Sunday, January 29, 2012

To trilogy, or not to trilogy--that is the question.

A question I often hear from aspiring writers is whether to lay a project to the side and move on to that Shiny New Idea they can't stop thinking about. My advice is always the same: do whatever the heck you want. Especially if you're unagented/unpublished. Without deadlines to bog you down, why not do what you are most passionate about at the moment? Writing is fun. It doesn't mean that other manuscript is dead. Alas, you are a fiction writer--revive that zombie when you're good and ready.

This month, I've decided to take my own advice. I have two books in much need of revisions that I'm shelving...for now. I am the anal, outlining, detail-oriented, obsessive perfectionist type of writer. So this is hard for me. And I feel like I'm being a total rebel. Sad, I know, but let's just embrace the dotted i's and crossed t's persons of the world for a moment. The most important part is--I'm super excited to start on my Shiny New Idea. It's a science fiction story that has been floating around in my head for about a year. I've been researching/outlining for a few weeks now. And here's the problem, it's gonna take more than one book to tell this story.

A multiple book project (in my case, a trilogy) is extremely common. Especially for science fiction or fantasy. But for an unpublished writer? Ugh. Cue my annoying sensible self. How do I query a book that is the first of a series? Do I just write all three even if the first one doesn't snag an agent? I know a lot of you have written a series or at least the first book in a series. How does one cope with these doubtful thoughts of a confessed stickler? Advice, people, advice!

Also, this trilogy is NOT going to sit well with a lot of people. The kind of thing that if published, will probably bring in hate mail and death threats. Okay, maybe not really. But some will get mad at me for writing it, I have no doubt.

I'm writing this thing whether it's sensible or not. And whether it ruffles feathers or not. Am I crazy? Or just your typical barmy writer?


Kelley Lynn said...

You go girl!

You have to write what you're feeling, that's when we do our best work. If this is the story that's causing you to become insane because it HAS to come out, then that's awesome and you've got to go with it.

The story I have out on submission (YA Fantasy) is the first in a series (probably 4). I wrote a YA Contemp before it for the very reason that it was a standalone and probably easier to pitch. While its ready to submit, its not what I want to be known for. I want to be known as a different kind of writer than YA Contemp because I enjoy it more, I'm better at it, I think at least. So...I'm going to try and get a series agented...*gulp*

Good for you Ilima! Go with your gut girl.

But seriously, I can't imagine the story I critiqued for you isn't getting scooped up. I LOVED it.

Tess Julia said...

Can you do the first in the series as a stand alone too? You know, the ending is left hanging, like so many do. That way if it gets picked up and liked,the rest will follow.

Jolene Perry said...

When you feel passionate about writing something, it'll show in your writing.
If you're pushing through - I think that'll show, too.
There are times when I have to push through, but it means more work at the editing stages.

Unknown said...

I agree with Honey. Tailor the first as a stand-alone w / lingering "what-if" feeling about what the next book will do. Gosh, I can't recall who said this; I think I read it in a craft book, but your first book is sold by the hook & act I of the book and what sells your second book is the ending of your first book. If that makes sense.

I guess what the person was trying to get across is that the ending of your first published book will keep your readers, fans, agent...wanting more. :)

As far as ruffling feathers, sometimes those make the best books on the shelves!

ilima said...

Kelley-I am going with my gut. Double gulp!

Honey-I should be able to make it a satisfying enough ending. I hate it when books have a major hanger.

Jolene-I agree. Plus it will be a lot funner and less grueling work.

Candy-So true. Pushing the limits can be a good thing.

Jay Noel said...

I sold the first of a trilogy to a publisher, so it can be done. As long as that first book can stand on its own, that helps.

I pitched to one publisher that asked me, straight up, for the final final final ending of this trilogy. So be prepared to answer that!

Go for it!!!!!

Cortney Pearson said...

Hey, just stumbled across your blog via Kelley's. Nice to meet you! I say go with what you feel your story needs to be. If it can be told in one novel, don't stretch it out just to make it a series, but at the same time, it's good to tie up as many loose ends as you can the first time around. I know most agents want it to stand alone in case it doesn't sell well (which nobody wants to hear!). Good luck querying and especially with your requests! :D

Martin Willoughby said...

Funnily enough some recent authors have started with trilogies. Tboy Frost and Simon Morden for instance, and they are SF authors.

So don't give up on that idea.

Kate Coursey said...

Good advice. If you're not writing what you love, your creative energy isn't being put to good use. You'll be much more productive working on that exciting new idea! I'm the same way...I'm a huge perfectionist, so I hate leaving something unfinished.

