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Making the first book of a series stand alone

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#1 iciclewieldingmaniac

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 02:40 AM

Hello there! I'm brand new here, but I've been writing for years and have been looking into publishing possibilities for a long while. My personal research and many of the posts on this website make it clear that when submitting queries to agents it's best not to say that the book requires sequels, especially if it's the author's first novel. This makes perfect sense to me, but I have a bit of a problem: I have a very persistent habit of writing series! So far I've written two completed first drafts of manuscripts for two different series I have planned, but as I already stated, the problem is that neither of them are books that can really stand alone. They both are complex stories with large casts and many secrets and complicated plot points, and I don't really think it would be reasonable to condense either of them into one book. Only the first drafts are done of both at this point, so I was wondering if it would be best to revise in such a way that the first installments can stand alone?? I do have other story ideas that are meant to stand alone with no sequels, but most of them are in beginning phases and I haven't even started writing them. Would it be better to try to write and publish one of them first, or do you think it's possible to try to revise one of my drafts into something that can stand alone and then mention its potential for sequels?? And if you think it's possible to revise my existing drafts, do you have any advice for going about that?? I'm deeply sorry for the long winded question, but I really appreciate any responses!! Thank you!!!

#2 Niambi

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 08:25 AM

Any work you make needs to be standalone.  By that, it's meant that the entire plot and arc of the story should be wrapped up by book's end.  Later additions to the series should introduce new plot points and arcs.

 

So if it's a murder mystery, and the main character needs to identify and find the killer, the end of the book should be the MC finding and identifying the killer.  

 

Now that's not to say that the MC has to apprehend the killer, or that another, larger conspiracy can't arise by the end of the novel.  One of my favorites novels deals with a band of people traveling on run-down highways in a post apocalyptic America.  Their goal is to reach a safe place where they can start a new community.  They do this by the end of the novel and it's complete.  The next book of the series continues with the same people and brings in new plot points, enemies, goals, trials etc.

 

I've learned that even if there are nine book in a series, not a single one of them should leave the reader hung up on the initial arc or story, or unresolved characters.    Since you have first drafts, I would suggest making sure each novel is a complete, stand alone story.  



#3 iciclewieldingmaniac

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Posted 11 July 2017 - 11:10 AM

Any work you make needs to be standalone.  By that, it's meant that the entire plot and arc of the story should be wrapped up by book's end.  Later additions to the series should introduce new plot points and arcs.

 

So if it's a murder mystery, and the main character needs to identify and find the killer, the end of the book should be the MC finding and identifying the killer.  

 

Now that's not to say that the MC has to apprehend the killer, or that another, larger conspiracy can't arise by the end of the novel.  One of my favorites novels deals with a band of people traveling on run-down highways in a post apocalyptic America.  Their goal is to reach a safe place where they can start a new community.  They do this by the end of the novel and it's complete.  The next book of the series continues with the same people and brings in new plot points, enemies, goals, trials etc.

 

I've learned that even if there are nine book in a series, not a single one of them should leave the reader hung up on the initial arc or story, or unresolved characters.    Since you have first drafts, I would suggest making sure each novel is a complete, stand alone story.  

Thank you so much for the response! This advice is really helpful, and something that probably should have occurred to me throughout all this time! My more recently completed draft (and the one I would probably sooner attempt to publish than the other, though still after heavy revision of course) is, to put it briefly, about a guy whose younger brother is kidnapped under really bizarre circumstances. He has pretty much no choice but to search for the culprit who took him, and along the way he meets a web of characters who all end up being connected to the issue in some way, because it turns out to be much more complicated than a simple kidnapping. At the end of the first book I originally had it planned that the main character and his allies succeed in discovering the identity of the culprit, but they fail at apprehending him and therefore the younger brother is still not returned home at the story's end. Do you think it's possible to make the story a standalone one with this type of ending if executed correctly? Many of the connections between certain characters and their motives for taking one side or another aren't expounded upon until after the first book, though I like to think there's enough of a thread to still have it make sense without reading those books, especially if I allow a bit more to be known about the main antagonist by the end, hopefully giving enough closure about him that the ending still feels somewhat conclusive even without the boy returning home.

