f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Series vs. Stand-Alone: Part V

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Series vs. Stand-Alone: Part V

This series, more than some, seems to have gotten people a little concerned. There's lot of advice flying around in the market and often it gets contradictory. Who do you listen to? This editor with Publishing House A or that writer with Novel B or me with Blog C?

All I can offer is some rationale for my particular view of things related to series and explain (as always) that this is not a hard-and-fast rule. There is no singular way a series fails or succeeds. If there were, everyone would be doing it.

Remember, remember, also, that this advice is (primarily) for first-time or more recent novelists.


1. Think very, very hard about pitching a long (more than three book) serialized series in CBA. If you've got the next fantasy epic and it's going to take seven volumes to complete, you are going to face difficulties getting a publisher to sign on. Realize that and don't act surprised.

That said, you then need to focus, focus, focus on Book 1. If you make Book 1 terrific, it's much easier for a publisher to A) buy into your idea B) believe you've the talent to pull it off and C) begin to think expansively about the potential.

Every book you add to the series beyond a trilogy increases my knee-jerk skepticism.

2. As a first-time novelist approaching a publisher you want to be as flexible as possible (within reason) for what's ahead. It makes you more attractive. A serialized series is a trade-off between flexibility for guaranteed plot lines. I'm more comfortable with "the potential for a series" rather than the "need for a series."

3. Success breeds success. In certain genres, linked/formulaic series make sense. BHP's catalog is filled with historical romances in these formats that have proven quite successful. We know them, we recognize them, you're not springing something crazy and new on us. Retailers, likewise, feel the same way.

4. ABA doesn't equal CBA. What is Harry Potter's meaning to the CBA market, for instance? What does the success of characters like Harry Bosch or Repairman Jack mean to us? These are both crucial things for booksellers and publishers alike. Especially for our future, I think. But we're a different market. There's no 1-to-1 correlation.

5. What's your next best idea? You should be writing your best idea now. Is a sequel really your best follow-up or is there a different idea that is more compelling? In a lot of cases, your second book is more important than your first.

6. Personally, I'll have to really be convinced on serialized series. Of any genre.

In the end all this advice is really just hot air. The key is your book, your story. If it's excellent, so many of these things slip immediately into place. And you go from there. But you need to "there" first before going anywhere. So write your book. If it's the first in a group of 12, that's fine. Or if can stand by itself, that's fine. Write your book.