Every so often I am talking to an author about a potential book and he or she will say, “Well, I will have to check with my previous publisher first. In my contract I gave them first option on my next book.”
I am always amazed when I hear this. We got rid of the “next book clause” from our contracts thirty years ago. I thought such arrangements disappeared with the era of the dime novel. Apparently not.
The “next book clause” of a publisher’s contract (also known as “right of first refusal”) generally calls for authors to offer their next book to the same publisher of the current book. If the author complies—and if the publisher contracts for the second book—that second contract will no doubt also have a “next book clause.” And so the cycle will be repeated with a possible third and fourth book, and so on into the future. The author is stuck with one publisher, unless the publisher happens to turn down one of the books.
The advantages to publishers are clear. They have exclusive opportunity to consider a book for publication by a previously published author with absolutely no obligation to publish. The disadvantages to authors are equally clear. Their ability to negotiate and to place books with perhaps more suitable publishers are limited if not eliminated.
Why did IVP get rid of next book clauses when they are so clearly advantageous to publishers? Two reasons.
First, it is actually extremely easy for an author to get around a next book clause. For example, an author can offer us a cook book. InterVarsity Press does not publish cook books. When we say no to the cook book, the author can take it—and any subsequent book project—to another publisher. If an author really wants to go elsewhere, why should we compel them to undertake such tactics?
The other reason? Frankly, we don’t want an author to publish with us again merely out of contractual obligation but because the author has had a good experience with us, because we’ve done good work editorially, in sales and marketing, and in the overall relationship. If authors feel otherwise, it is better for them and us that they publish their next book elsewhere.
Of course there can be legitimate exceptions. A publisher and author may agree to multibook contracts for specific projects or perhaps even for a to-be-determined project. But for a publisher to require an author to be perpetually obligated borders on the unethical, if not crosses it.
So when authors tell me they are constrained by a next book clause, I tell them, “Well, when you get your next contract from your publisher, cross out the clause before you sign it.” If the publisher demands that the clause remain, start collecting recipes.