Monday, April 19, 2010

Trilogies. Or, Potential Ones.

My boss is NOT one of the many people who planned to go to the London Book Fair and has lost out on their deposit. Of the international fairs, she usually does one or the other - Frankfurt or London - and it was Frankfurt, which is in the Fall. It did create a panic in the industry last week when the volcano-related news came out, but the London Book Fair is going forward anyway, as most people in Europe can take buses or trains to get there.

Hi Rejecter. (I'd rather spell that with an Or, sort of like a Terminator!). This question may suck, but I'm asking it anyway: It seems like nearly every fantasy or scifi book that comes out now is part of a trilogy (or longer in some cases). Is this because publishers mostly want trilogies, or is it because the writers can't get Lord of the Rings out of their minds and think everything needs to be a trilogy? If I have a novel I want to pitch, should I be telling publishers "This is Book 1 of a Trilogy", in the hopes of more interest?

I don't have a straight answer for you here. Publishers in certain genres, specifically fantasy books and mysteries, do like multi-book series of an often unspecified number at the time of the buying of the first book. That said, they don't love them from new, untested authors.

As for agents, I don't think it would hurt your query, but I don't think it would help, either, unless your book has a stupid fantasy name like "Book 1 - The Prophey" because if you don't mention there's more books we'll just be wondering. The thought, when publishers buy a book, is often "Will this book succeed?" way before it's "How many of these can the author pump out and how fast can they do it? Because George R.R. Martin is screwing us over. I mean yes, we're still making tons of money off it, but we're really wondering if he's going to finish the series before he dies or some relative will have to pick it up and it will be lame."

Keep your focus on the first book. Getting one book published is really, really hard; many of my readers would be more than happy to tell you that. This is the book you want the agent to love and the publisher to buy.

I don't know whether other people who handle more fantasy hold the "unpublished author with a trilogy" against the author in the query or not. I just see it so often I ignore it, whereas if it was in a non-trilogy-friendly genre I would definitely hold it against the author (like, say, memoir). So, leave it out unless you can't, in which case just give it a line.


_*rachel*_ said...

As far as querying goes, what I've seen around is that you say, "with the potential to be a series." It lets you know there could be more, but doesn't overwhelm you with 20 sequels, prequels, and short story collections about the main characters.

As for trilogies, I'd guess some of it depends on the book. Some series have self-contained stories that don't much depend on you reading in order. It helps, but it isn't all that important. For example, Redwall (actually a 20-ish book series), Shannon Hale's trilogy starting with The Goose Girl, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

Other series have self-contained stories, but a definite progression and possible spoilers. For example, Meghan Whalen Turner's series. You really should read The Thief first, but you'll enjoy everything out of order if you must read it that way. Or Percy Jackson and the Olympians (I think; I'm getting to the rest of the series when school is out).

The last group is the Tolkein group. There's a bit of packaging, but the overarching plot from book to book is so strong you can't take the books separately.

I'd guess the first and second groups lean towards the "Oh, this did well. A sequel would be both fun and lucrative." The third probably leans more towards "Yeah, this is the first book, but I've already got detailed outlines for the next three, and they really do have to go together."

I'd imagine most series/trilogies are the first or second, and the third is harder to sell.

The Rejecter said...

There are some cases where "with the potential to be a series" just doesn't work, obviously. The story is just one really, really long story set over three books (like LOTR, which I believe was originally published as one book) and the first book that is being presented to the agent is not a book that would stand on its own.

We're not huge fans of these.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I don't know whether other people who handle more fantasy hold the "unpublished author with a trilogy" against the author in the query or not.

The advice I've seen agents who handle fantasy/SF give out is to make sure the first book is complete in itself. You can mention that you would like to expand it into a series, but the first has to stand on its own. Plus, if you can't sell book one, you're not going to be able to sell subsequent installments. If you've got a Tolkein-esque epic that needs three books to tell one story...well, either find a way to make the first self-contained, condense it down like whoa, or save it until you're famous enough that the publishers will let you do whatever you want.

Here's some quick back-up to my point:

The Rejecter said...

That's probably better advice. My boss does look at potential fantasy and sci-fi, but doesn't currently represent anything notable.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a straight answer for you here. Publishers in certain genres, specifically fantasy books and mysteries, do like multi-book series of an often unspecified number at the time of the buying of the first book.

