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I have been working on a story for several years. The manuscript is now currently longer than 1,000 notebook pages (roughly 615 pages in print by my calculations) and it’s only a third of the way through the plot. So, I’ve known for a while that this is going to end up being multiple books when it’s completed. I recently decided to take a break from writing the story to finish the first book in what will likely be either a trilogy or tetralogy. This first book is around 315 pages. So my question is, Is it a good idea to self-publish a completed first book in what will be a longer series even though the remainder of the story has not yet been written?

To add some clarification, I am not writing the story as if it is going to be divided into smaller books, I’m writing it as if it is one really long book. I’m dividing it wherever it seems logical to do so based on plot and book-length. At this time I know where I want the story to go, I have an idea of what information I want to be covered in each book, and I’ve even gone as far as to create a detailed plot chart outlining what is going to happen and when. Most sections of the story I’ve already written and re-written in my head hundreds of times so now it’s just a matter of putting it all to the paper, which I fully intend to do.

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    "Most sections of the story I’ve already written and re-written in my head hundreds of times so now it’s just a matter of putting it all to the paper" - That is not writing. That is thinking about the story. – Double U Mar 10 at 14:25
  • In other words, you cannot write in your head. Writing only occurs on paper. – Double U Mar 10 at 14:26
  • @DoubleU, I think you have an answer there, not a comment. Will you write it into a full answer and we can vote on it? – wetcircuit Mar 10 at 14:42
  • @wetcircuit all right. – Double U Mar 10 at 14:43
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If you already have the outline of the final story and haven't done major rewrites of that for some time you could think about splitting it up. Some details will surely change, but in general for the big things you know what will happen when and you will have already laid out the foundation in the first third.

Publishing your first book before finishing the other three will give you an idea of how popular your book is and thereby an estimate of what you can expect from the other books. It will also give you valuable feedback from readers about what they like and don't like about your first book so that you can improve those aspects for the second and third one. It might also give you a bit of income and thereby make it for example easier to think about editors to help you edit your other books or advertise your other books a bit. It might also be a nice feeling of having something out there already for others to enjoy.

But you have to remember that you can not change that first book. It's out there and there is no easy way to go back and scrap something that you realized you don't really like or something that won't work out in the end. You have to be sure that the main story won't change too much and that you know what your golden thread is present.

If you've already re-written something hundreds of times are you really sure you won't rewrite it ever again?

Most people re-write stuff often and as with nearly everything once it's done you will have things where you think "I could have done that better nowadays". It's just a matter of being happy enough with your current result and knowing that you will always improve and find things that could have been better in a few weeks, months, years, ...

And once you decide that you want to publish your story in multiple books you should think about where to cut off. A simple chapter ending won't do it. You have to be sure that it feels like a conclusion with enough loose threads that you can tie in another book later on and your readers remembering that there is something they wanted to know. Something they are looking forward to.

In the end there is no right or wrong. It depends on you. It depends on your story. It depends on what you are trying to accomplish.

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Is it a good idea to self-publish a completed first book in what will be a longer series even though the remainder of the story has not yet been written?

The publisher wants something marketable. If the first book is a flop, then why would they publish the second or third in the series? It'll be much easier to send a query letter to your literary agent for the first book in the series and market that first book. If the first book is a success, then the latter books will have an easier time in marketing. But that first book must also work as a stand-alone book. If the reader has to wait until another book to resolve issues, then they may not buy the book.

If you just want to get your story read, without fame or fortune, then you may share the lengthy story on social media. That's what I'm doing right now. I'm currently writing a story in Standard Written Chinese, with my aunt as the proofreader. When the story section is nicely polished, I will send the story section out to the family WeChat group, mostly on my father's side. My mother's side is on a different WeChat group. I think my first cousin's children like the story, so I have found a target audience there. It's basically a story about a bunny rabbit. I have the entire story outline mapped out on paper. During the process of actually writing the story, I have found myself making some changes to the original plotline. The dialogue in the actual story also informs me about the characters and their personalities. The original outline gives me a lot of wiggle room, to the extent that the actual story vaguely resembles the outline.

Here's what you can do. Get on a social media app. Make sure your family and friends are also on the same app. You share the story in the family group or the friends group. Someone out there may like your work. Your story's popularity may increase, if the target audience is for everyone (including very young children). I'm sure adults would enjoy a fairy-tale-like story, and parents would read the fairy-tale-like story to their children. Every day, every few days, or every week, you may share a new story section to the crowd. The good part is, this builds experience as a writer. You're not making any money, but at least you have built a fan base among your family and friends.

  • If it gets popular, you can use that as a sample to sell a rewritten and cleaned up version to a publisher. If it is popular in the web, the publisher can be almost certain it will make them money. So you can still make money later. By the time you do the rewrite you will have a bit more skill and better understanding of the story and characters too. – Ville Niemi Mar 10 at 16:23
  • @VilleNiemi I agree. Marc Brown wrote the Arthur series, based on a series of stories he told orally to his own children. He also illustrated them. It became a huge hit as a book series, and it also became a popular hit as a children's TV series. – Double U Mar 11 at 0:39

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