“Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”
– John Dewey
A few weeks ago, I received a question on one of my older writing posts. This was from someone who was writing a series, but having trouble making book one “long enough” to reach books two and three. This question intrigued me enough to write a post about it.
There are a lot of people out there whose advice goes something like this: “If you want any shot in being published at all, completely forget about ever doing a series and just write this one book, you naïve plebeian.”
I half agree with that philosophy. First of all, I know exactly what it’s like to pitch a series, because I’ve done it before. When I was sixteen, I began querying a YA Fantasy project I’d been working on for a few years. At this point, I’d written most of the books in my potential series of seven.
Looking back, it’s easy to see why I didn’t get very far with that. I was spreading out my creative energy so thinly across multiple projects, I wasn’t devoting all my attention just towards the first one.
Since then I’ve shelved the fantasy project and focused my efforts on my contemporary YA novel (which is up to three full requests, yay!) but, I do plan to come back to the fantasy project someday. And I do plan to pitch it as a series.
However, there’s a right way to do that.
Again, I truly sympathize with the ideology of plotting out an entire saga, and having tons of elements from book one affect things in books six or seven. But I also think that for a series to truly flourish, you have to let yourself “re-create” it along the way, know what I mean?
For my fantasy series, I knew exactly what I wanted to happen in all of the books; at least, for the most part. I certainly knew enough for that to influence the way I wrote book one. And when I come back to it, I’ll revise book one carefully, keeping certain parts intact so they can set up events in future books. But, I also can’t let these feel out of place during the story.
There are many people—and I used to be one of them—who get so excited about the events in book two or three that they rush book one. This is entirely understandable, but it doesn’t fit well in the publishing business. Book two won’t see print if book one sucks. It just won’t.
With you and I both agreeing that’s unfortunate, what can we do about it?
Glad you asked!
How I approached my “series problem” is I took a deep breath and told myself that I will always be a creative person. And I will always get new story ideas. And if I channel every drop of my creative energy into just (just!) book one, then when the time comes to write book two, there will be more creative energy there to write that one, too.
See what I’m getting at? It’s a balancing act. On one hand, you should keep the series potential in mind, and maybe let that influence certain plot points in book one. But on the other, much more important hand, you have to let yourself get creative and put all your effort into book one, so that it can do well enough on its own. That won’t happen if you “just make it long enough” to be a bridge towards sequels.
Another thing that sucks, but you have to keep it in mind anyway: each book should have its own story arc which builds up, reaches its peak, then gradually concludes by the end of the novel. Do you have to wrap everything up? Of course not! That would defeat the point of a series. But look at the Harry Potter novels. Sure, the whole threat of the Dark Lord taking over is there for the entire series, but each book has its own self-contained adventure (the Triwizard Tournament, the Chamber of Secrets being opened, etc.)
I know for a fact that most agents, while possibly willing to sign on multiple books, prefer to be pitched them one at a time. That makes it easier for the writer, too. Now you only have to write one query letter, and one synopsis! If a book does well enough, and there’s the right amount of suspense at the end, there will be demand for a sequel.
Like anything in writing, it’s a balancing act.