Guest Author Anna Banks: Writing the First Book in a Planned Series
Many writers dream of landing a two- or three-book deal with a publisher. While there’s nothing wrong with that, few agents or publishers actively seek an author who’s written three books already—what they’re looking for is that first book that holds loads of potential. This leaves room for agent and editor input on the other book or two books—and also potentially prevents one or more total rewrites before the other books are ready for publication. Along those lines, here are a few pieces of advice for selling a book with a planned series in mind.
Book One needs to have a story arc that comes to a completion upon its end. What I mean is, the character or characters must have a goal in mind, and that goal must be attained by the end of Book One. It has to have its own story arc, so to speak. I’m not saying that there can’t be other subplots that aren’t wrapped up in Book One, but the major one really needs to be taken care of. Is your character trying to get into a prestigious dance school? That needs to happen in Book One. Is your character trying to find out his or her true identity? You guessed it—Book One. Book Two is allowed to present a whole new story arc, a whole new set of problems for the character to deal with. That’s not to say Book One can’t be left on a bit of a cliffhanger, it totally can. But that cliffhanger needs to present a whole new obstacle for your characters to overcome. Book One truly, truly needs to be the strongest standalone book you can write—for the time being.
That said, there’s no reason why you can’t establish a storyline in Book One that can be extended into more books. Present a problem that isn’t resolved in Book One, and that can be extended into Book Two. Perhaps you’re writing a mystery in Book One involving a particular case—that case needs to be resolved in Book One, but any subplots surrounding the case can be extended into Book Two. Perhaps you’re writing about a boy who becomes a Sasquatch every night at midnight, and he’s working to resolve the problem. By the end of Book One, the problem of him turning into a Sasquatch might be resolved—but now he’s going after the people who turned him into a Sasquatch in the first place in Book Two. Book One’s story arc has come to an end, and now we have a brand new one to look forward to in Book Two.
A wide cast of characters always makes for better Book Two and Book Three. They create the potential for more subplots to be resolved, and even main plots to bring up. That’s why it’s so important to give each character as much dimension as possible in Book One. You never know what you can use in the remaining books you have planned. The more the reader (agent or editor) invests in a character, the more interested they are to see what happens later for that character.
Many times when an author is planning a series or hoping for a three-book deal, the first book feels unfinished. Don’t make this mistake. This goes back to writing the best standalone you can write for Book One. Make the editor or agent say, “Hey, how about another one???”
One of the best analogies I’ve heard on this is from literary agent Lucy Carson of The Friedrich Agency:
“I think of it in the same way as a really good TV series. There's the plot that you can contain in a single season, and resolve in a way that satisfies fans, and then in a handful of episodes (like chapters) along the way, you can lay the groundwork for something else entirely... and it's THAT plot that you dangle for fans at the end of the book. They might have even forgotten it was brewing underneath all of the other more immediate drama, but it will resurface with great intrigue if you pull it out at just the right moment in your final act.”
Here are the key points I want you to take away from this post:
1.) Write Book One as the best standalone it can be—leaving potential for more, but never ever leave an entire unfinished major plot.
2.) Create a wide cast of characters whose own plots could be incorporated into more books.
3.) Finish the book, as in make it end. Cliffhangers are great—but make sure it introduces a whole new set of problems for your characters to face.
A good way to ensure your Book One is at its best is to write out the main goal, write how you’ve accomplished it, and write how you can set up a new problem to solve in Book Two and Book Three—remembering that each book needs their own story arc. Do this, and you’ll have your agent or editor salivating for more!
Want to win a critique of the first 50 pages of your book? Tweet at Anna Banks (@byannabanks) and Swoon Reads (@swoonreads) with the working title of your book, #loveyourNEMESIS, and #SwoonSweepstakes for a chance to win! Sweepstakes ends on 10/21.