So I am currently writing a fantasy story that tends to be long.

This question is related to the following question: related

The main difference resides in that it is certain that the story will be longer than three books. But for publishing purposes and reader comfort is it more advisable to do multiple trilogies (for instance what Trudi Canavan has been doing with the Black Magician and Traitor Spy trilogies which develop on the same world). Is that advisable?

You will probably say it depends on the story, but I am on a stage where I need to decide while it is still flexible and commit to something that is more recommendable for the readers.

I am not sure if I am making myself understood as english is not my primary language. Any questions please comment and I will reply.

  • Actually, no, you don't need to commit to any particular length. There is no "should be" for the length of the story, except that which comes from the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: "When you get to the end, stop."
    – EvilSnack
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 23:44

6 Answers 6


As the others have already mentioned, you need to concentrate more on just telling your story and less on how long it will be or how many books it will take. To expand on Lexi's comments, if you do separate trilogies, make sure that you wrap things up reasonably well in each trilogy. As Craig mentioned, you will find it a lot easier to get a publisher behind a trilogy than it would to get them to support a longer series.

Something else to consider would be to try to make the first book a stand-alone as much as possible. If you leave the readers at a natural stopping point, yet with the possibility for something more, then you will likely find more success, and there are two reasons for that. 1) A publisher is going to feel a lot more comfortable signing an unknown writer to one book, and 2) readers are much more likely to read your book if they think it is the only one. Speaking for myself, I will not start ready a book that is identified as the first of a trilogy without knowing how soon the others will be published. If all three are published, I might buy the first and then consider the others, but if I am going to have to wait a year or longer for the rest of the series, I'm not going to bother with it.

Alternatively, if you choose to write the entire first trilogy and then try to shop all three books, you are going to have to make certain that it's the best that you can make it. A publisher is going to be very skeptical and leery about signing an unknown author to a three book deal unless they believe it is a truly fantastic storyline. If you try to obtain an agent, then your agent can help guide you on which route to take. It really depends on whether you want to wait until the first three books are completed or if you want to try shopping the first one by itself.

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    How can I make the first book finish with a natural stopping point and the possibility of something more at the same time? It seems it is the best way for a new author. What do you suggest to achieve this?
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 12:27
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    Leave a larger Big Bad hanging, or a potential adventure only hinted at. Girl in a deteriorating kingdom discovers wizarding powers, leaves home, struggles through adversity, reaches wizarding school, finishes school, and stands at the doorway ready to begin a life of adventure. You have a short hero's journey completed, but you've left open (a) her next adventure into adulthood (b) what's going to happen with the king, who is slowly becoming more corrupt (c) whether those two are involved. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 16:32
  • Lauren gave some great examples. Stephen R. Donaldson does this with his Thomas Covenant books. The characters are undertaking a major quest, but that quest is spread out over a long period of time. At the end of each book, they overcome some major obstacle, and then the reader has to wait for the next book to see how they will overcome the next obstacle and complete the quest. In each book, you don't know what the next major obstacle will be, but you are aware of the larger quest. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 17:56
  • Or take a look at the Mistborn trilogy. The first book ends with the defeat of the Big Bad and a satisfactory ending for all involved, but there are many unanswered questions, and the Big Bad hints that there's something worse out there.
    – Lexi
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 22:43
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    @Jose, here's an article addressing precisely the question of how to write a book that both has a complete internal arc, but also moves forward the big, saga-scope arc: lucyvmorgan.com/2011/07/…
    – Standback
    Commented Oct 14, 2011 at 4:38

I just want to point something out.

About 2002/2003 I started work on an epic saga that I believed would be a solid piece of work people would love and that would definitely be a winner. It had two killer things going for it that would make people warm to it. One: It was going to be a saga but not an open ended series, the end point would be planned from the beginning so no slowly petering out, getting worse and warmed over until just eventually they stopped being milled out. Two: As mentioned it would be rigorously planned out beforehand.

