1. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Publishers don't want series from new writers?

    Discussion in 'Publishing' started by BayView, Dec 7, 2014.

    This came up in a different thread, and I thought it might be good to explore the idea a bit:

    Do publishers want debut authors to stick to stand-alone books, or are they also looking for series?

    This may come down to how we define 'series'. Is it a set of books that have one plot, each book ending on a cliffhanger, or is it a set of books in the same universe and probably with the same characters, working on some over-arching goal but resolving smaller conflicts within each book, so that each book COULD function as a standalone?

    In my experience (and my genres - romance and YA romance) publishers are actively looking for books that fit the second definition of series. In two cases, my agent submitted a standalone novel and the acquiring editor came back with an expression of interest in a series. I have other books published under a different pen name, but these would be my debut books under a new pen name.

    But others are saying that it's very difficult for a new author to sell a series, and they should stick to standalones.

    Does anyone have any evidence/experience to back this up? I feel like I see new authors writing series fairly often, but maybe they're the exceptions that prove the rule?
     
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've had this discussion with someone who is a well-known author of SF/F and was an editor at one of the largest traditional publishers of such fiction. His advice (and this was one editor, so take that for what it is worth) was that the first book should be able to stand on its own, but that he liked to see works that left open the possibility of follow-up books because if the first book does well, then subsequent books in the same world with some of the same characters is a pretty good bet.

    That said, at least in fantasy you can find all kinds of authors whose first books were part of a series and were bought (sometimes at a very high advance - see Stephanie Meyer). For examples, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, etc.
     
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  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes an author writes a book and it's very successful. So the agent or publisher says, "come up with a sequel," and it then becomes a "series."

    I see so many new writers saying that they want to write a series. But yes, the first book always has to stand alone. Even as a reader, people aren't going to want to pick up a book if they know that it's not a one book commitment for them to get to the story, but that it's a 3 or 4 book commitment. What you really want is for the reader to finish the book and think, "wow -- I loved that so much. I wish there were more. Oh, there's another book with these characters? Let me get out my credit card."

    Part of the problem seems to be that a writer wants to take 300K words to tell their story, so they just think, "okay, I'll sell it in 3 100K chunks." When what is really needed is to edit that 300K down to 100K.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I haven't read all the ones you mentioned, but I have read Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss. Neither of their first books were 'stand alones.' (Who could turn down Joe Abercrombie?)

    I think if you're a good enough writer, especially in the fantasy genre, you can probably get away with a first book that isn't a fully closed story. But it better be damn good. And you will probably be stuck into a contract that requires you to finish the series in a short time frame (one book per year.) So if you're a slow writer, you ought to have the series pretty much completed before you approach the query process.

    It would be interesting to find out what Joe Abercrombie did to get his first book accepted for publication. He's a pretty accessible guy who seems interested in discussing the writing process. He has a good personal blog going—he might be amenable to being asked what his query letter looked like, if that's the way he did it. He'll need to have admitted he was writing a series, because The Blade Itself is definitely not a stand-alone story.
     
  5. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I have a feeling people just wanna write series because somehow it feels more "epic" - I mean, how often have you see threads around here with people saying, "I have a 10-book series except I don't know what should happen in books 2-6 before the action gets going!" (in short: I don't have enough story to fill so many books but I want this many books anyway)

    I think perhaps what's advised against could be cliff-hanger endings. I don't see how it could harm your chances if there're possibilities of sequels after book 1 if book 1 is a self-contained novel.

    Romance seems to operate under slightly different rules, or so that's my impression. They tend to be shorter and there're more categories for them, which means there're more conventions to stick to. (I could be wrong - these are just impressions without research) Or maybe I'm too influenced by that one time I looked at the submissions section of Harlequin Romance lol.
     
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  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Having browsed some of the nanowrite threads I could sympathize with a publisher discouraging newbies from submitting a series. A lot of them sounded similar, most sounded like the writer had taffy-pulled one book idea to justify a three book length and not many of the ideas or characters stood out. Seeing them all lined up like that I can see why a publisher might have key words to throw something into a slush pile. Mine would be - discovers he/she has/is - ;)

    Of course that's only a quick judgement on the idea not the writing. If Hunger Games would've been in the list it probably would've gotten lost in the shuffle,too. Writing is always key. But I think a writer's best bet is to write one book that sounds like it would make a good sequel and have the publisher ask for more ( and be ready when they do. )

    Plus I think publishers know a lot of newbie's aren't skilled enough to write a competent first novel let alone an intricate six part series. They have the idea's but not the execution. Who wants to tell a new author not only do we not want to publish your book but we don't want to publish the second or third. It's triple the rejection in one shot.
     