 

Once again, apologies for the long winded question, but do you think it's feasible to make the story stand on its own with this sort of ending? I really, really appreciate any and all responses. They're such a big help!

 

Edit: After looking around at other posts on this website as well I think I understand this topic even more! Despite writing for years of my life at this point I've only very recently started looking into publishing and how "selling" your novel works, so I appreciate everybody bearing with me. On other posts I've seen people mentioning also that a good way to go about a potential series is to write a standalone first novel in the same world or connecting to some of the characters, but not the first book of that series. Think The Hobbit, a standalone novel that was later followed by the Rings series. I do have a character in this potential series that I've considered writing a spinoff for, and that spinoff would be its own standalone novel. Would it perhaps be a smarter idea to write this spinoff as a separate story first and aim to get that published as a first novel and mention the potential for a connected series in the query, which would be the story of the guy whose brother gets kidnapped? Once again, thank you so much for bearing with me, and I really appreciate all the help!



#4 Sreid

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Posted 12 July 2017 - 06:55 PM

I think the idea of writing the spinoff and querying it first could definitely be a good way to go. However, when you query that book, there is no need to mention the attached series, as that would just cloud the issue at hand, gaining representation for the spinnoff. If that book is successful, you'll have no difficulty gaining interest for other related books with your agent.



#5 TheJaded

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Posted 13 July 2017 - 08:01 PM

Sorry, I have nothing of any use to say to you. Good luck.



#6 Niambi

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Posted 13 July 2017 - 11:08 PM

I'm glad you're researching.  I know many authors face the same issues.  Some of the time and this is myself included, we start writing something, and it grows and balloons.  Then comes the time when we have to DO something with it.  Then we're told we went about it all wrong.  

 

I've done the spin off option, and would certainly recommend making it a traditional standalone novel with your protagonist and antagonist, etc.  I'd recommend making it about a new character, instead of one that's in the great masterpiece.  I've had to worry about continuity issues when bringing in other characters from other unfinished novels and have had to go back and rewrite one or the other book.  But that was just me.  

 

For the writer who says bullying is the antagonist, I'd strongly suggest centering that bullying around at least a single person.  I have a WIP which deals with identity, and it came across negatively when betas read it.  Nothing was grounding the issue.  Fortunately, I had a character who antagonized the main character, and she shows up many times in his life to lead him down the wrong path, so it was easy for me to rewrite the novel to make her the person who takes advantage of this man's identity issues.  Besides, I don't think the literary world and agents are ready for novels without easily identifiable antagonists.  

 

In "The Martian" the antagonist is supposedly the planet Mars, but if you ask me that was a stretch.



#7 Michi MacMichael

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 12:49 PM

Once upon a time an author wrote a story so long that publishers did not want to print it in a single book.  The author actually wrote the story in six books (well, it was truly five with appendices) but the publishers did not want to print books that small.  So they decided to print the story in three separate books and the trilogy was born.  No, it wasn't the first manuscript given that distinction, but it certainly embedded the concept in the psyche of the readers.

 

The interesting part about that is none of the author's "books" were stand alone, and neither was each book of the final result.  The story was the story.  In my opinion long stories should be done like that and given the --logy designation.  A series of books should each be stand alone although they may contain a --logy or so.  Each --logy should have a good breaking point, but follow on parts should not get a recap of earlier parts of the --logy.

 

That's my perspective although I'm not an agent or associated with a publisher.  The story is the story and that's what you should write.  Leave the marketing and production to the people doing that part.

 

What was that long book?  The first part is The Fellowship of the Ring.



