to help you. Want to be a career author? Be organized and disciplined. Social media should be scheduled after family, life, job and writing. But, keep it in the schedule if you can!

4) Be willing to talk about your brand with your editor

Keep an open dialogue with your publishing team. What do they want you to write next? Who do they think your readers are? What do they picture as your brand? I know this is a touchy subject – no one likes to talk about the phenomenon that feels like someone telling us what to write. It’s not write-for-hire. I’m just saying if you are willing to have an open conversation about what book will sell best next, that’s a conversation that helps the publishing house acquire you.

5) The sales numbers

Alas, the honest truth is that sales numbers end up being very important in this business (see item #1 – earning out the advance). When we have strong sales numbers, there is big incentive for a publishing house to resign an author. A good agent helps an author by planning for the second book deal – getting a Plan B ready if sales numbers aren’t looking great, and jumping on an opportunity to resign when sales numbers are strong.

Got a second book deal? Congratulations! This is a huge success deserving of enormous amounts of celebrating!



Okay – so the floor is open.  What questions do you have about the second book deal?  Experienced authors – any tips for making the big step form one-hit wonder to career? 

On Friday, Darynda Jones talking about poking eyes out . . . or something like that. =) See you there!


Bio: Sara Megibow, Associate Literary Agent
Nelson Literary Agency, LLC

Sara has worked at the Nelson Literary Agency since 2006. As the Associate Literary Agent, Sara is actively acquiring new clients! The Nelson Literary Agency specializes in representing all genres of romance (except inspirational or category), young adult fiction of all subgenres, science fiction/ fantasy and commercial fiction (including women’s fiction and chick lit). Sara is an avid romance reader and a rabid fan girl of super sexy and intelligent stories.

Nelson Literary Agency is a member of AAR, RWA, SFWA and SCBWI. Please visit our website http:// submission guidelines, FAQs, resources and sample query letters. Sara’s Publisher’s Marketplace site ( is a great place to find more about her personal tastes, clients and recent sales. You can also cyber stalk Sara on twitter @SaraMegibow

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28 Responses to “Sara Megibow Sells Romance – A Second book deal – the cause for REAL celebration!”

  1. Hi Sara,

    My second and third books are coming out next year with different publishers. Is it better to tout them together or individually?

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | September 12, 2012, 6:34 am
    • Hi Mary Jo –

      It’s better for you if you promote them together. When a reader sees your name on amazon (for example), they don’t discriminate based on publisher.

      However, you should let each publisher know about the other works. That helps them in their planning.


      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 7:45 am
  2. Hi, Sara –

    I always enjoy your RU posts. So do I understand you correctly in that you’re referencing the second book deal, not necessarily the second book an author publishes (for example book two in a three book contract)?

    Do you find it easier for your authors who’ve published a series (rather than just one book) to get the next contract?

    Many thanks!

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 12, 2012, 7:34 am
  3. Morning Sara!

    I remember we had Susan Sey on here last year, and she talked about the struggle of the second book. (I thought it was fabulous btw Susan!)

    Is there a large percentage of authors who do NOT earn out their advances? Or is that fairly rare?

    Thanks for being here!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 12, 2012, 7:39 am
    • Hi Carrie –

      Many, many authors do not earn out their advance. In my opinion (and remember – my 6 years of experience is weighted heavily in debut authors) – earning out the advance is soooooo important!

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 7:49 am
  4. Thanks Sara for a very informative post. Lets say the first book sold as a single title but had series potential. Would the second book in the series be considered a second deal? Would it need to sell to the same publisher?

    Posted by Patricia Moussatche | September 12, 2012, 7:42 am
    • Excellent question!

      YES! More than likely the publisher has an option on that first book and they have first right of refusal on buying it (especially if it’s part of the series). Each situation is different, however in my opinion it’s always preferable to keep a series with one publisher. The branding and sales can become so much stronger that way (again, just my opinion)

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 7:51 am
  5. Thanks, Sara, for the terrific post. I’m about to send my second book to my editor, along with a synopsis for the third. Do you recommend talking about books 4, 5 and so on at this point or waiting to see how the earlier books do?

