Publishing is very much a "What have you done for me lately" sort of business model. Sell through, generate clamor, and your publisher will love you. Your next book will be received with open arms -- and an open wallet.
What happens, then, if you don't sell through? What if you're a popular writer who's lost the edge and written something that no one cared to buy? Don't expect to get a big advance on your next piece.
Even winning a Pulitzer prize couldn't help Richard Ford. For seventeen years he trusted his manuscripts to the folks at Knopf and editor Gary Fisketjon. Mr. Ford's next three books will be coming from the presses of HarperCollins.
What have you done for me lately said the bean counters at Knopf. Sold 51,000 hardcover and 36,000 paperback. Poor numbers indeed, and not good enough to meet the advance. That being the case, Knopf would like to break even so the next batch of novels will be granted a smaller advance. Just a bit of risk assessment, nothing to be alarmed about.
Super-agent Binky Urban was not about to let her client take a pay cut. She worked out a deal with HarperCollins that would bring in the sort of price that Knopf wasn't willing to meet. HarperCollins decided that they'd risk it on Mr. Ford hitting a winner again, while Knopf waved good-bye. Plenty of other fish in the literary sea.
You're only as good as your last book, no matter how big you've grown. It's business, not art.