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  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think Joe Abercrombie's a great example, b/c, yeah, there's no way that first book stood alone.

    Mckk, I don't think it's just romance. Definitely SF/F likes series. Urban Fantasy LOVES series.

    I feel like I've seen a lot of series in historical fiction; I don't really read mystery, so I don't know. There are lots of spy thrillers that come in series, right? And cop/crime novels? Mostly stand-alones, but all glued together in the same universe.

    So I think the main category that doesn't like series is literary fiction?
     
  8. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And I guess this is why publishers seem to discourage series from newbies... Anyone seen that thread called "Can't even come up with a plot"? o_O
     
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  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, you're kind of begging the question on that one - do publishers discourage series from newbies? Has that been determined? If so - where?
     
  10. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I read Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series since it first came out and just adored it. Fresh, unique, and soo imaginative. I couldn't stop.

    His newest book had the most amazing blurb "Fantasy the way it should be written." from G.R.R. Martin.
    Like biggest praise ever!

    I'll be interested to hear from houses once I submit my WotW if the serial part of it has any effect on their decision making and whether it's positive or negative.

    Honestly, even if they tell me they want part 2 within the next calendar year, I'd take the deal. Guaranteed publishing? Sold :3
     
  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Can your first book in the series stand alone, or does it HAVE to be part of the series?
     
  12. aikoaiko
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    aikoaiko Contributing Member

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    I'm sure the answer in these cases is to produce something of a double agent that could go either way. I think it's really, really important for each book in a series to have a major problem resolved, otherwise what would be the point of reading it?:( A good series IMO resolves the most important problem last, but gives lots of closure between to keep the reader happy and hooked.

    Harry Potter gets a lot of criticism, but one thing Rowling did extremely well was provide closure at the end of each book. The fundamental conflict continued, but subplots were resolved and the story was always advanced. This is a trait that's more important where childrens' books are concerned, I think, but it's important for any series in any genre to be successful.
     
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  13. A.M.P.
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    Hmm... I had to think about that.
    I think it won't be able to stand alone because the main arc won't be done and it'll be obvious.

    One character ends in failure and is forced to marry against her will. One finds the answers he sought after and goes on to make things right. One ends up more lost and confused but saved for the moment.

    So, it won't be a satisfatory ending. Nope.

    I'm only approaching those scenes however so I may realize I need to keep the story going for a while and find other satisfactory endings for the other two. The wedding finale is a pretty solid stopping point imo.
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My impression isn't that publishers discourage series, but that they discourage books that don't stand alone. Well, and that a publisher isn't likely to BUY an entire series from a new author. An author that expects to, say, sign a contract for all ten books of his series may look like an author that has a limited grip on reality?
     
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  15. Fullmetal Xeno
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    Fullmetal Xeno Protector of Literature Contributor

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    To be fair, i don't think my characters can travel through my entire fantasy world due to the plot in only 100,000 words. (It's not the usual cliche plot lol) You have to give it time to develop the characters and flesh out the story to where it feels finished and definitely legible.
     
  16. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with having the same characters in different books, but each book does need it's own plot. You could have a larger over-arching plot across a series, but each individual book needs to have it's own plot that resolves in that book.

    A typical reader who doesn't know you isn't going to give your story 3 books to get the characters fleshed out. He needs to be invested in them immediately and have some sense of satisfaction upon finishing that first book. He's got too much else to read and do to give you 2, 3 or 4 books to get him invested in what happens in your story.
     
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  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, again, I think this is usually the rule, but not always. As mentioned above, Joe Abercrombie's first book is part of a series, and it essentially just... stops. I guess there's a TINY resolution to a few issues, but the main conflicts aren't resolved at all.

    I've read this in fantasy quite a bit, and in self-published romance as well. Frustrating as a reader, but obviously people are buying the books...
     
  18. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    This sounds like the worst kind of cliff-hanger. But, as you say, it seems that people are dumb enough to buy the next book just to find out...
     
  19. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've read one book that did not resolve the main issue but left it for the upcoming book. Needless to say, I was disappointed, angry at wasting my time and money, and no, I won't be buying the next one. Mainly because I can't trust the author to resolve it in that one, either. There's curiosity and intrigue - then there's misleading the reader.

    Publishers will buy a series from a new author - once they've seen the first book do well enough to justify it or if it's obvious it will do so. But one is really asking the publisher to buy a pig in the poke if one expects them to contract for a whole series right off the bat. Not realistic, is it? But no harm in letting them know you have more books in the pipeline. They'll let you know if they're interested in them.
     