As for trilogies, do what you think is right. I try to make my books stand-alone, but with series potential. That way, if it sells, you can write the sequel. But if you feel strongly about the trilogy just write it!

The Writing Hour. said...

You have to do what you want with the trilogy, in relation to if it will make people upset or not. Now I'm intrigued!

I sort of had the same problem with my current WIP, it seems like a lot for one book, but not enough for a trilogy. Two books? Eh I'm just going to keep it one book for now.

And starting new ideas is awesome! When all the ideas are fresh. I have other ideas for books I want to write when I'm done with my WIP that I'm super excited about too.

Jer said...

You've already got some great advice, so I won't add any here. Especially since I've never tried to write a trilogy myself. But I do want to say...Way to entice us! I am so super curious now about what the book is going to be about, with your hints about controversy.

ilima said...

Jay-Good to know I need to be versed in the whole series.

Cortney-great advice. I'll go over my notes again to make sure I can't squeeze it into one or two.

Martin-Thanks! I won't give up.

Kate-Glad to hear of another writer-perfectionist.

The Writing Hour-I can't believe I once thought, "I don't know what to write about." The ideas won't stop coming now.

Jer-*biting my nails in nervousness*

Alice said...

This is a beautiful blog. I like your advice on working on whatever the heck you want if you're not published yet. I've heard lots of writers asking this question lately about whether to finish a project or go onto a new one. I'm the kind of writer like you who keeps revising and I don't like first drafts. I have a new idea but am putting it off while I happily revise and older one. Good for you for breaking your own mold and starting that new science fiction project which BTW I'm already interested in reading from what you've written about it!

Kathryn Purdie said...

As you could probably guess, I'm going to tell you to go with your heart, with what you feel you must share with the world, for reasons only you could articulate. I'm excited to see what comes next for you!

Also, as you also know, I dreamed up my first book (YA fantasy) as part of a trilogy. I never thought whether or not that was a wise publishing was just what this story demanded. I wrote the whole first story knowing it was only a third of my MC's journey. But I do think I give a sense of closure for her in book one, though the ending will leave many things still up in the air.

And like you, I have a shiny new idea for a completely different book now, a YA contemporary, wanting to be told. But I want to tell both stories (the sequel to my fantasy and this new story) equally as badly right now, so I'm stumped. Good thing I only have to focus on revisions for awhile until I decide. :-)

Thanks for keeping me inspired!

Lydia Kang said...

Hi Ilima! First of all, you have a gorgeous name. Second, I adore your blog background! Third, this could totally describe me:
"I am the anal, outlining, detail-oriented, obsessive perfectionist type of writer"

I wrote my novel, the Fountain as a standalone but knowing that there was way more story to tell in a second and third book. Sometimes it just happens that way. It sold as a standalone, and now I'm trying to write (as anally as possible) the second book.

So nice to meet you!

Emily said...

Yes, do it. Write the story that has to come out, whether it's in one or three books!

ilima said...

Alice-Good for you for revising. If you love it, keep doing it.

Katie-Spill the beans on your contemporary idea.

Lydia-Thanks for the kind words. It's nice to know I'm not the only anal writer out there. Sometimes I feel alone in a sea of seat-of-your-pantsers. :)

Emily-I just love you, period.

Angela Cothran said...

I have this same "problem." The story I need to tell will not be contained in one book. I agree with you to just write what you want! It is one thing I love about not being published yet.

Julie Daines said...

I've heard most agents and publishers recommend that if you have a trilogy and you are unpublished, you should write and perfect the first book, then outline the other two books.

They say publishers will rarely fork out the money for the trilogy of a debut author until they know the first book actually sells. If the first book flops, both publisher and author have wasted time and money.

Of course if you're just writing to write what you feel you must, do whatever the heck you want. :)

ilima said...

Angie-It's a good problem to have.

Julie-After all the advice, I'm going to make that first one as stand alone as possible for these very reasons. Though it may not stop me from writing the rest for myself.

Tonja Drecker said...

One of my CPs wrote a trilogoy. And no, none of the books were stand alone. One month after she finished, she got an offer from a small publishing company and now a second has just contacted her.

So obviously it works.

Good luck to you on yours!

Nick Wilford said...

I think any writing is a risk essentially. When you're taking a risk, you have to go with what feels right to you and believe in it. I've left a lot of stuff unfinished for that reason because I lost faith in it. But I understand if you're a "completist", that's difficult! You can always go back when the time is right.

Thanks for following my blog! It's nice to meet you.

ilima said...

T. Drecker-There is hope!

Nick-You're right. It's so obvious when I don't care about what I'm writing, because basically the writing sucks.