#8 iciclewieldingmaniac

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Posted 09 August 2017 - 05:53 PM

Thank you all for these wonderful replies!! My apologies for replying so late myself, but these are all so thoughtful and helpful for how I should plan out my future actions. I'll definitely keep this all in mind when planning/writing final drafts and all that, and hopefully everything will work out favorably!! Once again, thanks so much for all the help!



#9 Spaulding

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Posted 10 August 2017 - 09:09 PM

My first isn't a series. It's a heptalogy. (One story, but seven books to tell it.) The first is still stand alone though. That's so utterly important. What if it doesn't sell enough that anyone wants to take on the second? And, it doesn't matter how good the story is; it needs enough readers to warranted the second book. (It needs to earn profit.)

 

So, the best way to tackle this is to think series-worthy problem and then story-worthy problem.

 

My series-worthy problem is the species (stuffed animals) have been made "illegal" in the country. My story-worthy problem is the protag/MC lost his family because his family isn't the stuffed animal species. They're people.

 

Book One solves his family problem, but he's still "illegal." He thought he was going back to his normal life, but that didn't happen completely. Still, he developed a family while trying to get back to his original family.

 

In your case, I can see your first book ending with getting the brother back without getting to the point of resolving why he was kidnapped. But you started it by saying his brother was kidnapped, so that is the first books story-worthy problem. The "it's complicated" is probably the series-worthy problem.

 

Does the brother get home before they figured out why he was kidnapped and by whom? If not, can he?


If I helped you, please critique my query -- The Comfort Ban.

Or the synopsis. (If you're in a particularly cheery mood, I'll accept a crit for both. Better yet, if you're in a foul mood, take it out on both.  :wink: )


#10 Springfield

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 01:18 PM

Once upon a time an author wrote a story so long that publishers did not want to print it in a single book.  The author actually wrote the story in six books (well, it was truly five with appendices) but the publishers did not want to print books that small.  So they decided to print the story in three separate books and the trilogy was born.  No, it wasn't the first manuscript given that distinction, but it certainly embedded the concept in the psyche of the readers.

 

The interesting part about that is none of the author's "books" were stand alone, and neither was each book of the final result.  The story was the story.  In my opinion long stories should be done like that and given the --logy designation.  A series of books should each be stand alone although they may contain a --logy or so.  Each --logy should have a good breaking point, but follow on parts should not get a recap of earlier parts of the --logy.

 

That's my perspective although I'm not an agent or associated with a publisher.  The story is the story and that's what you should write.  Leave the marketing and production to the people doing that part.

 

What was that long book?  The first part is The Fellowship of the Ring.

 

First, he wanted it published in one chunk, and it was split into three because no one was publishing something that large. 

 

Second, he was a very successful author writing like 75 years ago, and even with those two things, he fought with his publisher. They weren't going to print the thing, and he's the one who capitulated. 

 

Using successful authors as examples of things is problematic for lots of reasons, as is using things that happened long, long ago. Yeah, anything is possible, but saying stuff like 'JRRT had a non standalone pubbed,' or 'JKR got a basically unedited doorstopper pubbed without question,' really isn't an indication that such will happen to any unknown author today.



#11 LucidDreamer

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Posted 11 August 2017 - 07:02 PM

The truth is -- if you are an unknown debut author, you need a book that can be sold as a stand alone. However, having "series potential" is always good. 

What does this mean? It means your first book should be something that a reader can read and feel satisfied that the story "has been told." That doesn't mean there is nowhere the story can go after that. Think about GONE WITH THE WIND. It is a complete work, and (heaven knows) does not require a sequel. 

However, if Mitchell had wanted to write one, there were possibilities. Yet, a sequel or series was not REQURED to make the book work and become a classic.   (I refuse to consider the so-called sequels by other authors as valid in any way, shape, or form).

Many great stand alone books COULD have been extended or continued in a series or sequel, if the author had chosen to do so. The point is -- they did not REQUIRE a sequel of series to "complete" them.