I wrote a huge plan. Copious character notes, two and a half novels, short stories, some rules for adapting the universe to D20 role-playing (at the time I knew nothing about role-playing games except as a hobby I had once tried when I was thirteen). I milled out probably in the region of quarter of a million words in the pursuit of this project. 250,000 words later I discovered that my initial idea was okay, but it wasn't as great as I first thought. The writing had taught me a huge amount about writing, but it was niche in its universal appeal. The story was epic but it missed something in the beginning and tripped over itself too much in the construction.

Essentially, if I wanted to make it work then I would have to start again, from scratch, with a new approach. Unfortunately I am not an internationally renowned author who works from nine to five in his writer's studio. I am a schlub with a day job who writes in his spare time. I realised there were easier ways to connect with people through story and a greater variety of possible projects.

Not saying that your experience is inevitably bound to be like mine, or that my experience was not deeply rich and rewarding. It's just that, I didn't really worry about it. I just did it, if I hadn't I wouldn't have learned all the things I learned and become better at being a writer. Maybe it's better to just do what you need to do now, planning for the future is fine but don't worry about it if you find you need to change the plan because of information you learn on the way. That's all part of the process.

Good luck with the project.

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    +1 "I just did it, if I hadn't I wouldn't have learned all the things I learned and become better at being a writer." Great advice. Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 9:13
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    +1 Thanks those are some very valuable considerations. I'll just go on and consider that later. Go with the flow as they say.
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 12:41
  • One Monkey, I bet typing 250,000 words didn't take you too long. ;) Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 19:31
  • @Shan: Yeah. I'm a pretty fast typist... ;)
    – One Monkey
    Commented Oct 16, 2011 at 0:52

My advice would be to write your story, and then let the story dictate the format.

Trilogies likely are an easier sell to publishers and readers than a ten-volume series, but you may find yourself trying to fit a round peg into a square hole e.g. deciding on a trilogy format when in actual fact you want to write at least five books, each one from a different character's point of view, or you realise early on that you only have enough for a single book.

The trilogy format works for Trudi Caravan in her fantasy world because each trilogy dealt with a specific story that worked with that format.

However, when I look at Malazan Book of the Fallen, it absolutely would not work as a series of trilogies.

IIRC, Orson Scott Card didn't set out to write what became the Ender Quartet, it just naturally became that over the course of writing.

Write, as that's the most important part, and see what comes out from it.

  • Haha, when people think of epic sagas, Malazan Book of the Fallen does tend to come to mind, doesn't it? ;)
    – Lexi
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 11:02
  • @Lexi - you're not wrong there. I only got into it several months ago, and am now reading book five. Epic stuff. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 18:31

I found this through my blog traffic stats--thanks to whoever linked me :)

@Joze: A trilogy has a very specific structure and to be honest, it's blatantly obvious when a narrative is over-stretched to reach that three-book sweet spot (this is happening more and more as the popularity of the trilogy rises). A story needs three "cycles," each with its own climax, to function as a trilogy.

You think your story will be longer. It's very common in fantasy to write ongoing series. Here are some of your options:

1) Trilogies typically follow one character and their issues. Canavan did this, as you menton; Jacqueline Carey also does this successfully. Each book in this trilogy focuses on a different part of the journey, each book resolves that certain part of a journey (while posing new questions), and each book offers something new. When the trilogy is over, our character has closure. JK Rowling got away with stretching this into seven books because each had a strong self-contained storyline, and her ensemble cast was utterly engrossing/deserving of attention.

2) Ongoing series, each dealing with a different character in the same world. Anne McCaffrey's Pern series is a great example of this. These stories tend to be self-contained and there is no ongoing storyline which carries the entire series. You could pick up any book and dive straight into the world; it's accessible, and accessible sells.

The Wheel of Time-style dragging sagas...not so much :P due to storylines that frankly take too long to meet their climax. Remember, nobody wants to wait an indeterminate amount of time for that all-important resolution (hence trilogy popularity).

3) Ongoing series fronted by the same character a la Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe series. Again, the storylines are self-contained, but the characters do tend to grow stale after a couple of books.

Conclusion: if you have one loooong story to tell, structure it into a trilogy (and remember that in fantasy, your word limit is a bit more elastic, so don't worry about feeling restricted. 120k would pass for a very strong book). It'll be a lot easier to handle than a long series with an ongoing story and an easier sell.

