It's a 195k word epic fantasy. These next few passes will bring that down quite a bit, and I know there's wiggle room. Reddit constantly focuses on that despite that the debut epic fantasy 120k word count stuff has been debunked by other debut novels among other things. The story, in my opinion, is at its strongest at this point, but I'm still going to go over it and find whatever extraneous stuff I can to eliminate or rework.

That said, I'm also curious about the "standalone with series potential" thing. Since I'm going to be doing some more smaller rewrites, I'd rather have a better grasp of this in mind.

My novel is one with multiple POVs. The main goal of the story is achieved and a few massive questions are answered, though not without massive consequences. The "whole new world" aspect is left kind of open ended, meaning it's shown they can start, but a bloody war will ensue to make it happen.

It also answers another big question posed at the beginning, but leaves the consequences of that question being answered somewhat open ended too. All in all, it's kind of like The Dark Knight: Batman hinges the future of Gotham on a lie and goes on the run. The movie is perfectly fine as a standalone but some massive questions are left out there.

How much leeway is there for this? I'd like to submit to some of the better publishing houses, but I know the cliffhanger type endings (which I admit, mine kind of are since the answers bring more questions, but there are still answers regardless). Is it just one of those things we throw into the wind and hope its accepted?


2 Answers 2


I recommend you take a page out of George Lucas' playbook. When he was working on the story that would make him famous, he had always concieved it as bigger than a single film could contain (there are some conflicting sources as to when Lucas settled on the prequel storyline but it was clear at several points in the film, Lucas had not fully creative the definitive narrative of the Skywalker family going into Episode 6... because of that one kiss scene in Episode 5.). Suffice to say, he did have intentions to do a revival of the serial film format with Star Wars (back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, serial films were a set of films shot usually at the same time and then chopped into smaller films that would be given cliffhangers to pull in audiences week after week).

With that in mind, Lucas took the in his saga that was the most complete (A New Hope) and made it into a standalone film that would be there to give the audiences a complete story with closure should there be no sequel or prequel or holiday special. In fact, when the film was first released, it was simply titled "Star Wars" and was only amended to "Episode IV: A New Hope" with the titling done brilliantly to evoke the old serial films, which were often had missed entries by the audience since they were rotated weekly. It also helped show that the fictional universe of star wars has a lot more going on in it than just these adventures, further enhancing the "lived in" feel of the world.

That said, Lucas did leave enough dangling threads would be explored in future entries into the film franchise. As we know, the entire prequels events were drawn from dialog that hinted to a prior war (The Clone Wars) that occurred before Luke's Birth, and Obi-Wan and Luke's Father were teacher and student along with Darth Vader, the killer of Luke's father. And even though the ending had the massive group shot at an award ceremony, it was for a single battle... they had yet to win the war. Darth Vader was still out there. The mysterious evil emperor still needed to be dealt with. And the dangling plot threads still left unresolved. It had just enough that, if it was a success, it could tell more stories... and if it was a failure, it was a happy ending resolution.

