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Qelenhn
08-27-2006, 03:45 AM
I've seen this discussion in the novel writing forum, but thought I'd bring it up in the context of fantasy specifically. How important is it for a first fantasy novel to be a standalone? The majority of the fantasy I've read has come in serial form, from 3-5 books. Robert Jordan turned me into the type of reader who waits for the whole thing to be published before starting a series, but multi-volume works are still my preference. I think one of the reasons is because I read very quickly, and single volumes are over too soon. I also have a strong preference for gradual character development and time to really explore the author's world.

That said, I didn't really intend to write a series. I worked on a standalone for fifteen years without ever getting a completed draft, then finished the first volume of a series in four months. So, whatever your answers are to this question, I'm writing the series first. I have excessive numbers of ideas for novels set in the history of this world which could be sold as standalones before or after the series is finished, and shouldn't depend on the series or each other to make sense, but they aren't what I have inspiration for right now. But would it be more realistic for me to attempt to write one of those when I'm finished polishing volume one, and then shop that around while I finish the series? Or just go ahead and start sending out Volume one when I finish revising it and see what happens? I lean toward the latter just for experience in sending things out, really, even if being the start of a five volume series works against it. I can always submit the standalones later and hope that I can sell the series based on the popularity of my other works sometime later in life.

Hmmm. So, though apparently I have already made up my mind, I'm still curious what people think. Is it easier for a first time author to sell a series in fantasy than in other genres, given the popularity of multi-volume works in the genre? And I do specifically mean series that are more like one book broken up into pieces. In mine, the first volume ends with the specific threat dealt with, but knowledge that it was only part of what is coming and the fact that the character arcs are still up in the air at the end mean that the readers will not likely be satisfied if they don't get the sequels.

I never intended to write high fantasy, or a series with more than two volumes, or about dragons, or wolfmen, or people with wings, or overtly deal with racism or sexism. But the darn thing insists on being written anyway.

ChaosTitan
08-27-2006, 04:26 AM
I think it is very difficult for an unpublished author to get an editor to commit to a series if the first book is not standalone. I don't really read series books, so I can't comment on how many first volumes DO stand alone, but I'd wager a good number of them. I believe that Naomi Novak is a recent exception to the rule, but I remember her name because she's an exception.

Unless the story is unique and the writing stellar, most editors won't take the risk.

My advice, first and foremost, is to write what you are passionate about. Slogging away at a standalone novel that you aren't in love with is no way to write. I just wouldn't pin my hopes on selling the series as your debut.

Popeyesays
08-27-2006, 05:53 AM
Use the "Onion Search" method. How do you find the center of an onion? You peel each layer off until you are at the core.

Write your first volume as if it were a standalone. Solve the apparent problem, make a denoument. Wind it up. But reveal another layer of the onion when you finish it.

The problem may be solved but either you have not reached the central cause, or the soluntion creates a new problem that the characters are made aware of, or that will fall upon their descendants.

Thereby you create an interest on what might happen next. If the first book sells, you have a built in series until you find the center of the onion. Just make sure that each layer you peel finds a thicker, more compelling layer beneath.

Regards,
Scott

RJLeahy
08-27-2006, 05:57 AM
Qelen,

I can only give you my experience. My first novel Tigra, is coming out in November. It is sci/fi, not fantasy, but it is intended as the first book of a trilogy. When my agent was hawking the book to publishers, she made it clear that the book was a solid standalone, but that the second part of the trilogy was already written, should the first become successful.

I think that took some of the pressure off the publisher, in that he wasn't committing to a serial, but the option was available.

glutton
08-27-2006, 06:51 AM
I have two completed (fairly final draft) books in my Rose series, and early drafts for SIX (yes, SIX) books after that. All of them could be considered standalone, in that the main conflict in each volume comes to some sort of resolution by the end (though not always permanently). It doesn't have one long plot being stretched out, but just keeps following the *very* eventful life of its epic heroine. It's a series more in the Lord of the Isles novels (by David Drake) sense, than say the Wheel of Time or Sword of Truth series.

