I’m not talking about your first novel. And I’m not talking about a book that you turn into a series after it’s written and been published. I’m talking about the first book that you write to launch your series.
You want to write a fantasy or science fiction series. Your idea spans several books. But you have to start with a single book. If you want your series to be a success, you have to draw readers into the series with the first book. And you have to satisfy those readers with that one book and leave them wanting more.
That sounds like a pretty big job for a single book. So, what does it take?
Well, to start with, you have to recognize that you have too much story to tell in a single book. You know that! That’s why you intend to launch the series.
Rule #1: Don’t try to fit the whole story into a single book.
Translation: Don’t even drop hints of everything in the first book.
Rule #2: Since you have an idea of how the story is going to unfold past the first book, do drop some hints (just not all of them).
Translation: Leave loose threads.
Rule #3: Don’t leave loose threads that you need to wrap up this story.
Translation: The ending of your first book should be the ending of a single story within the series of the stories. Each book deserves a real ending!!!
In order to tell your whole story you need to make that first book something that readers enjoy so much they’re willing to invest more in your work and in this series. It’s not an easy task and I’ve read far too many books that take short cuts, like ending that first book with a cliffhanger. When that happens, I don’t buy the second book no matter how intrigued I was by the beginning and middle of the book. If an author cannot or will not end the first book with a real ending, then the author cannot be trusted to end the series with a satisfying ending.
Case in point: The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan is an epic fantasy series. The first book of the series, The Eye of the World, starts by raising a question. Which of the three boys is destined to become the next great hero of the world? By the end of the book that question is answered when the character in question fights a major battle and wins, bringing about serious consequences. The answer to that question opens the door to more questions and more books. So, the first book has a real ending, and yet it leaves loose threads that pull us to the next book. These loose threads become more unraveled as you read your way further into the series, then, much later in the series, they start to ravel together in a surprising tapestry as the world-wide events collide, leading up to a dramatic finale that pulls almost everything together.
There are several reasons why The Wheel of Time series is such a powerful example:
- The story Robert Jordan intended to tell cannot be told with a satisfying conclusion unless all the books are written and read.
- Yet, the first book is an ensnaring story of its own that upholds the three rules given above.
- Robert Jordan’s beloved series became at-risk when the author got sick.
- Before Robert Jordan died, he ensured that his whole story could be told, even if he could not be the one to tell it.
- The torch was successfully passed to another writer who, with the help of Robert Jordan’s own support team, was able to fulfill the story.
Robert Jordan knew the importance of a satisfying ending for the first book and a satisfying ending for his series. He honored his readers by providing both, even when he wasn’t going to be there to see it himself. That’s a powerful example for those of us who are driven to tell a story that requires more than one book for its telling.
Now, to keep the link going between posts, there’s good news for those of us who aren’t quite up to Robert Jordan’s mark. If you do it right, you can use that first book (after you have some subsequent books available) as a stepping stone to your series. If you have enough confidence in your first book, and in the books that follow, you can even offer it for free! Yep, a first book makes an excellent bonus offering.