Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Should I Write a Three-Book Series?

We hear this all of the time. Publishers will offer 2 and 3 book contracts to authors with their first book. This is fabulous. We love it when someone loves our work. So, if this is the case, should a new author start out planning for this? Should new authors write a series? In my humble opinion, I would say no.

Sure, as readers we love to see a series. We love when characters come back time and time again for a little visit or a chat. One of my favorites is Andrew Greeley who does this not just with one series but with serveral. Characters jump back and forth between each series. It's great. But for a new author, that series approach is probably not the best option.

But why Scott? Why?

The simple fact is that a publisher, when they release a book of a new author is taking a chance. It is a gamble to see if what the author did, and what they did will work. The hope is, the author is a huge success and they can move on. However, time and time again, there are those books that just don't make it. For whatever reason. Now, when this happens, no one is going to want to read the next book in the series. We won't just "hope" the next one is better.

For a new writer, I strongly encourage him or her to think about how this book could go to a series, but the second and third book should be stand alone novels, also with potential spin-offs. In this way, when I pitch something, and something just doesn't work, I have some additional ideas that might catch the attention of the editor. As for the editor, if he or she signs that person, they have even more options to work with.

There is another level to this that just came up recently with a new author. This person did have a series, and had already self-published the first book. Please note I said self-published. Now she was trying to find a home for books 2-5. The problem is that, although she had the rights to the later books (obviously since they had not been bought yet), the characters and settings were still attached to the prior book's contract. In the end, there was nothing that could be done.

Look, a series is great, but remember, wasting time on a project that needs to have the first book sell to be worth anything simply is poor time management.



  1. It's extremely difficult not to write a series, but your advice is right on the mark. My first book was book 1 of a trilogy. I'd really love to write the second, but what's the point? So I just jotted some ideas down and moved on to a new story. That one also turned out to be the first in a series. *shakes head*

    So, with my most recently completed novel, I set out determined to write a stand alone. I think I succeeded. *stubbornly ignores characters demanding their own books*

  2. Now that is interesting. Have you any opinion (yet) on the Authonomy site which requires authors to post a minimum of 10,000 words of their book on the site.? Their Q & A says there is not a copyright problem, but the site is owned by Harcourt & Brace.
    I really appreciate you bringing up this topic, and particularly the unintended trap of self-publishing and future copyright problems. Brave new world indeed. Take care, everyone.

  3. Anon,
    Interesting question. No, I don't think you have an issue with Authonomy. This is simply a discussion board/blog site. In no way are you considered published by going to this site.

    I honestly have to say that my bigger concern would be posting this information and other people taking it and claiming it as their own. You are putting material of yours out there on the internet with nothing stopping people.


  4. Sorry if I'm dense, but how would it be that a self-published book's rights would not be the author's to assign elsewhere? I have a couple of friends whose self-pubb'd books were later bought and repackaged by other publishers.

  5. Hoo boy, down the slippery slope we go indeed. I appreciate your answer Scott, as I know SP is not one of your pressing concerns, and I won't bog you down with this one, but I have been concerned for several years with the very issue you just mentioned.
    Unlike the actual writing, there is no copyright on ideas, NOR should there be, as anyone can dive into the cultural soup if willing to put in the effort, and read a great deal of history & come up with some excellent and (apparently) unused plotlines.
    But, very large "but" here,by posting these one immediately puts them out there for an established writer with an existing platform, large audience that will buy most of the books penned by said author, and most importantly, a publisher that will give one the go ahead of the strength of a phone call, and the likelihood that they (author) are already in a position to write full time every day of the week, if desired.
    So, WHO will finish the book first, and then not be forced to waste years trying to find an agent, and ergo, a publisher ? And likely get an advance to boot?
    Guess who? Already successful author or full time employee and mom with fifteen minutes of free time at the end of the day? Maybe.
    I used to think this common concern was a tad paranoid, until I bought a book about screenwriting, and yo ho, right there on the page is the advice of a top screenwriter, telling authors NEVER to send a requested outline of an unfinished script to an agent, because, he claims, "nothing is more common for the agent to forward the promising concept amateur outline to me, to be worked up and completed by a professional with a proven track record."
    Makes perfect sense to me. Why should anyone count on a professional piece of writing from No one from Nowhere? Anyone can come up with a "good idea." Swell. Now what? Why give up your best (unfinished) plot? What will you do when you see it coming out under the name of an established author? Now what the H... will you do?
    Nuff said. Thanks as always for your honesty in these matters, Scott. Better pain now than pain a lot later, and only the same tired old ideas left in your briefcase, 'cause somebody just took the best one, and ran with it. Times are tough, and the canny will be the survivors.