Rollins strikes $18m book deal for loyalty

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Thriller writer James Rollins has stuck with the same editor and publisher for 15 years - the kind of devotion rarely seen in today's fluid and fickle publishing business. Now, he is being richly rewarded for his loyalty.

William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins, recently agreed to pay him close to US$15 million (S$18.6 million) for the next four books in his best-selling Sigma series. It is the kind of advance normally reserved for major political memoirs or gossipy celebrity tell-alls.

The multibook deal signals William Morrow's confidence that Rollins' readership will continue to grow. His 20 books, mostly science thrillers in the vein of Michael Crichton, have a total of 6.7 million copies in print and are released by 36 foreign publishers. William Morrow acquired his first book in 1999 for US$25,000.

William Morrow executive editor Lyssa Keusch said: "He's a real home-grown success story and that carries a lot of weight for us. We have all the backlist, which makes the whole property worth more."

With the slump in print sales in recent years, publishers have been more cautious about paying huge sums for book advances. Lately, however, there have been signs that editors are once again willing to make big bets.

Novelist-essayist Leslie Jamison recently struck a seven-figure, two-book deal with Little, Brown while young adult novelist Cassandra Clare got a seven-figure deal for her next fantasy trilogy, according to the website Publishers Marketplace. Romance writer Maya Banks sold a trilogy of erotic novels to Berkley for seven figures, according to the site.

Rollins, 52, is a former veterinarian whose real name is James Czajkowski.

His first novel, Subterranean, was an instant hit. His most successful Sigma series centres on an elite military research group that solves scientific mysteries. The 10th book in the series, The Sixth Extinction, out next month, opens at a military research station where every form of life has been mysteriously annihilated.

He keeps a low profile at his home near Lake Tahoe, California. He does volunteer work helping to spay and neuter stray cats. He meets a group of 12 writers that gather every other week to critique one another's work. His status as a best-selling author has not earned him extra credibility with the other authors, he says. "Every time I come in, they tear me apart."

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