Friday, January 29, 2010

Writing Series and Trilogies

I have finished two books of what will be a trilogy and am wondering about the logistics of querying a trilogy. I recognize the first book needs to stand alone, and I plan on mentioning it is the first in a trilogy (that will at that point be all written), but should the query hook and synopsis be just for the one book, or should I give the summary of the three?

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I think it is worth repeating. If you are writing a series, trilogy, or any other form of linked books, my recommendation is not to write all three books or to continue the series until you’ve sold the first one. Unless you strongly believe that each of these books could stand alone in the event one of the others doesn’t sell, you could be writing three books that will never sell simply because the first one didn’t.

In other words, if you sell the first book you can always go back (as you will hopefully do contractually) and write the next two books. In the meantime, work on something fresh while you query the first book. That way if the series doesn’t sell you’re only stuck with one book under the bed, not three.

That being said, how do you query a trilogy? You query a book, not the trilogy. Agents are only interested in one thing at a time, and that’s the book you have written. To be honest, readers are only interested in the same thing. So mention it’s a trilogy, but query the book. Focus your hook and synopsis on the book.

Jessica

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's what I'm doin'.

The first will be polished and ready to query April Fools' Day. Ha! The second is complete in my head, but not on paper. The third is a vague idea.

This can be really confusing 'cause it's another issue which is not standard across the agent spectrum. Some don't want to know at all. They make it sound like it's the kiss of death to even mention it. Some say mention it, but they don't really care. Others say they like to know because they're in it for the long haul and don't want to sign an author with only one book in her.

And then they change their minds.

And, of course, they each want you to invidiualize the query you send.

And woe to you if you're not clairvoyant enough to know they're sick of the name 'Madison.'

Ah, the joys of querying.

I am so not looking forward to it.

This is why I've promised myself to only read this agent's blog from now on. That and I'm not querying this agent, so I figure it's more objective for me.

This line was the best suggestion I've found-
'This book stands alone, but is the first in a planned trilogy.'

Aimless Writer said...

Have you ever recieved a book you'd like to represent and then think it would make a good trilogy?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info on that. All the books I'm working on are trilogies and that's at a minimum. I had no idea how to state it in the query though.

Steph Damore said...

Appreciate your perspective Jessica. I know I asked the blogger community about this a few months ago. Most seemed to agree with you--don't get stuck writing a series because the first book might not sell. I've taken that advice myself and it's been refreshing to work on a new project.

Lisa Desrochers said...

My book just sold at auction in a three-book deal, and nowhere in my original agent query did I mention the word series or trilogy. If your first book stands alone, which it should, then the series concept is something you can discuss with interested agents after they've decided if they want to rep the first book. The agents that offered representation asked me what else I was working on and I told them one WIP was the sequel. They were all thrilled, but I didn't pitch book one as part of a series.

In her submission letter, my agent mentioned I was working on a sequel and we had a one page series synopsis ready in case editors asked--which they did.

Susana Mai said...

@anonymous I sympathize. Thanks for illustrating your frustration in a truthful yet entertaining manner. I need stuff like that in the morning.

Does the line" 'This book stands alone, but is the first in a planned trilogy.'seem too eager? I thought that Lisa had the right idea by not mentioning the verboten 'trilogy' at all.

Also, I'm with AimlessWriter on this one: have you ever read a manuscript that was just brimming with trilogy/series potential?

Kate Douglas said...

My Wolf Tales series is a good example--Jessica sold the first book to Kensington as a single book. (It was actually an online serial and the first book was a combination of the existing five parts of the serial) The editor bought three novels and three novellas. I'm now writing the 20th story in the series, so be prepared, if you DO have a series, to continue writing them. Make sure you truly love your characters, because you never know how many books you might be asked to write. Look at Christine Feehan's Dark Carpathians (16 or 17 so far, I think) or John D. McDonald's Travis McGee series. It can often become a huge commitment, sort of like being typecast in a popular TV show...did Gilligan EVER get off that island?

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think it is pretty standard. They want to know about the first book, because that's what they have to sell. You can mention if it has sequel potential, but that doesn't matter until an editor bites. I've never met an agent who asked about "future books" when you're a novelist. It usually takes people at least a year to produce a novel so in reality they only care about the here and now. Once you sell and develop a following, it's different.



--This can be really confusing 'cause it's another issue which is not standard across the agent spectrum. Some don't want to know at all. They make it sound like it's the kiss of death to even mention it. Some say mention it, but they don't really care. Others say they like to know because they're in it for the long haul and don't want to sign an author with only one book in her--

RCWriterGirl said...

I've seen this advice given many times--not to write the others in the trilogy until you could sell the first.

However, a deadline would freak me out in the writing. I'd feel so much better having the thing completed than being expected (pressured) to write it.

