There’s a huge trend these days of authors being published with more than one house—sometimes three. And while I can see why some authors desire this, I can also see where it can become a problem. Not surprisingly, publishers don’t like this new trend and are doing whatever they can to discourage it (option and non-compete clauses are just two strategies).
One thing I have noticed is that whenever a publisher expresses even a passing interest in a submission/client of mine, the first question asked is what the author’s other commitments are. Interesting. Before even considering making an offer, they want to know how scheduled the author is. So what does this mean? Frankly, it means that if the author is already being published with one or two houses, or committed to other option clauses, it’s going to affect the way the negotiation and even the offer goes. It’s even possible the publisher will choose not to make an offer because they feel it’s too big of a risk that the author won’t make due dates. Another downside is that what might potentially have been a multi-book deal now becomes a one-book deal simply because the author already has three other books committed elsewhere.
While I know that authors feel there’s a safety net in publishing with more than one house, I think it’s also very important to consider all the implications of spreading yourself thin. It’s also interesting to note that most of today’s bestsellers commit their careers to only one house at a time.