Writing a Series vs a Single Book & Lit Agents

When I started writing my first serious book, I had the desire to write an epic story, one that would span multiple books. I did this without any thought or consideration to what would come after the writing was finished. I knew from the outset that I had a desire to see the books published but beyond that, I hadn’t invested any effort into understanding what that would entail. I knew self-publishing was an option but there was a hope to find a lit agent to pursue more traditional publishing routes.

It was only after I had completed much of my series The Ascension Legacy that I began researching how to submit works to lit agents and common requirements or considerations lit agents looked for in submissions. What my research revealed was eye-opening.

Firstly, there seemed to be a universal consensus that unless you were an established author with an agent or traditional publisher or you have achieved significant levels of sales with other existing self-published works that anything to be submitted to a lit agent for consideration needed to be complete. Lit agents are not interested in reviewing submissions for story ideas, incomplete single story manuscripts, or even complete manuscripts for an otherwise incomplete series. Whatever was to be submitted would need to be complete and ready for publication essentially.

Secondly, even though most lit agents apparently only entertain submissions for book series where the series is complete, it seems that those same lit agents don’t typically include a method for submitting an entire series for consideration. While the concept and status of the series would likely be included as part of the query letter or synopsis that many agents require as additional components of any submission, the assessment of any submission is seemingly only judged on the quality of the opening book or the first paragraphs/pages/chapters of the first book. Lit agents don’t typically weigh the merits of the full series as part of an assessment, only what they think will be the hook to sell the series to others. This means you may have an awesome series but a weak opening and that opening may cause agents to pass on the series as a whole.

Thirdly, in addition to the various formatting and accompanying document requirements that each agent has, agents want polished submissions. While a “diamond in the rough” may standout to someone, it seems that agents are looking for submissions that practically ready for print. Submitting a rough draft that still requires heavy editing before is is “print quality” will likely reduce your odds at attracting an agent. Many authors leverage the services of copy editors, development editors, structural editors, and/or other editing services to ensure the best design, flow, and content to make for a cohesive story with proper grammar and punctuation. If you are writing a series and the whole series needs to be “print ready” prior to submission to lit agents, understand that this will require an extensive amount of editing that can incur a substantial cost. Editing can cost between hundreds to thousands of dollars per book.

And it doesn’t matter how experienced you are as a writer, your level of skill or mastery in writing, or anything else. Practically every manuscript created can benefit from some form of editing. The likelihood that you will produce a perfect manuscript that requires zero editing is pretty low, like practically non-existent. At the same time, regardless of whether you choose to pitch your work to a lit agent or go straight for self-publishing, this editing will still be required. Only an author with a devil-may-care attitude would choose to self-publish a book without suitable and sufficient editing applied. I have seen books published by authors with this mentality and they do not make for quality products.

And finally, it would seem that it is tougher to land an agent when submitting a series than a single book. Perhaps this is due to hesitation to market an unknown author over the course of an extended period. What happens if the agent takes on the author and their series only to get the first book picked up by a publisher but then the book doesn’t sell? How does that agent serve the author to get the rest of the series published then? Perhaps it is agents are less willing to take the risk of a series from a new author in a genre that is crowded or in a genre that isn’t as popular at that time or is trending towards a decline in popularity that could indicate possible poor sales over the life of the series’s releases.

At the end of the day, it would be my recommendation to anyone looking to start their writing adventure to start with writing a single book, even if they have a more developed idea for a series of books. A single book will typically be easier to write than a multitude of interconnected books. A single book will typically be cheaper to have edited than a series of books. Research suggests that lit agents are more likely to consider a new author with one well developed book than a new author with a series of books. Not to mention that is a widely held belief that the more you write the better you get. By starting with a single book and working closely with editors to understand areas of improvement, by the time you start writing your series the belief is that you will be a better writer and more capable to construct a more compelling story with less effort that would be more marketable to publishers, lit agents, and most importantly readers.

Does that mean that I regret starting my adventure as a writer with an epic series? No, I do not. I do think that my writing and thought process improved between the times from when I typed my first sentence to when I typed my last in that series. But at the same time, I think similar progress would have been seen had I started with a single book first. I mean, this series is 6 books long. There was improvement throughout the series. I would have had to have written several single books to have achieved similar levels of progress in my writing capabilities before starting this series.

I do have other single book manuscripts that have been completed but they have not been subject to intense editing by a third-party to date. My focus has been on getting my series released and any funds for editing have been earmarked for completing that series before any other works. I understand now that I opted to take the more challenging path, both in writing and marketing, but that is the path I felt most capable of completing at that time.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t write a series of books or that only a fool would set out to write an elaborate series of books as their first endeavor, only that to do so likely presents more or bigger obstacles along the road from writing to publication. 

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