First Novel

by Mark Anthony
(United Kingdom)

Dear Glen,

I am currently in the very, very early stages of my first fantasy novel based on Atlantis. I am still in the stage of creating characters, plot, etc.

However, after some reading about Atlantis (mainly from Plato) a pool of potential characters and stories developed, and I first thought about doing a sort of a series of books. But, I became immediately hesitant as first novels don't usually sell very well, and I don't want to write a series knowing that the first novel may not be up to scratch, as it were.

Would you advise just staying with one novel for the time being?

Answer: Yours is actually a question that comes up a lot. Here's my take...

Your goal should be to write one great book first.

If you do that, if you're persistent, and if luck is on your side, you may get an agent and/or publisher interested enough to offer you a contract.

At that point, or perhaps once it's clear your first book will sell well, the publisher may want to know if you have ideas for a sequel. If they anticipate big sales, they may offer you a two-book deal to turn your story into a trilogy.

When that happens, it can be very helpful if you have already fleshed out some ideas for sequels. Ideally, you would have an outline that included plot and character arcs that would cover the entire series. Or you could just decide to make the series more episodic (like in many mystery series). Either way, your main character had better not have changed significantly and resolved all his issues by the end of the first book, because you will need his inner conflict to drive him throughout the series.

If you haven't done any series planning in advance, it can be daunting to get a multi-book deal. You may feel your character's story has been fully told in the first book, the plot is completely resolved, and there is just nowhere to go in a sequel. Also, you may have deadlines on the second and third books (which you didn't have when writing your first), so you can't take as much time to plot.

This is why some sequels are not as good as the first book. As a reader, you can often tell that the author just didn't know what else to do with the characters, so they made up a mediocre plot on the fly. (Maybe they should have turned down the multi-book contract, but as writers they needed the money.)

Having some advance series planning can help you avoid this problem.

On the other hand, there is no point in writing three complete manuscripts until you have sold the first one. If the first book doesn't sell, you will have wasted a lot of time on the sequels which aren't going to sell either. You would be better off writing other standalone books or the first book of a different series.

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