    Posted by Willa Blair | September 12, 2012, 9:10 am
    • excellent question! that’s a tricky one and likely one that you should discuss with your agent. Depending on the situation, I can see going either way here, but understanding your options at this point is super important!

      Well done you for being prepared in advance!

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 9:37 am
  6. How much direct control does an author have over whether or not s/he earns out? How much control does the publisher have?

    Posted by Ashlyn Macnamara | September 12, 2012, 9:40 am
    • Great question!

      In my honest opinion (just my opinion here – don’t slaughter me) – the author has verrrry little control. We might influence 50-200 copies by our own efforts, but when a publisher is looking at selling thousands and thousands of copies, that’s just a drop in the bucket. Now, I’m not saying don’t do self promotion, however I think self promotion should be limited to AFTER family time, time for life and time for writing the next book. Instead, rely on the publisher to sell the book – that’s their job. They are quite good at it.

      There is always the X factor – books that just simply sell well and books that don’t. But, no one controls that.

      And yes – I know that everyone’s experience is different and that there are likely hundreds if not thousands of authors out there displeased with their sales numbers. I’m just saying in my experience, our publishing partner has our back and is working hard to sell, sell, sell and they have WAY more market penetration than the author does.

      Long answer, sorry

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 10:12 am
      • Apologies if this shows up twice.

        Thanks for the long reply. It’s helpful. It’s also pretty much what I suspected.

        Follow-up: what kind of time-frame are we talking about when we say earn out? A year? Because sometimes a book’s a sleeper.

        Posted by Ashlyn Macnamara | September 12, 2012, 12:30 pm
        • Yes, in my mind a year is perfect. There are always exceptions to the rule, but that’s what we are hoping for. And remember that if your publishing house has retained World rights, then all the foreign monies go toward earning out too (bonus!) And audio sales too. And ebook sales too of course. So, it’s not quite as daunting as it may seem.

          Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 12:57 pm
  7. I have a question regarding time frames for a second book. The cliche in music is that you take 10 years to make your first album and then get one year to come out with your second. For second books, if the first book is successful, what kind of time frame is the norm? Does your publisher seeing your book earn out its advance quickly want a second book right away?
    I ask partly because the question of the second book as part of a series came up in the comments. If submitting a debut novel (which you secretly dream of as the first of a series), I’ve heard you shouldn’t get your heart set on a series and write the second volume, because that first novel may not get accepted anywhere. BUT, if that first book is accepted and is successful, isn’t it much better to have at least a full draft of the second book ready?

    Posted by David Jón Fuller | September 12, 2012, 9:46 am
    • Hi David –

      everyone’s experience is different and I’d be tempted to ask your agent for advice. However, here is what I will say – I’ve seen second books requested in a year, I’ve seen them requested in 6 months and I’ve seen them requested in 3 months. SO…yes – while on submission the best thing to do is keep writing. Every author deals with the struggle of what to do if Book #1 sells and you spend time on Book #2 and that one doesn’t sell. Is that a waste of time and I say no, it’s not a waste of time.

      If you want a series, then write Book #1 and go for it. While waiting for the offer, write Book #2 in the series. Worst case scenario is you’d have to shelve that one, but that’s true each and every time you go on submission, so I say go for it.

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 10:56 am
  8. Thanks for another fascinating post, Sara! It’s a bit daunting to realize selling the second book (or series of books) can be even more difficult than selling the first book! I know most authors want their publisher to promote their book, but when books get a huge amount of hype I think it must put incredible pressure on the author to meet those expectations. SCARY!!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | September 12, 2012, 10:20 am
    • Thanks Becke – The second book deal is really exciting. You’ve nailed it that it can be even more difficult. I really do think that publishers do an excellent job promoting their books. We just have to understand that there are a ton of books and not as many people who buy a ton of books, so some sell and some don’t. That’s the essence of the difference between writing for the love of the art and selling books as a business. That’s why I say celebrate when things go well!