Has a writer you've represented ever been unable to complete a promised second novel? How are two-book (or three book) deals done? Do they all have to have solid outlines before they make such a deal? Or is it just a matter of the deal is made, and it's expected to be done.

mardott said...

I know you're right about querying one book at a time. Also, that it's not a good idea to write the second book until the first is sold.

But - I don't agree that readers are only interested in one thing at a time. In fact, I HATE it when I read a book, and I'm really enjoying it, but get to the end and find out the Big Picture is not resolved, and there's going to be another book.

In a year or two.

Makes me want to scream. I would much rather know, right at the start, that I'm dealing with a series. Then I don't mind waiting for the next book. I'm emotionally prepared for waiting, and I can enjoy the first book in its own right, and not feel like I've been left dangling at the end.

I know a lot of readers who feel the same way. But maybe we're a minority.

Laurie London said...

Good advice!

Before I found an agent, a multi-published friend told me to write a short synopsis and a few chapters on the next book then set it aside to work on a completely different story. If the series didn't sell, I wouldn't have wasted a lot of time writing the second book.

I couldn't decide which characters to focus on, so I sketched out the next two stories and wrote several chapters in each before I set them aside.

When I did sign with my agent and she started submitting my MS, I was able to easily whip up a series overview, outlining the conflicts in each of the next two books. She sold my series a short time later.

The only downside is that I've got 2 other stories I developed during this time that I'm also pretty excited about. :-)

Marcy lynn said...

I had been wondering about this. Thanks so much for posting it Jessica.

Jille said...

Does a multi-book deal automatical = series, though? Can't it just mean the publisher wants dibs on your next X number of novels?

Jille said...

oops. I meant automatically

Betsy said...

There's no word that terrifies me more than trilogy.If you write one great book they will ask for more, and it's better to be asked than impose. You know, keep 'em wanting more psychology.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Lisa! I think it's best to work on the sequel while it's fresh on your mind so you'll have book #2 ready when/if your first book sells. No pressure, no contract. Most genre novels are sold as a series so it not only makes sense, it makes it easier for everyone involved.

JDuncan said...

The book I sold was stand alone. It was just left open to continue if there was interest. I got about 30k or so into the next story when I got the call. So, I have the beginnings at least of the next story which I can submit once this current series runs its course.

Watery Tart said...

While I GET this response on a marketing/sales level, as a writer it COMPLETELY doesn't work for me. I am on the third in a trilogy and writing it has changed myriad details in the first--the structure hasn't changed, but all the continuity and such...

The first stands alone... the third will stand alone... not sure the second quite can yet, but i haven't even got it typed, but I think you can write yourself into a corner on a story if it's a real trilogy... series, fine. A good trilogy is a single story told in three books and I can't believe it is POSSIBLE to do well without writing it all. Had I tried to sell the first and succeeded, I couldn't have done the later two.

Kimber An said...

Very true, Watery Tart.

As a reviewer, I can tell you it's extremely hard to keep the arc going over a series of three or four books.

I can always tell when a sequel is written just because the first did well. The story dwindles and the readers lose interest and wonder off.

In fact, I can only think of one author who's managed to pull it off in the past three years of reviewing.

Yes, it's a waste of time to write down all three novels before you start querying the first, but I see the wisdom in at least working it all out in your imagination.

I'd have at least a synopsis for each of the others written down going in.

Tim said...

Ah this is well timed advise. I confess that I've been at this point for a few week now. The second book in the series is well mapped out in my head, but do I really want spend the next three months banging it out knowing the first may never sell?

Not sure I can actually do daily edits on one book and work on another at the same time. I tend to get the characters confused.

Dianna said...

Personally, I will continue writing out my series book by book. Why? Because I love my story, my world, my writing.

This is good advice, but I think that most writers aren't doing it to sell books, they're doing it because they love it. Selling books is just a bonus.

Joylene Butler said...

Excellent advise, Mart. I sold the first book, it's being released next year. Now I'm working on the second. I'm not sure about a third. Yet. I've still got 3 other books to polish. Loving it, tho.

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Mel said...

As a ghostwriter \I am often asked by clients to write trilogies, and often they haven't even really got to grips with what book 1 is all about.
You can imagine what fun it is trying to get the whole picture.

student aid said...

The second book in the series is well mapped out in my head, but do I really want spend the next three months banging it out knowing the first may never sell.

winnie said...

I have written a book about my life and the 2nd edition is almost complete, i had too write the second book because people want to know the continuing story. Whether it sells or not, well, I am not really worried about that. I was something I wanted to accomplish for myself. Money would be just the bonus. Thank you for your post.

Anonymous said...

I'm currently writing the first book in a planned trilogy, and hopefully it can stand alone... does 'standing alone' mean that whilst yes, it does have its own plot and storyline, it leaves space for the two other books? I mean, at the end, I plan to leave my characters on the verge of the next book, but hopefully that could simply be seen as an open ended ending...