About series

One of the things new writers are told in various workshops is that your first book must absolutely stand alone if you are to sell it.

Here is what agent Kristin Nelson has to say on the matter

I feel it’s one of those things where new writers are being ‘advised’ by slightly more experienced writers who think they know the ropes but haven’t sold anything either and are regurgitating rumours. Of course it depends on the genre, but I’ve read debut novels that absolutely do not stand alone. People I know have sold trilogies as their first sale. To me, it seems pretty silly, from a publisher’s point of view, to commit only to the first book. Either the marketing department likes the premise, or it doesn’t.

Fantasy and Science Fiction worlds are hard to build within the space of 100,000 words while telling a cracking story at the same time. Often, more word-space is needed to convey the story, so a large story is split into two or three volumes. A publisher would buy the concept of the entire series. Readers of SFF love series, so where’s the problem?

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4 comments on “About series

  1. In the Baycon workshop, they didn’t tell us our series wouldn’t be bought, but that it was could be a death knell for a new writer.

    The thinking is that if the first novel doesn’t sell very well, publishers won’t put much effort behind the second book. When that one has even worse numbers, some publishers have been known to actually cancel the third book. Or put if off so long it may as well be canceled. With that on the writer’s resume, the career is kaput.

    There’s always the pseudonym route if that happens, methinks.

    In general, I wasn’t impressed with their argument. At least, at this point, getting the book deal is hard enough. If they actually want a series, who am I to turn them down?

    • I think there are a lot of people saying alarmist things about this, especially at cons, where writers go for advice, and lots of people with strong opinions one way or the other hang around waiting for some trigger to start sprouting that advice.

      (Hear that sound? That’s the dripping of sarcasm)

      To me, it seems there isn’t one ‘right’ way to do things. As with computer programming, there isn’t even a neat set of IF… THEN… ELSE statements that must be followed.

      I think a writer can/should trust a publisher’s decision to run with a series (or not). Of course, there is always a chance that a book tanks completely. I tend to think that has a fair bit to do with the effort the author puts into publicity as well. I can’t see why, if an agent and major publisher both think a series is good enough, an author shouldn’t sell well enough to at least warrant the complete publication of the series.

      That said, I know one author who got a book deal for a series when very young. At that stage, the author didn’t know squat about the book market. The book tanked, the series was canned. This author has now sold another trilogy to a major publisher without a change of name.

      So, I’m not buying the career-destroying propaganda either. That kinda sounds like the reds-under-the-beds scaremongering that’s just ridiculous and counter-productive. You have to work at being a writer, all the time. There are always other avenues. Small press is one of the options that comes to mind. Who ever said this writing gig was easy anyway?

  2. The truth is that if you write a wonderful can’t-put-it-down novel it will be published. Eventually. No matter what the genre. No matter if it is standalone or first of a series.

    Second truth: HC Voyager Oz is reluctant to take standalones because every time they have, it hasn’t sold well. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but the reluctance is there.

    My first was a standalone – published in UK.

    • Thanks for replying, Glenda. It seems to me that when I look at the shelves in recently published fantasy, especially in Australia, almost no debut novel is not part of a series. Some could be loosely termed to be a standalone first part, but many don’t even attempt to be a standalone. It seems that readers want to be taken on a ride; they want more where the previous one came from, which is why I think series sell well, especially as backlist sales. They continue to sell over a much longer period.

      This makes me feel much better since I’ve just started marketing just such a book. It was a story that simply grew far too big for 120,000 words, and had to be cut into three parts. There was no other way I was going to tell it.

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