I can at least tell you what one literary agent said to me: science fiction novels must have sequels planned, and preferably started before the first one sells. This (and a few other things) led to me writing a whole blog post on Science Fiction, literature, and the haters, which is chiefly about the relationship among science fiction, literature, and the marketplace, but the stuff that's immediately about agents is towards the top.

This is only a single agent's opinion, but the agent in question is a) still in business and b) seems to know as much about said business as anyone.

Gabrielle said...

As an editor who handles fantasy and sci-fi, I can tell you that I like to know about the series, but I like to be pitched the first book. If I don't like the first book, I won't buy the series. I need to be sold on the first book.

Pitches that cover the synopses of all the books in a series (or show that a single story is spread over three books) just don't warm me, especially from first-time authors.

I don't even like to be pitched the overall story arc. I want one good, strong, compelling book that's pitched and written in such a way that I say, "I will want more of this. What have you got?"

Even if I like the series idea, if the first book doesn't earn out, the rest of the books aren't going to see the light of day. That makes it even more important that book one is able to stand on its own.

Showing me that you've got it all planned out, or that the sequels are already written, just raises warning flags that you've spent time on the sequels that could have been spent making the first book stronger, and I'm going to look for that when I read the submission.

The editor you're submitting to, also, might not agree with your overall plot arc, or the number of books you need to accomplish it, or some direction you take out past the scope of the first book. The first book may have weaknesses that have to be rewritten that affect everything you've done since and make all that work you've done on books 2-5 useless. In cases like that, sharing too much information can harm you more than help you, so I think it's safest to leave it out.

So, I like a strong single-book pitch and then maybe a brief mention at the end of it that you've got a series planned.

Jill Wheeler said...

I've been wondering about this. There have been a huuuge number of trilogies out recently. And I keep seeing three book deals being announced. Makes me wonder if I should be writing a series, but then I figure I'll just concentrate on making the one book full of awesomeness.

Leona said...

Hello there :) I'm a new follower. I happen to have a query of awesomeness out there to a few agents, but I have a couple of questions.

One is, my length. At this point, it has been edited, as best as can be done by me and mine, story line done etc. I admit there are probably a couple of places where throwing another subplot scene in wouldn't hurt, but... I like it the way it is and know that I'm going to have to redo anyway for agent/editors.
My question is this. At 76k, is it an auto reject?

Also, I'm having a hard time finding agents currently looking at fantasy queries? Do you have any suggestions? I haven't seen the name of the agency you work for, but I'll admit, I haven't had time to do more than a cursory look as I've been busy typing the edits into the computer. (After initial computer edit, I do print out and edit, input it and do another computer edit.)

This post comes at a good time for me as I've just started sending out query letters using the 2010 Writers Market guide for referencing.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Gabrielle. As a fantasy reader, I might simply not be of the Trilogy mindset. When I pick a new book to read I don't want to have to invest my reading time for the next six months in a series of three or more. I want to read one book, and if I like it I want to be able to find more like it, and if I don't like it I don't want to feel like I still need to read two more books to get the story resolved. But it's hard to find fantasy books that aren't "Book 1 of the Crazy Epicness Chronicles." And as a fantasy writer, I don't want to (or don't have the 'talent' to) have to have a story idea that will take two thousand pages to hash out. I'd like to see more writers break away from the standard LOTR epicness and just write one great book.

The Rejection Queen said...


Thomas said...

some relative will have to pick it up and it will be lame.

His name is Brian Herbert.

Anonymous said...

This is what I've read in the past: If you look at the issue from the writer's point of view, building a new and original universe is a big job. It takes more thought, effort and planning to create a fantasy (or SF) world that hangs together and makes sense to the reader, than it is to set a story in contemporary reality.

So, writers of SF/F tend to use the same universe over and over, because subsequent books are easier to write.

As far as trilogies in particular go, I think it has a lot to do with the same thing. A fully realized and logical world takes more space to describe, so books will tend to be longer. Often they're split up into multiple books to avoid publishing a giant tome. I have a feeling it's editors that are splitting thing up, but that's just a guess.

OJC said...

Those bloody trilogies! I'm an avid SFF fan, but it seems like everything has to be dragged out an on ad nauseum these days. I actually did an experiment in my local bookstores recently: 90.6% of available SFF was part of a series. (Further details here:

Publishers do seem to tend to want the series and nearly nothing else in SFF. It's very frustrating - and I don't think they realise how much they're limiting themselves by doing so.