Series Contracts

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 24 2009

Let’s say a fiction writer was signed to a 3 book deal. She’s written the first book, obviously. Now it’s time to get started on the second. I believe that typically she would write an outline/proposal/synopsis (not sure which of those terms is most correct here) for the second, but I’m curious: how closely does she have to follow that? Because it’s all well and good to think you know where your book is going — whether you’re a planner or a pantser — but sometimes the writing process takes your story in an unexpected direction… I guess what I’m saying is, will the publisher still take the next manuscript if you get from A to Z, regardless of a few changes in between? Or do you have to stick strictly to the outline/proposal/synopsis?

Well, of course the answer to this question is going to depend on a lot of things, including the type of series, the editor, the publisher, and of course you as the author. Typically, if I sell a series the author submits either a full manuscript or a solid proposal (long synopsis and first three chapters) for book one and short blurbs (usually less than a page) for books two and three. In my experience most publishers will want you to stick with the general concept of those blurbed books. In other words, while they know that some of the plotting might change, they want the general idea to be there.

A few changes typically won’t make a difference; a major detour, however, should probably be discussed with your editor as you’re writing. Truthfully, even with a book that’s sold on a long synopsis (let’s say 15 pages in this case) and the first three chapters, the editor will expect some changes along the way. Maybe the protagonist is not a Mary Kay wearer after all, but more suited to Avon (that’s makeup products, not publishers). However, they did buy the book expecting that it would follow the synopsis fairly closely, so they will be expecting something similar, and since often cover copy and design is done based on this synopsis, you will want to make sure any major changes are discussed.


21 responses to “Series Contracts”

  1. Avatar Andrew says:

    I'd love to know how The Wheel Of Time proposals changed along the way!!!!

    Robert Jordan: "I know I sent you the proposals for a trilogy, but I'm thinking of moving into a few back stories a little deeper."

    Tor: "Seems fair. There's certainly the appitite for more depth in the world. What are you thinking?"

    Robert Jordan: "Well you know, a bit of backstory on the Aiel, go into the politics in the White Tower a bit more, Flesh out the Forsaken. Really get the the root of the world and how all the machinations work."

    Tor: "So what we looking at do you think? Another book perhaps? How many pages do you think we'll need?"

    Robert Jordan: "Well, let me see. 30 for that…2 Chapters on that…Weave in another plotline, so that would be….Oh, mustn;t forget them of course….another 20 or so there…Comes too…let me see…about 3 million more words…give or take"

    Tor: "…………….*thud*…."

    Robert Jordan: "Hello? Are you still there? Hello?….huh, must've got cut off"

    Word verification – Bastolo: A chocolate nugget full of caramel that Nestle went and made with another confectioners.

  2. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Funny thing, projects sold on synopses. Right after I sold a two-book deal on the basis of two partials and synopses, my editor left the publishing house that had acquired my books.

    My new editor asked for radical changes in both books, and the second book was a completely different story line than what I'd put in the synopsis.

    Unnerving, I tell you. I got through it, but it nearly made me crazy.

    Still, all's well that ends well, and as a fairly new pubbed writer, you want to signal that you are workable and flexible.

  3. Avatar Amanda J. says:

    Oh this is something I've been thinking about, thanks Jessica!

  4. Avatar Angela says:

    Oh Andrew–can you just imagine? LOL–so true.

    Great post Jessica. I was wondering about this myself, so this is very timely.

  5. Avatar Anita Saxena says:

    I've always wondered how these things worked. Thanks for the insight!

  6. Avatar Lydia Sharp says:

    This was something I'd wondered about as well and your answer makes perfect sense. Thanks for the great post!

  7. Avatar Amalia T. says:


    Is it better or worse to have the series completed before querying the first book? Obviously the "completed" element of the books may alter depending on editorial review, but are publishers and agents more interested or less interested if the author tells them up front that all three books are written?

  8. Avatar anaquana says:


    I've heard many agents say not to even begin the second book until the first one is sold because there is no guarantee that any of them are going to sell.

    Also, changes to the first book could severely impact later books in the series.