Switching to your own reference to The Dark Knight, I hope you aren't shocked in the fact that it was already a sequel to Batman Beyond, which also had a sequel hook make direct reference to the then possible sequel villain. Here, the problem of the resolution of Batman Begins hinged less on dangling plot threads but instead of the promise of the Joker being the villain, by having Commissioner Gorden tip Batman off to a new player in the underworld who leaves Joker Playing cards as his calling card, and Batman promising to look into it. At the time, this was something of a new trend in superhero films, in that the origin story used a lesser motivated villain and teased the best-known villain for the next sequel (The problem was that the first entry into any franchise had to pull double duty in writing an origin story for the super-hero and the villain of the film, while sequels only had to tell the villain's story.). This was observed in the fact that Spider-man 2 was considered superior to Spider-Man, despite the fact that the first film featured Spider-Man's greatest foe, the Green Goblin while the sequel featured Doctor Octopus, a villain who had a reputation for being rather silly looking at the time (Although, a bit of irony is at play. In the 60s and early 70s, Doc Oct was the web head's greatest foe and Green Goblin was more the silly villain. It wasn't until the game changing comic "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" dropped that Green Goblin was promoted, being the one who killed Gwen (whether directly or indirectly. It's generally agreed that Spider-man's attempt to catch her with a web line resulted in the whiplash from being suddenly stop snapping her neck, but Goblin was the one who threw her off the bridge. Physically speaking, Spider-man killed Gwen. Legally, Goblin would have been culpable for the death.). Following this issue, the Norman Osborn Green Goblin disappeared, believed to have been killed by his own glider during the resulting smack down a grief stricken Peter gave Norman in the same comic (he did turn up alive, but nearly 20 years after his last appearance in "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" which in terms of comic book deaths, was quite a long period to keep a character dead. This was largely because, while Norman Osborn was gone, the Green Goblin continued to make appearances, with different people under the Goblin's mask, most notably Harry Osborn, who's turn as the Green Goblin was considered more menacing than Norman Osborn's.). To contrast, Doc Oct's costume design and persona of a nerdy nuclear scientist driven mad with power following the accident that fused his robotic arms to his body did not age well, along with his costume design (traditionally a green and yellow accented one piece suit and his bowl cut hairstyle that was unfashionable when he was introduced in the 60s) didn't help him retain his big bad status (It wasn't until the Spider-man 2 redesign that he returned as a fan favorite in the eyes of many fans.).

  • Your last paragraph is way too big, is there a way you can break it up a bit?
    – F1Krazy
    Sep 6, 2023 at 10:22

There is a difference between "some leeway" and going 60%+ over. You are adding 60% to the cost of the book, and that is going to create some rejects.

I found your description of answered and unanswered rather muddled.

The overriding concern is that the reader cannot be disappointed if there is never a sequel. Nobody is going to commit to a sequel unless the first book sells big.

You can certainly leave other mysteries to solve in the world, but if you create "big" questions in the reader's mind and fail to answer them, they won't be looking forward to your sequel that you cannot mention and may never come -- they will just give you a middling review, and then your sales won't be great, and there will be no sequel.

Of course there may not be a first book, because professional readers are much more analytical and less immersed in your story, looking for story problems, and will flag these "big questions" as story problems -- because they won't take any sequels into account, either.

If you've got a good world premise, then you need to trust both professional readers and consumers to realize it can hold more stories, with more characters.

They should be able to tell that the one path your characters followed on this story is just one of many. HSZMV brought up Star Wars -- One of the reasons it was exciting was it introduced a rich and "realistic" world; from the dirty underside Hans Solo introduced us to, to the more natural wild settings and the super-technological and things in-between. The Wild West jumbled up with Jungles and futuristic super-tech cities.

Only at the climax of the first movie (we saw) did Vader go spinning off into space, denying the Rebels total victory, and no big deal was made about that.

There were no big explicit questions spotlighted in that movie, especially about the true identity of Luke's father. I know we didn't know, but Luke did not seem particularly eager to find out; he was satisfied with the claim that Vader killed his father.

Based on your description, I would be concerned that you are spotlighting too many "big questions" for a one-and-only book, and that might prevent it from being published.

The first Star Wars (Episode IV) was not all about defeating the Empire, it was about stopping the Death Star. It had focus, it had to for a first installment.

The same thing goes for your novel. If you want to write a series, your first book must absolutely stand alone. That is all publishers will commit to (for a new author) and all your readers will expect or agree to try.

My advice would be to cut way, way back on the other Big Questions. Focus on one big problem (the Death Star) and solve it. You can leave room for a sequel (Like Vader escaping) without promising a sequel.

Every time you put a spotlight on a big question, you are implicitly promising it will be answered in this episode. At most you should introduce such questions and easily dismiss them -- Like Obi Wan does with a casual lie about Luke's Father, readily accepted by Luke without question.

Trust the publisher and the readers to recognize there is potential in this new world, for sequels.

And maybe, that will help you get to a length, 150K words or so, that a publisher might gamble on.

Good luck.

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