Writing Series

Excellent post the other day from Nathan Bransford on writing series. He’s already covered before how to mention sequels in your query letter (and it doesn’t read like “This is the first in a seven-volume epic”), but now he’s weighed in on writing the series at all:

…I haven’t actually blogged about whether an unpublished author should set out to write a series in the first place. My opinion? You shouldn’t.

I completely agree with him, and that’s based on some hard-won experience.

Throughout college, I wrote a fantasy trilogy. Now, if there’s any genre that you might manage to publish a series straight off, it’s fantasy. Fans do love the door-stops, and the more to stack up the better!

As a writer, the series is alluring–expanded scope, no new world to create every time, more space to work events and subplots into. Plus, a lot of my favorite authors at the time were writing expansive, multi-volume series. I set off to write my trilogy, front to back over the course of a couple years.

But the truth is that the greater length introduced more problems than it solved. As a developing writer, my craft grew over the course of the series. By the time the third book, my writing was much better than when I started. But so many of the problems in the first book were deep structural issues, and my best efforts to rescue it came to naught. And that’s the rub–no matter how great the series may get, you have to sell it off that first book. No publisher will wait for book two, three, or five for the big payoff.

I made a half-hearted effort to sell the first book, but I knew it wouldn’t cut it. A complete rewrite would have been necessary, and although I loved it dearly, the whole series went in the drawer. I haven’t regretted it since.

Nathan’s spot on about this. If you’re a first-time author, the deck’s already stacked against you. You can’t afford to save cool stuff for later. This book has to snap, crackle, and pop all on its own. If there’s potential for a sequel (like my current WIP), that’s good, but don’t let the series drag your first book down.