  9. Jessica, I just have to say I don't know how you do it. How do you manage to come up with a new and interesting topic every single day and still get your work done? I write an article once a week, do blog posts approx. 3-4 x/wk, and am in the middle of writing two books. I don't have clients and editors to talk to, client ms's and fulls and partials to read, and submission letters to write. I just don't know how you do it…

  10. Avatar Dan Holloway says:

    This is a similar issue to one you've dealt with before – that of what will be expected of an author if their first book is a success. I KNOW in this case they've pitched a series rather than one book so there's a difference.

    But it does seem as though this isn't a million miles away from the bad old days of the music industry with locked-in 3 album deals that have to sound the same. I can hear George Michael singing "Freedom" as I type.

  11. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    One thing you need to be aware of is that it's often not so much the story line itself the editor is concerned with as the information that will appear on the back cover blurb and in marketing materials. For my publisher, that's information they need a full year in advance. I am a panster, and while I try and give my editor a realistic synopsis, there are always changes from the original concept. Anything that deviates in a major way needs to be sent to the editor asap unless you want a blurb that doesn't match the story at all. I think the most important thing is to always keep the editor apprised of any major changes along the way. My original series proposal for Wolf Tales was for three books–at this point (working on the 20th) my editor is really good about rolling with the punches!

  12. Avatar Ryan says:

    in my mind changing from your synopsis is like writing a completly diffrent thing that what you said would hapeen
    its basically lying to your agent

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Final ms. should not deviate more than 10% from synopsis, if you're writing the snyop first. Heck, I've even written synopses after the first draft and then realized, THIS IS WAY COOLER THAN WHAT I ACTUALL WROTE, and so then revise the ms. in the 2nd, 3rd drafts to fit my synopsis.

  14. Avatar Ryan says:

    What I'm really curious about is how this process goes for brand new authors. I.E. The first book an author wrote is the first book in a planned trilogy (series, whatever). Do you try to sell that book as a stand alone, or do you go ahead and try to sell the whole thing?

    Ryan: (6:34p)I would like to give you my opinion about this situation. For me, this would probably depend on how recently I have written said synopsis. If I wrote it a while ago, there are likely to be quite a few changes between then and now. Its the organic process of the mind that creates those changes. Its not lying, its expected.

  15. Avatar Mira says:

    Andrew – I'd love to know about George RR Martin!

    Well, this post doesn't apply to me, but I love that you give all this information, Jessica, to people at different stages of the process.

  16. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Anonymous 10:16–what do you mean, the final draft shouldn't deviate more than 10%? Is that a "rule" I've missed? Writing is all about turning your creative spirit free–the synopsis is a great framework, but if you limit yourself to the framework when the story suddenly decides to veer away from it, just think of what you might be missing. I have to admit, that's not one I've ever heard before, thank goodness, or I'd be in deep sh&%!

  17. Avatar Anja says:

    A related question to Ryan's (10:38): How much hope is there for a first-time fantasy author of selling a trilogy? If an agent really loved the writing and the story, would he or she pass and tell the author: "Well, I really love what you have here, and it's great that you've finished the whole thing and polished it and sent me the fifth not the first draft — but please write a stand-alone novel first and we can see about the trilogy later?"

  18. Avatar Andrew says:

    Ryan 10:38

    If you read "The eye of the world", Robert Jordan's first book of the wheel of time (due to finish on book 14 posthumously) there is no doubt in my mind it was written as a stand alone novel with the option to convert. As a consequence, as with a lot of first novels in trilogies/series, it feels complete and succinct. Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth is another one. Brent Weekes' Way of the Shadows.

    My guess is they go in as standalone books – then the agent/editor/publisher etc sees the potential for a longer series and asks the writer to 'open-end' it (maybe he already has and the stand alone finish is the amendment). But Jessica or Kim will have to confirm that one for sure…..just my observations as a reader

  19. Avatar DT says:

    I have a question regarding submitting queries for a trilogy – I have a fully completed trilogy that is 90k word count for the first book and 80k for the second and third book (250k total). Do I submit this one at a time or do I make the query a little longer and submit it as a whole? Any info is helpful. Thank you.

  20. Love this post… I was just asking myself this question last week. Being a pantser, writing a synopsis on what I 'think' will happen in the book is a streach… one I know I'll have to get comfortable with over the years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.