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I'm planning out a long series (more than five books as is). It's very optimistic, I know. But I'm just wondering:

Would it be better to plan out my series as a trilogy, leaving room to expand if the series is successful?

I feel like publishers would regard trilogies as a safer bet than a long-winded series, but then again, I don't know much about the publishing world.

My background: I have not published any novels so far. If successful, these would be my first.

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    have you already published any novels? – sesquipedalias Aug 28 at 10:27
  • No I have not. These would be my first – klippy Aug 29 at 8:29
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    I won't give a new answer because Liquid and Amadeus covered the topic; but I would suggest that you don't try to "save up good ideas". Do everything you can to make the first book as good as possible. With book 1 being the best you can make it, only then build towards the rest of the (potential) series. – sesquipedalias Aug 29 at 8:39
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I feel like publishers would regard trilogies as a safer bet than a long-winded series.

But then again, publishers regard works from well-known authors as a safer bet, too. To paraphrase Brandon Sanderson (as talking of his latest series, The Stormlight Archives), once you start getting fame (and some sales below your belt) you will have more leeway, since your publisher will be more confident that you'll sell (or even, deliver).

As an unknown author, selling a 4+ series will be somewhat a difficult predicament, especially if those books are not self-contained. Selling a trilogy is already difficult (some readers will even look at the first entry of a new trilogy with distrust). Also, since your publisher doesn't know you, he doesn't know if you can pull it off.

Writing one good (publishable) book is hard enough, but delivering more than four? Without dropping the pace or the quality of your work?

Of course it can be done, but there will be plenty of reasons to be skeptic.

So, your best bet is to plan and sell your books as single, self-contained stories, with growing potential.

Let's imagine that you have already the first book written down. Ideally, you don't want it to be just a "setting-up" book for later entries: it has to have its own story arc, its own character struggles, and its own resolution.

Once you have polished it enough, you could go to a publisher and say

"Hey, look at this. It's great for X reasons and you should totally fund it. Also I've already a sequel planned up if it goes well".

This is already more reasonable, from a publisher point of view.

You could try the same reasoning trilogy-wise:

"Hey, I've got this trilogy and it's great. You know, if it sells I've left space for more..."

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    This is good advice. As a reader, I always prefer self-contained works over "incomplete" works. If a reader picks a book at random in a series, will he be able to enjoy it? The answer should be: yes, and he will want te read all the other ones. As an example, see how Terry Pratchett writes self-contained books. All the time. Yet a lot of them are, in fact, in a continuity. You can still pick up any of them and enjoy it for it's own content. - the continuity is just the sweet, sweet reward of reading all his works. – laancelot Aug 28 at 11:18
  • The way I intend to write my books is very Harry Potter-esque i.e. every year there'll be a (semi) self contained story, but that would feed into the bigger picture of stopped the Big Bad – klippy Aug 29 at 8:29
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Unless you are a famous author with a track record of finishing books, publishers are going to judge you based on the first book, alone. Each book in a trilogy (or longer series) has to stand on its own, in particular the first book, it must be a complete story in itself.

You can have a plan, an outline of your whole series, or not. You don't actually have to worry about how many books it might be. Rex Stout sold 45 Nero Wolfe detective novels, one at a time.

Publishers want to sell books one at a time; especially from beginning authors, for business reasons. They want to build an audience with the first book; if they fail and it doesn't sell well, they can reject any sequels. If it succeeds, they can tease the sequel, grow the fan base, and sell even more of the sequel. And so on. They don't want to go to the expense of producing three books, or the risk of promising three books, and sell them all simultaneously.

You have to prove yourself with one book. You can talk up the potential of sequels, your plans for sequels, but for exactly the same business reasons on the author's end, I suggest you tackle the first book and getting it published as a standalone story (with obvious potential for a sequel) before you write the second book, or an epic series.

If you can't sell the first book by itself, then having two or four more in the drawer won't help: The publisher must have a reasonably positive experience with your first book before they will consider your second.

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