New Writer? Why You Shouldn't Start with a Trilogy

5:43 PM Posted by Lori Calabrese

Five Reasons Multi-Book Series Are a Hard First Sell

Ask any editor and they'll tell you series books are hot in the children's market. I love series books myself. I already know the world and I'm invested in the characters; they're like old friends. But for first time writers, series books may not be the easiest thing to sell. Why?

1. Publisher's take a chance with first-time authors. They have no idea if a new writer's voice will resonate with an audience and new writers have no fan base. Publishers know they'll be doing more marketing for a new author than they would for a well-known one, and if the book doesn't sell, that money is gone. Given that, they're less inclined to take on a contract for several books, not knowing if the first one will succeed...or end up remaindered.

2. You limit yourself to the larger publishing houses. Small publishers are a godsend for new writers. Unlike the big houses, small publishers are willing to accept unagented submissions. They also receive fewer submissions per year than the big guys, which means your manuscript has a better chance at a small house. But small publishers only put out a limited number of books per year, sometimes just 6-10. I was told by an editor of a small press that she doesn't even consider trilogies or series books, since she'd be investing too much of her budget (something like 10% for each year a series book comes out) in one writer. Publishers are businesses. Just like us, they need to diversify their investments to remain stable.

3. If you've written a seven-book set, you still only have one book you can submit. Linda Sue Park not withstanding, most writers don't strike gold with their first book. It's usually the second or third book (or the sixth or the eighth) that finally catches the eye of an editor or agent. The problem with writing a many-book set is that your fourth book, no matter how fantastic it might be, can't be submitted. Only the first book can be sent out, and once that book has made the rounds, you're stuck with seven books that aren't salable. If you write seven different books, you can submit every one of them, thus sextupling your chances of landing a contract.

4. You're building your craft. Expand your horizons. The more you write, the more you learn. You might see yourself as I did -- a picture book writer. But after writing my first picture book, I realized something. I suck at picture books. So I moved on to middle-grade, which was a much better fit for me. I learned a little something during my brief stint writing picture books, though. There is something to be learned from each genre. The more we learn, the better we get. The better we get, the better our chance of publication.

5. Rejections letters don't sting as much when you have other books out. I speak from experience. The first middle-grade book I wrote was Book One in a fantasy trilogy. I quickly accumulated twenty-three rejection letters. But I was lucky. I landed an agent shortly after I finished the second book. "I love this book," said my agent. "Now stop working on the trilogy and go write something else." I argued with her. "Shouldn't I finish the trilogy first? While I'm immersed in this world?" But she said no, and it was good advice. Because of her, I wrote something else and suddenly had two books to submit. Then, I wrote more something else's. My writing improved. I had more things to send out and I wasn't getting so disappointed with rejections, because I knew I had other irons in the fire. If you put all your hopes and dreams into one book, each rejection letter will feel like your whole world has crashed. Give yourself some protection. Write another book.

I feel I need to add a disclaimer and here it is: My first book comes out next year. The Invisible Sister: Lux St. Clare~Book One. Yep -- it's a trilogy. But it wasn't written in a vaccuum. After writing five other books, I went back and revised my first book. The Invisible Sister benefitted from what I'd learned...enough that a publisher picked it up. Had I not written the other books, chances are I wouldn't have gotten the contract.
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