1st book- Rose becomes a warrior, falls in love for the first time, survives many fatal injuries, and kicks the crap out of lots of people
2nd book- Rose finds a new love (her first one died), brings the art of spellcasting back to her world, survives many fatal injuries, and kicks the crap out of lots of people
3rd book- Rose has kids, gets major, major relationship troubles, survives many fatal injuries, and kicks the crap out of lots of people
4th book- Rose is driven to adultery by her relationship troubles, gets on the wrong side of a "god", survives many fatal injuries, and kicks the crap out of lots of people

and so on. :D

Qelenhn
08-27-2006, 07:59 AM
I'm thinking more along the lines of High Fantasy, where people are on a quest to save the world. I started to say I don't recall ever reading any that were standalones but now I can't remember if the first Shannara books were. (I read those after Tolkein and also after a few other coming of age fantasy novels and they bored me more than they probably would have otherwise.) Generally, because that kind of plot is epic in scope, they don't tend to be standalones in my experience. And it's also difficult to find a stopping place in that kind of plot to make the first volume a true standalone. They can have closure for each volume, but since you know the plot is a lot bigger, you have to read the next one. I guess when I said that serials were popular in fantasy I was thinking more specifically of that category, rather than the genre as a whole. I tend to read (and write, apparently) either multi-volume epic types or single novels about more localized conflicts.

I think mine might be okay, in that the POV characters are not entirely convinced by the end of this volume that the whole world is really in danger, and they do deal with the threat in their immediate territory, so it almost works as a standalone. It just leaves a lot of loose threads, such as what happens to the one group of characters who have to flee the country to avoid execution. It has closure, but as a reader I'd be disappointed if a publisher didn't buy the rest of a series when book one ended that way.

glutton
08-27-2006, 06:27 PM
Well, high fantasy tends to be long, but epic and standalone aren't necessarily incompatible.

David Gemmell wrote a bunch of fantasies which were quite epic in scope, but were standalone (some got sequels, but still...)- Dark Moon Rising (war to save humanity from a powerful monster race seeking to wipe out all others), Ironhand's Daughter (woman becomes queen and leads her highland people in war to free them from an empire), Swords of Night and Day (great hero ressurected after centuries to battle empire threatening to take over the world), etc. Actually most of his books are pretty epic in my view, though your definition may vary (if the fate of an entire race/people is at stake, that's a big scope for me, so it doesn't have to be world-affecting for me to call it epic).

Also, David Drake's Lord of the Isles is like that too. The fate of the entire kingdom of the Isles (which is quite large) is threatened in every book by a new enemy, and there's plenty of time/dimension hopping, so yeah, I'd call it epic. But the books are standalone (except for the latest, last chapter).

I'd say my Rose books are pretty darn epic too- she's brought back the lost art of magic (that's major), saved several kingdoms (including her own more than once), and POSSIBLY saved the world from conquest a few times (from baddies who were close to conquering continents, etc. and still had imperial ambitions for more, more, more. One of them was a demon lord, another the first dragon- so, yeah).

I think what really makes the difference between standalone and series fantasy with epic plots, is the immediacy of the threat (or how/when the characters deal with it). In all the standalones I mentioned, the enemy is known/revealed and confronted within that one book. Most of the time in series fantasy, the threat is revealed bit by bit, with more and more shown in each volumn (example- dark lord's minion in the first book, then dark lord's general, then the dark lord in the conclusion).

Wow, can't believe I wrote all that! lol

dclary
09-01-2006, 10:56 PM
If I've never read an author before, I'd much rather read a standalone story -- even if it's in the same realm as other stories he/she's written. Last thing I want to do when I start a 500 page read is know from the beginning that there's 1000 more to go in two more volumes before I find out how this thing ends. Especially if I don't know if I like his/her writing.

jpsorrow
09-02-2006, 09:35 PM
I think the statements on here are right: For a first novel you need to focus on a standalone. It can be obvious that there are more novels after this, but the first book itself must come to a nice rounded end . . . in case there AREN'T any books after that.