  20. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's a good series, which is why people buy the next book and Abercrombie is doing well. Not many people are going to buy the next book of something they didn't like just to see what happens. That's a bad assumption to make as a writer.
     
  21. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bolding mine. I don't think there are any sure things in publishing, but there are clearly times, like with Abercrombie's series, that publishers will take the chance on a series they think will be a success, even from a first time author.

    So, none of this changes the general idea that it's best to have a self-contained story. But it doesn't seem to be absolutely accurate to say that publishers will NEVER buy a series from a first-time author.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    That's absolutely true, given the empirical evidence that publishers do this sort of thing. I suspect you've got a higher bar to reach with a publisher with this approach, though.
     
  23. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, the OP asked about publishers -- if you're self publishing, then sure - you can do whatever you want.
    I don't read fantasy, so if this is true in fantasy, then go for it. I'd guess, though, that it'd be a much tougher sell to convince a publisher that people want to buy several books from you, rather than one book. Most publishers are looking at a risk/reward, and it's a smaller risk to take on one book.

    If there's some other reason to make publishers think that you will make money with a series and that readers are willing to stick it out for a few books until the plot is reserved, then it's not surprising they'd do it. There would have to be some sort of evidence of the demand -- something that's been on a widely-read blog or the author has previous success or there's some sort of pre-existing audience waiting for this series.

    I know that most agents I've talked to, and most articles I've read indicate that publishers want stand-alone books. And that fits in with my personal experience as a reader, as well. But I don't write fantasy, nor do I read it, so if they're an exception, then so be it. I've just never heard anyone indicate that, but again, I wouldn't necessarily be in a place to hear about that exception.
     
  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I guess if you're looking for some solid, definitive answer - or at least an answer worth its weight - you're gonna have to be asking actual agents, publishers and editors, and not here on a writing forum where about 90% of us aren't published, or are only self-published and have never been through the system in the traditional sense.

    In my experience with series, they've always dragged - and these coming from traditionally published books and are usually recommended by various sites and have got very good reviews. They're inevitably filled with lengthy descriptions of landscape, chapters upon chapters of dialogue and scenes that don't move the plot forward in the slightest and whose significance is not obvious by any means, and very little actually happens. These tend to be YA though.

    I find that I'm personally just not a huge fan of series, because I like having an ending. Even Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist wasn't satisfying in a way for me because there was an open ending (and I do like his work - he writes solid YA fantasy), and good though his book of another series, Steelheart, was, I'm not fussed about reading book 2. For that one there was definitely a complete resolution with potential for more.

    I find series that get me psyched tend to be standalone novels, say in the crime genre, where I've come to love the character and I care little for the story (of course it has to be good, but I read it for the character mostly). Hunger Games was one of very few series I was actually really psyched about following the story of, as well as the characters. (that cliff-hanger at the end of book 2 - WHOA!)

    I think newbies probably make the mistake of thinking, "Oh I have 5 books to flesh my character out and it's all so awesome if only readers will read to book 5!" And then you complain about pacing or whatever and the author comes back and says, "But I'm slowly building it up!" They just don't seem to get Book 1 is all you get, even if there're 5 other books to follow. You get one chance in Book 1 and everything already needs to be fleshed out.

    Sorry I guess none of this actually answers your question... lol. Anyhow, as a reader, I prefer to follow the same characters - I'm always excited to find a book I've loved is part of a series following the same character. I'm usually disappointed if the character I've come to love doesn't feature or has only a minor part. But I do prefer standalone novels, perhaps because I'm impatient and I like neat endings (I don't mean everything has to be resolved or things can't be ambiguous, but it has to be wrapped up in some way), and perhaps because I don't often find the stories so spectacular to begin with. But give me a character I can love, and I won't care what the story is as long as it's at least reasonably entertaining.
     
  25. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ok I know nothing about publishing, so I am curious.

    What I am currently working on, is a story that takes place after the events of a main story. It is stand alone. It doesn't need the main story to work. She is a character from the main story though, a minor one. I think her entry in the main story would be more of a cameo? Is that the right word? So what does a publisher think of well, not even sure what to call that? I mean it is part of a greater whole but the 2 stories are not connected, they don't need eachother. They are both stand alone. Only having a small overlap as it is set in the same universe?

    What is that called?
    Do people like that?
    Do publishers like that?
    It had me worried cuz I call my main story "The Order" and this story "The Order: Redemption" I was afraid it would scare away a publisher.
     

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