Pub Rants

Got Trilogy?

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STATUS: Note to self: don’t eat wasabi peas until your lips start burning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SUBTERRANEAN HOMESICK BLUES by Bob Dylan

I haven’t dispensed any query letter words of wisdom lately so I’ll toss this one out there. Lots of writers are writing trilogies. Excellent. I have great admiration for those of you with a big enough vision and an outlined game plan to see the full story unfold over 900 potential pages and in three books (seriously, I’m in awe.)

But here’s what you need to focus on in your query letter: book one of the trilogy. If you can’t get an agent interested in this book, it’s rather a moot point that you have two sequels if you get my meaning.

So in your query, focus your pitching on that first book. If you want to mention in your query letter wrap-up paragraph that you envision this as a first book in a trilogy, no worries. Mention it but that’s it. No plot summaries for book 2 and 3.

Sell me on book 1; then we can talk.


22 Responses

  1. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for this, I’ve been a bit worried that agents don’t like trilogies at all, so this is encouraging. What you said definitely makes sense — the focus needs to be on the first book. The first book has to be able to stand on its own. Who wants to read a book where the author is saving all the ‘good stuff’ for the sequels?

  2. Music Critic said:

    I agree, pull out all the stops in the first book. If you get it published, it will make the sequel that much more challenging (and fun) to write. Now, onto the music…

    I know Big Bob is an Icon, but that doesn’t mean all his songs are iconic. Just like writing. I love Stephen King, but Tommyknockers wasn’t a fav.

    I give this Dylan selection a #7.

  3. soula said:

    OK! Question!

    If your Book 1 of a trilogy is seriously a Part 1– that is, the story clearly doesn’t end at the end of the book– is it still worth submitting as a standalone novel? Or, if the trilogy is unfinished, would it be equivalent to submitting an unfinished 900 page novel?

    I have been working under the assumption that I should have the entire trilogy completed before querying it. If that’s wrong, and I might as well get started querying now, that’s great news.

  4. Anonymous said:

    I would add a caveat to this advice…make sure you read individual agents’ preferences. Some agents want to know that your first book is part of a series and what your plans are. Others don’t.

    Always read up on the individual agent before sending out that query.

    I recently tailored mine to match an agent’s preference for a query to contain career plans. I added a short paragraph about my plan for the book I had submitted and that the book could stand on its own, but was conceived as a trilogy. And I got a request for partial right away. I really believe that tweaking the query to fit this agent’s preferences helped me a lot.

    I don’t think it is ever a good idea to write a book that can’t stand on its own as one contained story with beginning/middle/end.

  5. LurkerMonkey said:

    I’m working with an big-house editor now on a trilogy, and here’s my experience: don’t get too attached to books two and three until book one is DONE. Because editors are funny this way … they like input. You write a great first book, then get editorial revisions, and the next two might/can/probably will change during the rewrite. And if the first book tanks, they probably won’t have signed you for all three anyway if you’re a debut author. So I definitely wouldn’t write the whole trilogy before I start pitching it … I would do a detailed “road map” of the whole series, concentrate on writing a killer first installment, and letting it unfold from there.

  6. Pam Halter said:

    I’m working on a fantasy trilogy and did just what Kristin said. I proposed Book One, but I indicated it was part of a trilogy. I’m glad to know I did it correctly. And it’s being considered by an agent now.

    My question is: if an agent loves the first book and offers a contract, will he/she then try to sell the whole trilogy?

  7. Getting There With A Passion said:

    Duly noted. Back to the ole’ query drawing bored. Wasabi peas? Kiwi has the same effect if you eat it whole, as I learned the hard way. :-\… thanks for the advice on queries.

  8. Deb said:

    Kristin, don’t expect SF or fantasy writers EVER to write “one book.” They cannot do this. It’s always more than one, and it always ends up more than 900 pages. Just ask Robert Jordan–oops, sorry. His last 16 book trilogy must’ve been too much for him.

    See, this is why you should consider repping inspirational romance. We are able to write one book at a time and they’re NEVER 600 page epics.


  9. AR said:

    Wasabi is made from peas? Good lord, the things one learns on the WWW!

    A lot of people are confused about the point of epic fantasy literature. Truth is, it’s written by and for people who feel that our surface experience of life is largely a circumstantial guise for a deeper reality. The point of fantasy literature is to portray the same reality we now know, but in “different clothes.” It shouldn’t be preaching but it should involve our imaginations in the meaning of human life.

    Traditionally, fantasy is rather subversive because the reigning philosophy of our times is that all experience must be interpreted and defined in terms of the material or physical data, and that technologican superiority is the most important kind.