My first written novel was part of a series and was not a standalone. My first published novel is also part of a series, but I wrote it as a standalone and sold it as a standalone. Once it was sold, the editor asked if there were more books after that, I said yes, sent along the synopses, and the editor ended up giving me a 3-book deal rather than a 1-book deal. This is the same editor who saw my first written novel and said no. And now that I'm finishing up the third book for that deal, the editor has approached me about perhaps going back to that first written novel (the non-standalone series) and doing that next.

Take what you can from that story. But it seems to be the general path for selling series.

James D. Macdonald
09-02-2006, 11:08 PM
I recently had a conversation with Sharyn November (YA SF editor at Penguin/Putnam). She said word to the effect of "I'm sick of seeing proposals for trilogies. If you can't tell your story in one book I don't want to see it."

It could have merely been a moment of exasperation after a hard day in the slush mines. Take it for what it's worth.

rugcat
09-03-2006, 12:21 AM
I recently had a conversation with Sharyn November (YA SF editor at Penguin/Putnam). She said word to the effect of "I'm sick of seeing proposals for trilogies. If you can't tell your story in one book I don't want to see it."

Again, there is a differerence between trilogies and series.

There are a lot of series where basically each book is a stand alone. What makes them series is the recurrent cast of characters, and successful series are almost always character driven. It's the characters more than the plots that loyal fans respond to; they want to see what the people they've become comfortable with are up to next. In fact, as the series progresses, loyal fans will put up with increasingly more implausible plots as long as the characters, their old friends, continue to entertain them.

If you're lucky enough to create a great character you may not want to abandon him/her just because the book's finished.

Anthony Ravenscroft
09-03-2006, 12:58 AM
Last month, about a quarter of the fiction proposals I received were for more than a trilogy. My impression is that editors at all levels are tiring of the multi-book proposal, especially when the writer's never before had anything published, or (worse) never before attempted to write anything.

Look: life is a series. But it's still possible to tell it as though we go from crest to crest.

A series can be episodic without stringing the reader along for 600 pages just to say TO BE CONTINUED -- GET READY TO SPEND ANOTHER $26.95, SUCKER. BEG FOR IT.

Shadow_Ferret
09-03-2006, 01:49 AM
My current WIP is, in theory, part of a series, but the story itself is standalone.

And there have been many standalone books in fantasy that are part of a series. The Elric of Melibone by Moorcock are standalones. Fritz Lieber's Fafrd and the Grey Mouser stories are all standalone.

And most of the current crop of urban fantasies are series but each book is standalone.

JDCrayne
09-03-2006, 11:11 PM
Try looking at it the other way around. Phil Farmer once said that he wrote each book with hooks for a sequel; as if it were the start of a series. That way it would stand on its own, but if he decided he liked the concept well enough, he could write more books to follow it. I think that's a sensible approach.

bluejester12
09-07-2006, 03:27 AM
All I can say is I sometimes get a bit frustrated browsing the fantasy section, trying to find a good book, and having just about everything I pick up part of a series/trilogy/cycle. And sometimes the first book isn't obvious.

Sometimes I want a standalone.

My-Immortal
09-07-2006, 06:30 AM
My current WIP is a standalone book, but if it was well liked and others wanted to read more about the characters it could become a series.

But if no one likes it....well, I'll go find some other characters to listen to and tell their stories...

:)

Taurus Rising
09-08-2006, 04:32 PM
Write your first volume as if it were a standalone. Solve the apparent problem, make a denoument. Wind it up. But reveal another layer of the onion when you finish it.

Cool. This is what's happening in my WiP. I'm planning on it being a series that consists of standalones, tied together by a common thread. If it works out as I'm thinking this series will lead to a follow up series that more directly connects everything.

