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My book was never meant to be a series, so I'm genuinely uncertain on what to do. I only really write completely self-contained things.

Background

I've really been having a great time writing lately. On my latest masterpiece - book sorry - I've hit 70,000 words! Wow! It's about time the character's lives began to intercollide, and things begin to get exciting. However... I thought that by 90,000 words I would have finished my whole book. I underestimated myself.

I edit as I go through quite a lot, I've cut off a huge amount of words, and maximised my usage of language to get off even more words but... It's still just going to be so long because the story cannot be told unless it has time to develop. I can't really take off anymore words because the plot would be ruined. So... I've come to the resolve that I need to create a series! Exciting!

Question

When is an appropriate time to cut off with my novel, and turn it into a series?

I've seen everything. I really have. Sometimes, a ship has sunk. Sometimes, the character has just smiled. Sometimes, the sexy girl has died. Sometimes, the wimp has finally died. Sometimes, the girl who dressed as a boy has been found out. Sometimes, Eragon has killed the shade.

How do you decide what kind of way to end your first book? How do you think of a way that will keep the reader reading?

I'm pretty fortunate actually to have hit this word count just as the character's lives begin to collide, but I have a few options on how I can end it. How do I pick the right one?

To be honest, Eragon killing the shade didn't make me care at all. I just didn't care. When the girl was found out I didn't care. When the little girl's dad died, I cried. When, oh my god terrible, the children got sucked into a portal... I... didn't care. How can I make a cliffhanger worthy of ending a book and not a chapter? How can I create one my reader will care about?

Does it matter if your cliffhanger doesn't carry over into the next novel? Does your cliffhanger have to have a huge impact on the next one in the series?


My English teacher told me that most novels are only 55,000 words. I seriously don't believe her because I write my novels on a size 9.5 font, and by 55,000 words I've only done about 130 pages. So, here's a bonus question:

Is 80-85,000 words a wise time to be finishing the first book in my brand new series? Because I'm a non-published author, is it futile to try and write a series as my debut into the fantasy genre?

  • If you see your book as a masterpiece and there are quite huge masterpieces out there, why would the size matter. Considering size brought you the answers you got below. Unless you wanted a series or have changed your mind and only now want a series I don't see the point of convincing yourself (using size) that you need a series. – user6035379 Dec 11 '16 at 16:52
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    You have some great answers here. Being in more or less the same situation myself, I wanted to offer some excellent advice I heard regarding publishing a series. If you do NOT write the whole series at once, send in the first novel as a stand alone with series potential. Publishers will love that they don't have to spend the money on all the books if the first one doesn't sell. The next step is to prove their caution as unwarranted, of course. – Thomas Myron Dec 11 '16 at 18:43
  • Haha, I was just joking about that. It's definitely not a masterpiece @user6035379 – Daniel Cann Dec 12 '16 at 5:40
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    Yes, I can imagine. I am planning on writing the whole series first though because of Lauren Ipsum's answer @ThomasMyron – Daniel Cann Dec 12 '16 at 5:41
  • If you're a plotter (develop and outline first, write second), you can alternatively write the first novel and outline the others. Then you'll be able to go to an agent sooner. But yes, writing them all is definitely the safer route. – Thomas Myron Dec 12 '16 at 16:20
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55K words is a novella; your teacher is wrong there. 80K to 85K is a good book length.

If your story will require two books (or however many), finish them all before shopping the first one to an agent. Explain in the cover letter that it's a completed series. Agents may balk at an open-ended cliffhanger from a novice, but if you say that the two/three/etc. books are already done, that shows a) that you have the drive to complete several books and b) if the agent wants to buy the series, the publisher won't have to worry about whether you'll be able to complete the story and if you'll leave readers/accountants hanging. ::cough::George R.R. Martin::cough::)

A break point should be the end of an Act if your overal series is broken into three/four/five acts. Whether that's a huge "no questions are answered" cliffhanger or just a pause point in a larger tale depends on your story. The Harry Potter series is a set of seven books which have seven clear separate stories, each with a beginning/middle/end, which are also part of a larger story. But the Belgariad is one story told in five volumes, and each book ends on some kind of cliffhanger — I think book 3 literally ends in the middle of a scene as the heroes are captured and led off.

Getting your reader to care is no different in a book-ending cliffhanger than a chapter end. Either your reader is invested or not. Either you care about the character's fate or not. I put down the Fablehaven series at the end of book 2 of 5 because I absolutely did. not. care. if these two stupid children lived or died or succeeded or failed. I also stopped reading the Gregor the Overlander series at the beginning of book 4 of 5 because I cared too much; the heroes were being seduced by a dictator/fascist/tyrannical man-child, and I read to escape reality, thanks. But I'm desperate to pick up the next Rick Riordan series because I adored Percy Jackson and his friends.

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    You had a really good point about completing the series (which is what I was going to do). I'm going to wait if there's any other good answers before I accept though. +1 – Daniel Cann Dec 11 '16 at 5:18
  • So if I'm interpreting your final paragraph correctly, you're saying reader investment is purely up to the reader? Aren't there some things the author can do in that department? – Thomas Myron Dec 11 '16 at 18:46
  • @ThomasMyron The author has to create characters worth caring about and put them in situations the reader wants to see them get through or out of, sure. My point, which perhaps I didn't write clearly enough, was that such characterization and plotting is the same whether you're ending a chapter or a book. If your character is interesting, vivid, and realized, your readers should care about him/her. I did not care about the two idiots from Fablehaven because they were boring, flat, and literally stupid. I cared too much about Gregor's 2YO sister Boots. – Lauren Ipsum Dec 12 '16 at 18:36
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Look at the graphic in my answer to this question: Use of Separating Fiction into "Parts?" You can think of any story – no matter whether told as a short story, novel, or novel series – as arcs within arcs within arcs. You can think of a series as an even bigger arc on which the arcs of the individual novels form "bumps". Turning a too-long novel into a series is therefore very easy: just cut the novel at the parts, and you have a series of novels.

The answers to all your other questions follow from that idea of nested arcs.

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