    Nonsense, says the fantasy writer. It would be the same human reality if we had magic instead of science and kings instead of presidents. Look around at the moral peril, beauty, and adventure of being human! Oh, and here are some very, VERY thick glasses to help you see it.

    Of course his invented world isn’t any good if no decent stories every happen inside it, or if he doesn’t know how to tell them.

  10. mardott said:

    What if the first book is too long? For the most part, 800-page books aren’t getting published, these days. Could it get published as a trilogy? Or a Book 1, Book 2, kind of thing?

  11. Ciar Cullen said:

    When you’ve hit the lip burn on wasabi peas, it’s too late. You may as well just keep eating them. Then feel the burn in your gut. It will make you strong like ox.

  12. Maprilynne said:


    The way it worked for me and my agent was that I wrote the first of a four-book series and my agent knew I intended for it to be a four-book series, but she didn’t mention that to any editors until they expressed interest.

    My editor asked my agent if I could make the book into a trilogy and then my agent smiled and said, “Why yes, shall I have her send over a series synopsis?” So we submitted the synopsis for all four books and when my editor saw that i really had thought out and planned the entire series, she offered for all four, not just the three she had intended. And that was for a first-time author.

    So we did pitch the book as a single book, but being ready to also pitch the book as part of a series paid off big time for me. So I guess my answer is that it’s a bit of both.;)


  13. John Arkwright said:

    As some of you have said, agents seem to vary a lot. I have heard

    (1) It is hard/impossible to sell a trilogy by a new author because the liklihood that the first book will tank is significant enough to cool editors’ enthusiasm for three books.

    (2) Agents want trilogies because they would like to start relationships with writers who are going to write more than one book in their lives.

    I wrote the first novel of a quadrilogy. The first novel stands alone. We can wish the characters well as they ride into the sunset. It is Star Wars-A New Hope, not The Empire Strikes Back.

    Because of the high barrier to being heard/read in the industry, I abandoned book 2 after the first chapter and began writing short stories. My plan is to publish in enough solid magazines that I will be taken seriously. Since I am mostly writing stories within my quadrilogy universe, I hope that one day agents will say, “Oh, you have sold all those stories from this universe so it must be good.”

  14. Di Francis said:

    Hmmm. I’m confused. Do you mean to say that you should wait until your lips start burning to eat Wasabi Peas?

    Sorry. I’m revising. Editor wants book. Luckily, I don’t like Wasabi Peas so I don’t have to wait for fire lips. Now spicy nacho sauce . . . I”m all over that, baby.

  15. Kimber An said:

    Great story, Maprilynne.

    I love trilogies and series and such. I love reading them and I can’t seem to stop writing them. I get emotionally attached and have a hard time letting go. What can I say? I’m the marrying kind.

    If you’re having trouble making Book One a complete story under the recommended word count, check out a few books on screenwriting. They really helped me with learning how to structure a novel. SAVE THE CAT! by Blake Snyder and THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO SCREENWRITING by Skip Press are my favorites.

  16. Pauleen said:

    Whew! Am I glad I read your blog on that! I was going to mention my trilogy idea for the manuscript I’m writing, but I think I’ll hold off on it for a while 🙂

  17. beth said:

    Deb said: His last 16 book trilogy must’ve been too much for him.

    You know, I’ll bet you weren’t meaning to be cruel or hard-hearted, just cute and flippant, but really, that was a terrible thing to say. It isn’t funny to die of a rare disease years before your time, leaving your life’s work unfinished and your family bereft.

  18. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    Don’t worry about Jordan’s family–aside from being bereft of his company they will do all right, I expect. Brandon Sanderson is completing book twelve of the series–which will be a trilogy on its own, bringing the whole series to 14 books.

  19. Gilbert J. Avila said:

    Ciar Cullen said:
    **When you’ve hit the lip burn on the wasabi peas, it’s too late. You may as well just keep eating them. Then feel the burn in your gut. It will make you strong like [an] ox.***

    Ah–I get it. That which does not destroy me must have missed.

  20. Jeff Loett said:

    My writing career has been as a playwright and I have had some very good success there. But, about four years ago, I got the wild hair to write a fantasy fiction novel and being the long-winded bard that I am, the thing turned out to be 450,000 words. Realizing that is a little long for a single book, I divided it up into three separate books of about 150,000 each. The individual books CANNOT stand on their own- it is a quest type story like Lord of the Rings so the final resolution does not occur until Book Three. I am ready to start sending out query letters to publishers/agents and after reading these comments, I am not sure what to do. Should I give the total length of the book as one long story or describe the story progression through each of the books individually. This books is very unique (they all are, aren’t they?) but it may be hard to describe the very protracted story line on a single page. Any advice?