On the blog belonging to Lit Agent Jenny Rappaport, a question was raised...
What is more marketable these days for fantasy and science fiction - series or trilogies?
Kimberley in Alaska
"Personally, I think trilogies are more marketable in general, but only because I can do the following. Say you've written me a great book about elves. I love your book. The editor I send it to loves your book. The publishing house wants to buy your book. Everything looks rosy! Then the editor we're doing the deal with calls me up one day and says, "Jenny, we love Kim's book. Does she have more? I'm thinking we'll make it a three-book deal." At which point, I call Kim, we have a little chat about making that book about elves into a trilogy, and voila, she whips up some material for me to e-mail off to the editor. The editor loves it, the publishing house loves it, and there we go, a contract for three books. (This is an idealized picture, by the way.)
The reasons why three is often the magic number in terms of series' are many and varied. From the pure publishing perspective, NO ONE is going to offer a new author a book deal for anything more than three books. It may occasionally happen, but it's really a statistical anomaly. You're an unknown quantity, even if your book is great, and when they make you an offer, they have to put their money where their mouth is. Simply put, more than three books is too great a financial risk to take. Many new authors don't get three-book deals on their first go; most will probably be given a two-book deal, if the agent is persuasive enough, and they love your writing enough. Some will only be given a one-book deal (with an option clause, of course).
This is something that you should be aware of, if you've planned out the next Harry Potter or GRRM saga. Structurally, it's better to make your masterpiece into a trilogy or a duology, since you're not going to get the book contract for more than that. Also, be aware of the fact that if you have an eight book series planned, and your first two books sell badly, they're not going to give you a publishing contract for the next six books. I have an online writing friend whose first two books sold decently, but didn't have spectacular sales numbers behind them. Her editor decided not to pick up her option book, which is the last one in her trilogy, based on the sales numbers. So it's not going to get published--at least not for the forseeable future. That sucks, and really, you'd like to avoid that happening. And trust me, it happens all the time."
Ouch. I've got a thirteen book series in my head and I just queried her. I responded with this...
Thank you for this information Jenny.
It’s kind of scary for me because my over all story arch is a thirteen book saga.
It shows three hundred years of world history through the eyes of vampire children so it would be hard to cram that all in to three books.
I suppose I shouldn't’t concern myself though. The first one is a stand-alone story and all the others are planned to be. All thirteen would hook together into a bigger story but each one would have it’s own proper conclusion.
I’ll just keep hoping I get the first one published. If people like it, then each book will have to stand on it’s own.
OK, some guy replied to me...
A single title is a one night stand. A series is like a marriage: the publisher has to know you can deliver on time, on spec, no b.s., no excuses. Do you have proof that you can do 13 books? More to the point, can you do 13 books?
A trilogy can be just one long book -- like LOTR. But if you extend out beyond that you start running into the structural differences that define a series. Series have their own issues -- back story that starts accumulating like barnacles, the fact that characters can't have much of an arc, the out-of-control proliferation of characters and subplots (see George R.R. Martin).
Series come naturally to some people, but it's easy to see why publishers are dubious.
Double ouch. I know he has a point. I believe I can do 13 books, but how will I ever prove that?
Maybe I shouldn't have joined Miss Snark's Crapometer. After this, and another rejection I got in the mail yesterday, how will I take it when she obviously is going to tear me up?
I'm fooling myself.