Planning a series

I know what you’re thinking: “What? You’re planning a series? I thought you hate series?”

I can’t blame you for being surprised by this revelation. To be honest, I was a little surprised when I found myself at the point when I realised Lords was a series. Maybe the idea that I hate book series came from the many posts in which I have derided the longest series of all time, The Wheel of Time. It’s an easy assumption to make especially since the number one search term which has directed unsuspecting internet wanderers to my little blog is the term “Robert Jordan Hatred”. I’ll go into that little fun factoid in another post maybe.

So let’s clear up this little ‘misunderstanding’. I don’t hate book series. But there is a caveat to that statement. I don’t hate book series as long as their plotting is sound and they’re not dragging out the series for financial gain. I suppose that is where the “Robert Jordan Hatred” comes in because WOT had originally been pitched as a trilogy and then expanded to six books. The series now stands at a whopping thirteen books with the final book coming out next year. I’d say hopefully but let’s be honest, I couldn’t care less. I’m a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson and to me the only thing his commitment to finish WOT for Robert Jordan is doing is keeping him away from his own novels and work.

If that wasn’t strong enough, there are several series which I absolutely love. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, LOTR (almost goes without saying), Dragonlance (the core novels and not the rest which is really just padding), The Dresden Files and I’m really getting into George R. R. Martin’s Westeros series as well as Erikson’s Malazan books.

The truth of the matter is that I haven’t approached or even considered a series because one of the huge don’t-dos I have found when researching my planned future as an author is that a first-time author should never write a series until he has been published and shown the agents and publishers he has the writing chops to be able to become an author and that he would be able to crack it. (Have I stressed that never strongly enough?)

If you look at the great J.R.R. Tolkien, he wrote The Hobbit long before he wrote his magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings and if you look at the Lord of the Rings, the only reason why it’s actually a trilogy instead of a single novel is due to printing restrictions in the days when he published his novel. It wasn’t actually possible to bind a book that thick into a single novel back then and as a necessity, they were forced to break it up into three different novels. But if you’re a hardcore fantasy fan you should know this.

LOTR clocks in around the 400k word count and was the life’s work of Tolkien. Nowadays, if you look at any of the WOT novels or in fact any of the Epic Fantasy novel section, you’d be hard-pressed indeed to find any novel which is smaller.

Lords of the Apocalypse was always planned to only be a single novel story. This way I could demonstrate my ability to be able to create a world different from ours and be able to have a story which is contained and limited to the one novel. Would there be more stories set in the world in future? It was possible but any further stories would have to be in the same world but not connected to the first novel as all the threads would have been neatly tied by the conclusion of the novel.

The problem came when I thought about the story and everything which needed to happen before I can write ‘THE END’ at the bottom of the last page. There’s another restriction on first time authors breaking into the publishing market and that is to limit the novel to a word count of less than 150k. Effectively, it means the new author is dealing with two restrictions:

  1. The novel must be self-contained and shouldn’t require another novel (or several) to finish the story; and
  2. The novel should not exceed a maximum of 150k words.

For anyone who wants to write Epic Fantasy, it almost means the gatekeepers are slashing the new writer’s legs out from under them. In order to be able to finish the story they’d have to cut out large chunks of their story; something their forebears did not have to do.

So I’d tried to limit my ambitions to those single novels.

Now that I’ve explained my motivations…
It soon became apparent as I was looking at everything which needed to happen in the story that it would be impossible to fit everything into one novel of less than 150k never mind trying to put in a little bit of life into the world with a few subplots.

The one thing I refuse to do is to pad the series. I don’t want to put things in the series which are unnecessary and would only drag the story out longer than it should. It’s for this reason, that I believe it will only be a whole TWO books long. My mind had originally went for three which seems to be a natural number for Fantasy or Science Fiction but something tells me that I would be padding a whole middle book if I do make the series a trilogy.

Hell, if the “industry” doesn’t want to pick it up because it’s more than a single novel, I think I’ll probably just self-publish these novels.


2 thoughts on “Planning a series

  1. These arbitrary publishing “codes” by which we’ve abided for so long are really more like “guidelines”.

    Dean Wesley Smith on his web site advocates ignoring these rules, such as “no unagented submissions to certain publishers”. Editors buy books and why should you need an agent to submit directly to the buyer, an editor?

    Then again, why submit at all, self-publishing allows the writer to determine the “rules” for his own books and to publish single title, series, or hybrid at will….

    Kudos on recognizing a series opportunity in your own work. I’ve only ever considered writing series fantasy and am not bothered by these so called publishing “codes”. I’ll break them or self-publish as well.

    1. I’ve always tried to limit my “planning” for a single novel so that I can abide by these codes.

      I think if we look at a writer like Patrick Rothfuss, his series The Kingkiller Chronicles is essentially his first book which he has had to split into three volumes in order for it to be of publishable length. So he shows that it can definitely be done.

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