Can the antagonist not appear at the end of Book 1?

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Emissarius

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My WIP is an MG fantasy with... ah, series potential. However, it's still advisable for unpublished authors to wrap up the first book so it can be a stand-alone. In book one, the antagonist is mentioned early on and makes an appearance about midway through, but the book's climax involves one of his subordinates. We don't see the antagonist again till book two. Is that alright?
 

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IMO, if the antagonist is introduced as the antagonist, it's going to be disappointing to not have a showdown with them in this book. Perhaps if you had a book deal with a series, you could get away with that, but without, there's no guarantee that you'll ever get a book 2 if you sell book 1. Now, if the series antagonist is introduced but not presented as the antagonist at the time, that's fine. If the subordinate seems like the antagonist for book 1, you're good. But if you're making it clear that this other person is the Big Bad, it'll be disappointing to your readers (and to agents).
 

Maggie Maxwell

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Sounds kinda like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, if done right. Voldemort was the antagonist introduced, but Quirrell was the minion who was doing everything for him. If it's set up that the minion is the one actively antagonizing the characters while the antagonist is a background thing, it can be done.
 

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But even in book 1, Harry does face Voldemort in the end. Yes, Voldemort is dependent on Quirrel, but he's there and terrifying and it's always described as Harry beating Voldemort, not Harry beating Quirrel. It'd be more like book 3, where Harry doesn't face Voldy at all, but by that point, the series was a series, and it could be justified. And even then, that's probably the biggest complaint about Prisoner of Azkaban that people make.
 

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Sounds kinda like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, if done right. Voldemort was the antagonist introduced, but Quirrell was the minion who was doing everything for him. If it's set up that the minion is the one actively antagonizing the characters while the antagonist is a background thing, it can be done.
It's not exactly like that. The subordinate in my case is more like the antagonist's "champion." The closest thing I can think of right now is the first book of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain series, where Arawn is the undisputed main villain and yet the final showdown in book one involves Arawn's champion, the Horned King. But that book came out more than fifty years ago. I'd like to think of the Lightning Thief as a case of the main villain not being involved at the end, but the whole book was about misleading us on who comissioned the Master Bolt's robbery. For about two thirds of the book, the antagonist was technically Hades.

And even then, that's probably the biggest complaint about Prisoner of Azkaban that people make.
I never saw Voldy's absence as an issue in that book, probably because I was convinced that Sirius was Voldemort's most powerful minion. There's been enough clues from the start of that book that Sirius was nearly as vicious as Voldemort, which made the final revelation all the more shocking.
 

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I never saw Voldy's absence as an issue in that book, probably because I was convinced that Sirius was Voldemort's most powerful minion. There's been enough clues from the start of that book that Sirius was nearly as vicious as Voldemort, which made the final revelation all the more shocking.

But would that have made the same impact if you hadn't read two books before highlighting Voldemort as the big threat?

Anyway, in the situation you describe, I would prefer hints of the Big Bad, but no introduction to them as the one the MC must defeat. Look at it with the eye of "What if only book 1 sells?" but also, "What if the full series sells?" and do enough to make both those scenarios satisfying to the reader.
 

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I’m trying to do something similar with my current WIP. It’s a mystery/thriller where the the main culprit is revealed/killed at the end, but I added an “epilogue” of sorts where it’s revealed that a second antagonist/Big Bad exists. But the plot isn’t dependent on it, and I wrote it so it could easily be written out so that the book could completely stand alone if needed.
 

Debbie V

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Anyway, in the situation you describe, I would prefer hints of the Big Bad, but no introduction to them as the one the MC must defeat. Look at it with the eye of "What if only book 1 sells?" but also, "What if the full series sells?" and do enough to make both those scenarios satisfying to the reader.

This. If book one is a satisfying read, it may become popular and then book two is far more likely to be produced. Otherwise, the second book is never guaranteed (unless there is a contract but that' getting ahead of ourselves.)
 

Emissarius

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I’m trying to do something similar with my current WIP. It’s a mystery/thriller where the the main culprit is revealed/killed at the end, but I added an “epilogue” of sorts where it’s revealed that a second antagonist/Big Bad exists. But the plot isn’t dependent on it, and I wrote it so it could easily be written out so that the book could completely stand alone if needed.

I wish mine were that simple.

I've been thinking, are there many MG series out there with book one having enough conclusiveness to stand on its own? Apart from Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl, I can't seem to think of any at the moment. Most seem to clearly point to a sequel. The first Percy Jackson ended with the revelation of Kronos being behind everything and Luke running away. Keeper of the Lost Cities book 1 didn't even introduce any villains much less the Big Bad. Nevermoor ended with the Big Bad leaving the MC (without any sort of battle) and promising that the MC will seek him out. Fablehaven ended with the mention of a criminal organization that threatens the other preserves. Prosper Redding ended with the MC's sister being kindapped and him vowing to rescue her. Alex Rider ended with the MC's father's murderer advising him to quit (or daring him to come after him?). It just seems natural that the first book in a series would point at things to come.
 

GeneBWell

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I'd say the overall feeling of the examples you've given (and the feeling I get from most first books in MG series) is 'this adventure is over, but there are other adventures out there'. So there's a feeling of closure, of satisfaction that the problem you set up in the book is resolved within the book, but also the expectation that there are possible further stories that might come out of it. If your book does that, if the whole book the characters are trying to solve problem X and by the end they solve problem X but oh no there's the hint of problem Y looming on the horizon, then that's okay.

Ask yourself, if (heaven forbid) this was the only book that ever got published in the series, would it be satisfying? Would a reader finish it and say 'Well it's too bad they didn't continue the series but that was a pretty good story' or would they say 'What? That's how it ends? How come they didn't finish the story?'

If you're setting up the Big Bad the whole time and by the end the heroes haven't actually stopped the Big Bad at all, then I would feel unsatisfied. If, however, the goal is something like 'Let's free our kingdom from Minion Dude!' and they free the kingdom from Minion Dude and have a big party, then I'd feel okay with it even if I knew there was a bigger bad behind Minion Dude looming off in the distance. It wasn't ever their goal to defeat Big Bad (at least not in book 1), so they accomplished their immediate goal and see the immediate rewards. It's all about how you set up their adventure and talk about their goals. Don't make Big Bad the focus. Keep things close and immediate so you can manage reader expectations.
 

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