Monday, April 19, 2010

Goodkind's Plethora of Three-Book Deals

The big publishing news of the day was that Terry Goodkind had returned to Tor -- where he was discovered by the fine editor James Frenkel and nurtured into a massive bestseller -- in a three-book deal beginning next year. The first book of the deal is specified to be a "Richard and Kahlan novel" -- referring to the main characters from his eleven-book "Sword of Truth" -- which may be just an odd way of referring to the twelfth volume of "Sword of Truth," or may imply that this new novel will be in a somewhat different direction.

The press release -- I got it via e-mail, and it's also been posted online -- doesn't state what the second and third books will be, or the title of the first book, but does say that the "Richard and Kahlan" book will come in early 2011. Perhaps those later books are unspecified in the contract, though that's unusual in my experience.

This announcement confused me, since I thought Goodkind was in the middle of an existing three-book deal, with Putnam. I dug out the news from 2008 -- Publishers Weekly still has the story online -- and found that I had remembered correctly; Putnam bought three standalone novels, of which they've only published The Law of Nines in hardcover last August. There's a paperback scheduled for this August, and I would have expected Goodkind's second Putnam hardcover to publish at the same time or soon afterward.

When they bought those books, Ivan Held, president of G.P. Putnam's Sons, insisted that "Putnam [would] be able to get Goodkind’s books into a wider market than Tor did," and that the first book would be "mainstream fiction, not fantasy." Unfortunately, publishing doesn't always work out the way we expect -- in the end, Law of Nines sold less than a quarter of the number of hardcover books that Confessor, the eleventh volume of "Sword of Truth" did, and featured a young man named Rahl who came into contact with a gorgeous woman from a secondary world where magic works -- quite possibly the same world that "Sword of Truth" takes place in. So it may have fallen between two stools -- too different for the "Sword of Truth" fans, too much the same thing for the people who read Joseph Finder and Steve Martini. It may not have been published as "fantasy," but it wasn't clearly not fantasy, either.

Still, it's unusual to see major press releases touting three-book deals for the same author only one book apart. Given Goodkind's sales history at Tor, I have to see this as a good thing for his career -- that's a sales force that has a long history with Goodkind books, and specifically with "Richard and Kahlan" books, and it will have been more than three years since Confessor by the time this new book emerges, so the audience will be ready for it.

It looks to me as if Goodkind has learned the unfortunate truth of the series author: if you become a major bestseller from a series, you do have a hard core of fans for anything you do afterward -- but most of your readers are fans of the series, and will only stick around as long as you're writing that series. Terry Brooks knows that, as did Robert Parker and David Eddings. Perhaps Goodkind will eventually join many similar writers in alternating series books with smaller-selling non-series (or new series) books -- or maybe he'll follow the Sue Grafton mold, and pull whatever else he wants to write about into that one series. (Not that he didn't do something very much like that in the "Sword of Truth" books!)

I also note that Goodkind supposedly sold two different books -- A Different Kind of Human and The Hinges of Hell -- to Doubleday Canada, for publication last year and this. (I examined that announcement when it was made in June of 2008.) Different probably turned into Law of Nines, since Dd Ca published that last year, but I wonder if they're holding onto their deal for Hinges of Hell?

Also, given the vague, half-informed numbers being thrown around by anonymous commentors on that post, Putnam is taking an uncomfortably full bath of Goodkindish red ink right now, which could explain why they aren't publishing the other two books on their contract. (If, indeed, they've released Goodkind, and not just pushed those books far back into the future and waived some specific we-get-the-next-book clauses.)


Ran said...

George R.R. Martin has often remarked on the "fans of the author" vs. "fans of the series" dichotomy. He tends to cite Stephen R. Donaldson, who discovered the majority of the readers of the Covenant series were Thomas Covenant fans first and foremost, and not Stephen R. Donaldson fans.

I was a bit amazed at how well alternating series has done for Laurell K. Hamilton. It seemed a weird choice to start dividing time from her Anita Blake series to start the Merry Gentry books, but looking at the PW chart you posted the other day, there's not a massive difference in sales. Presumably the fan base for these two series are largely made up of the same.

dd-b said...

Series vs. author is interesting from my perspective as a reader, too. Some authors have multiple series and standalones that I love all to pieces (Smith, Heinlein), some mostly wrote one series with the side material much less to my taste (Rex Stout, Dorothy Sayers).

Then there's Frank Herbert, with the "big" series very much not to my taste except for the first book which I think is one of the finest products of SF to date.

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