Personally, I really like standalones. It's a mixed blessing though. If I like the story then I end up wondering what happened next. In cases like that, where the author(s) don't intend to make it a series, I'd really like a "whatever happened to..." followup of some kind - a website essay, a last chapter in the book, a "write me and send you the summation of the rest of their lives", something. Kind of like what some movies do as the credits begin to roll ("Brad became the manager of the third largest casino in Las Vegas. He is currently divorced. Again.).

Qelenhn
09-09-2006, 02:11 AM
Interesting replies. I'm pretty much getting the answer I expected. I'm still going to finish this one because I've made more progress than on any previous project, and will probably send it around anyway just for the experience, but won't hold out high expectations. And I'll make one of my single volume ideas the project I work on while I'm sending volume one of my series around. I've tried to figure out how to make this work as a standalone, but aside from cutting out one of the plotlines entirely I don't think it's possible. Half of the plot comes to a nice conclusion, but I don't know if I can make escaping out of the country into exile come across as a satisfactory ending for the rest of the characters.

So I'll hope to get the other ideas published and for them to sell well enough that I can convince people to buy this series later. Which gives me a bit more time to work out the details of volume two anyway.

Etola
09-11-2006, 06:55 AM
As a reader, I tend to appreciate standalones or, if a book is part of a series or trilogy, I like each book to act as a standalone. So, if I'm not too impressed with the first book, I don't have to be left with dangling plotlines.

triceretops
09-11-2006, 07:24 AM
You can just about hook-off any standalone novel written. It's soooo easy to do that in the last paragraph on the last page, but I wouldn't even recommend that! My experience, after sixteen novels (many of them that had sequels or series intent), and a few agents, has been that I will never, ever write a series or sequel if the first book is not SOLD. The decision for a sequel or series rests SOLELY with the publisher. I don't even hint any more. Not to be cynical, but them's the hard facts that I've run across. Sequels and series are great for developing your craft, but you can sit on them till Hates freezes over until you're asked for them.

Many new writers just can't let go of their original characters, since they've been developed and come ready-made for a new book. It's just too easy to transplant them into another story. Time and time again, I've heard writers tell me that they just can't leave their characters. All I can say is, don't be afraid to give birth to new people, inside of a different plot, acting out in a brand new story. Stay in your genre if that is comfortable, but use some diversity and tap your skill--reach for newer, higher vistas. You'll be glad you did.

Tri

Etola
09-12-2006, 05:37 PM
Many new writers just can't let go of their original characters, since they've been developed and come ready-made for a new book. It's just too easy to transplant them into another story. Time and time again, I've heard writers tell me that they just can't leave their characters. All I can say is, don't be afraid to give birth to new people, inside of a different plot, acting out in a brand new story. Stay in your genre if that is comfortable, but use some diversity and tap your skill--reach for newer, higher vistas. You'll be glad you did.

Tri

*nods* That's some good advice. I know that I have a reputation among my friends of imagining sequels and spin-offs and MC's whose kids become MC's twenty years later...that kind of stuff. I can completely understand how one gets 'attached' to characters. Also, I find that reading series and trilogies tends to make my mind think creatively in those terms, and when you grow up reading Anne McCaffrey's 7,583 Pern novels, you tend to start thinking, "Well, if she can do it, why can't I?"

But I find there's also a great deal of satisfaction and creative joy that comes with finishing something, wrapping it up cleanly, sending my characters off into happy retirement, then sinking my teeth into a new 'world.' It's mental refreshment, and I find that the themes and subjects that might have inspired a story three or four years ago might not be the same themes and subjects I want to write about today.

triceretops
09-13-2006, 02:08 AM
Yeah, I think an editor has to see something addicting to the world-building and, of course, the characters within it that would make a repeat visit irresistible. Pern, Hogwarts, Dune are some good examples that editors found to be pleasurable to revisit. I can't make that determination with my own work, since I'm naturally biased in favor of it. That's when I have to push my ego aside and get advice. But I think I've learned my lesson--I'm a standalone guy from here on out.

Tri