If you have lots of stories to tell about various characters, structure as a series that will offer each their own book.

  • Thank you very very much for your insight. Those are some very relevant positions that I will take at heart. Thank you! :-)
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Oct 17, 2011 at 8:54

Talking in strictly commercial terms, I would definitely say that doing multiple trilogies is an easier sell if you're a previously unpublished author. There's less commitment required on the part of the publisher and the reader - I'd be leery of starting an epic series by an author I've never heard of before, unless the author comes highly recommended. At least if it's in multiple trilogies, you know that particular story arc will end by the third book, which gives more of a reason to plough through something that's not that great.

However, I also don't believe in writing on strictly commercial terms. If you have a story that revolves around the same characters and will take more than three books to fully resolve, then do it as a long series. Trilogies can be linked and set in the same world, but each has a distinct story arc. A long series will have one spanning all the books, though of course there will be shorter arcs scattered throughout. Go with what you need to tell the best story, not what you believe will sell. Look at Steven Erikson and the Malazan Book of the Fallen series - it's unconventional, and even he didn't think he'd go mainstream, but he went with what he believed would work for his story regardless.

  • Lexi, did you mean "a previously published author"? Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 12:53
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    I'd argue no; I think Lexi's point is that each trilogy sort of stands alone, and the publisher can say "I'll take a chance on three, but not on five or seven." So if the first trilogy sells, then the publisher can go for the next trilogy. If it's a seven-part saga from the beginning, a publisher might not risk that from a completely new author. (JK Rowling being the exception which proves the rule, of course.) Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 13:02
  • I'd think the publisher would be even more happy if you had just one standalone book . Why would a publisher take a chance on even 3 books by an unknown author? Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 15:47
  • Because, as we've repeatedly discussed, some stories are too big for one book. I have a friend who shopped around her first book and it was so good the publisher gave her a two-book deal. She is currently working on book 3 with the potential for book 4, hoping for another two-book deal from the publisher if the first two do well. Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 16:33
  • Yep, Lauren got my point. A trilogy is a common structure, and you know when it will start and end. As for sagas, they do have a tendency to balloon out so a publisher would be naturally more wary of committing to one, especially if they don't know if the author can sustain it.
    – Lexi
    Commented Oct 13, 2011 at 22:45

Plan on a series. If I can recommend the Honor Harrington series by David Weber as an example [see wikipedia link below], he's going on 20 books now and they're still relatively good reads. David's known the end of the story for the most part since the early '90's, the rest of us are waiting for the last two novels with cash in hand, so to say.

Anyway... there's a trick I do whether I am playwriting, script writing, chapter book, or a full length novel, which seems to work well. I even found a few software tools like Scrivener which make the process much easier.

The idea is to get the story organized in your head and see how it plays out before you've written a whole lot. You're editing the story in advance the same way as if someone handed you 20 hours of film and said "edit together the best takes, special effects, etc. and deliver "Star Wars".

Trouble is it isn't written yet. So, gotta organize the series universe... Let's say that in order to write all 20 books, you're going to need 400-500 major plot points. That's about twenty five a book which is more than enough or a decent story. So you start writing down what those plot points are on paper card. then push pin them to a wall size cork board . Then you rearrange, edit, delete, add, etc. until the overall plot arc makes sense.

Pretend you're done and they're good, so you put each set of 20-25 cards in it's own slot in an index card file. Take out the cards for "book one", oh crap, time to put in more details. So now I need a few cards for characters, settings and the lot. So those go in that section, etc. Might force some reorganization of the plot cards in the box, come to think about it.

Repeat for each set of cards to a smaller extent, some characters will die or be killed, new ones come in, settings change, etc. but the goal is simply to see if the cards can be put in an order where there's an episodic finish per set, and where the sets fit together to make the whole story complete.

Once you've got a good set of ideas and a start and end point for book one down on paper / in Scrivener / whatever plus the overall big picture, whatever start writing! And then make Book One your best work! (so that it will pay you enough to write book two, etc.)

  • +1 Thanks a lot for this answer!! These are some really really good pointers, and seems logical and organized. I will definitely try this!
    – Jose Luis
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 8:39

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