      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 11:32 am
  9. Hi Sara! Awesome post as usual.

    A little off topic . . .
    I was lucky enough to sign six additional contracts (some in a series and some standalone) after my first book. So, now I’m getting ready to turn in my second book and I admit to bigger jitters than when the first was out there.

    You say to write a great second book – but in your experience to readers and publishers want more of the same thing or do they want you continuously stretching your wings.


    Posted by Robin Covington | September 12, 2012, 10:56 am
    • Robin – that’s a tough one. Let’s assume we’re talking romance genre. Typically, I’d prefer 2-6 books in one “tone” or “voice” or “sub genre” before moving on to a new one. However, running two series at once is possible too. Each author is different depending on how quickly they write.

      if you’ve signed a one book deal in romance, then yes – book two/ deal two I would recommend be similar to Book #1. If you’ve signed a three book deal in romance, then your second book deal is technically for Book #4 (make sense?) In that case, I think talking to the editor about brand before sending in a proposal makes a TON of sense. It could go either way in that case – more of the same or something new.


      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 12:59 pm
  10. Hey Sara,

    Such a timely post! I’m finishing book 3 of a 3-book contract. There are two additional option books. From what I’ve been told, I’ll need to provide proposals for books 4 and 5 (only a paragraph or two for each) to my editor. Then, if she accepts the proposals, we’ll enter into a new contract for those two books. And the contract terms become negotiable again. Fascinating stuff!

    My question is about the sales numbers. When I send it my proposal paragraphs, my debut novel will have been on the market for approx. 7-8 months. The second books doesn’t hit the stores until February. Will my publisher know enough about my earn out potential in the next couple months in order to make a decision on a new contract?

    Thanks bunches. 🙂

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 12, 2012, 12:14 pm
    • Hi Tracey –

      yes, they’ll know enough at that point to offer or pass on the next contract. Here’s a secret insider bit of info – if sales numbers are high, the agent will have leverage to perhaps ask for a higher advance (that’s not all there is to it, but in general this is how I may approach the next book deal). If sales numbers are poor (or there is not enough data yet), then it’s my experience the next book deal will be the same as the first one. However, that’s agent talk and agent business and each author career is different.

      Hope that helps!

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 1:07 pm
  11. Hi, Sara. I always love when you visit us. Always such interesting topics.

    I have to say, high advances scare the daylights out of me. An author I know received a six figure advance on her debut book. Her publisher did an initial print run (the number of books printed was way less than what was needed for the earn out) and then the company was sold to another publisher who wouldn’t do another print run. So, the author had no chance (unless she earned out with ebooks) to earn out her contract. The author was lucky and offered another contract, but–yowzer–that’s scary stuff!

    Have you ever had an instance where an author didn’t want a big advance in hopes of earning out quicker?

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | September 12, 2012, 1:47 pm
    • I personally never want the big advance. And how totally heretical is it for me to admit that as an agent??!?!?!

      If an author wants a career in this business, then that debut book needs to be super strategic. There are ways to help earn out (sell foreign, sell audio, etc), but yowza and yes – it’s super scary. Yikes level scary

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 2:00 pm
      • alright geez – I don’t mean I never want the big advance. What I mean is that a big advance needs to be strategic. It should not be used as a status symbol – like who has the biggest engagement ring.

        Obviously, if you follow pub marketplace you know I’ve closed significant and major deals and those are $250,000 and $500,000 and higher.

        Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 2:12 pm
  12. Maybe this is subject for a different post, but what happens if a book doesn’t earn out? Does it just make the next one more difficult or is there more to the deal?

    Posted by Patricia Moussatche | September 12, 2012, 2:14 pm
    • Patricia –

      excellent question. Yes, it makes it much much more difficult to ink the next book deal. What can one do about that? Well – not a lot. We can change the name of the author and shop a different book under a pseudonym, we can shop a full manuscript for Book Deal #2 (instead of just a proposal), we can offer World Rights.

      But, this really puts it in perspective – got a second book deal? Celebrate!!!

      Posted by Sara Megibow | September 12, 2012, 2:31 pm

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