#12 Michi MacMichael

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 02:10 AM

Second, he was a very successful author writing like 75 years ago, and even with those two things, he fought with his publisher. They weren't going to print the thing, and he's the one who capitulated.

True. The point is, though that he wrote the entire story as one story, not as several stand alone books. It did get published as one book in the end. I know, I have one.

#13 Michael Steven

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 02:33 AM

The truth is -- if you are an unknown debut author, you need a book that can be sold as a stand alone.

From what I see the common advice is tell prospective authors to do things a certain way without regard to the author's story.  If the author plans to write one long story in chunks, and market the first chunk "stand alone" then they are not writing a trilogy (or however many books); they're writing a series.  All the standard advice given fits that story into the common mold.
 
On the other hand if they have written the entire story from start to finish and it is long (in some cases extremely long) then they have two avenues.  One, and the one most often mentioned, is to chop vast amounts out of their story until they get it down to an "accepted level."  Second is to divide the story into parts.
 
Often writers are encouraged (shall I say "encouraged vigorously") to cull vast amounts out of their story.  In my opinion that is really bad advice.  It is usually made because of a belief that the word count limits are etched in stone, and it is almost always the recommendation even though the one recommending it has never read the story.
 
The author knows best so the path taken is up to them and only them.  Maybe they choose to divide the story and smooth it by making each section stand alone although that almost always results in the story becoming stilted.  Sometimes it can work out.  Best to just find a reasonable dividing line and leave a "end of part ____" at the end.  As long as the reader is aware, such as a brief forward showing the parts of the story, the author has leeway to make it work out in the best interests of the story.
 
Suggesting that the author try to second guess either of them is at best puzzling.  Remember, with self publishing now a widely chosen avenue, the author is given more flexibility and writing in general can loosen up some of the strictures if that is the path chosen.


Let there be light on this planet ... And let it shine through me
Let there be travellers who venture ... Far from the beaten path
And let one of them be me - Jefferson Starship - Champion (unused lyrics)

#14 Springfield

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Posted 12 August 2017 - 12:18 PM

True. The point is, though that he wrote the entire story as one story, not as several stand alone books. It did get published as one book in the end. I know, I have one.

 

It was published as several books. It wasn't printed as a single edition for over a decade, until the sales justified it to the publisher. 

 

From what I see the common advice is tell prospective authors to do things a certain way without regard to the author's story.  If the author plans to write one long story in chunks, and market the first chunk "stand alone" then they are not writing a trilogy (or however many books); they're writing a series.  All the standard advice given fits that story into the common mold.
 
On the other hand if they have written the entire story from start to finish and it is long (in some cases extremely long) then they have two avenues.  One, and the one most often mentioned, is to chop vast amounts out of their story until they get it down to an "accepted level."  Second is to divide the story into parts.
 
Often writers are encouraged (shall I say "encouraged vigorously") to cull vast amounts out of their story.  In my opinion that is really bad advice.  It is usually made because of a belief that the word count limits are etched in stone, and it is almost always the recommendation even though the one recommending it has never read the story.
 
The author knows best so the path taken is up to them and only them.  Maybe they choose to divide the story and smooth it by making each section stand alone although that almost always results in the story becoming stilted.  Sometimes it can work out.  Best to just find a reasonable dividing line and leave a "end of part ____" at the end.  As long as the reader is aware, such as a brief forward showing the parts of the story, the author has leeway to make it work out in the best interests of the story.
 
Suggesting that the author try to second guess either of them is at best puzzling.  Remember, with self publishing now a widely chosen avenue, the author is given more flexibility and writing in general can loosen up some of the strictures if that is the path chosen.

 

Obviously it's up to the individual to do what he or she wants. However, I've almost never seen a book with a super high wc that couldn't use cutting -- not because of wc limits, but because they need cutting. 







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