For a fantasy writer the word trilogy has a sacred sound to it. The Lord of the Rings is a trilogy. The KingKiller Chronicle, The Earthsea Cycle, The Magicians, and Mistborn to name a few others. For so many years a trilogy was the ultimate goal. Now many series go well beyond three, but there’s still something magical to fans of fantasy. If a publisher grants you a trilogy or any series, it’s a badge of confidence and a mark of success. They believe the writer can take the same characters through a number of books and continue to provide excitement and escalation of plot.
Writing An Epic Fantasy
So how can you get that ultimate prize? And how do you pull it off when you do?
When I wrote GRUDGING, it was my fifth book. One of my other epic fantasy got picked up by a small press. My fourth book won my agent. But GRUDGING was different. Bigger. Bigger stakes with an entire city under siege by an enemy army. Bigger world with three separate and distinct cultures operating in one story. There’s a desert Spanish-inspired culture with their focus on a Catholic-like religion and very centered on honor, suddenly surrounded and trapped behind their walls. An antisocial group of witches, living in the swamp, and focused on their magic. And the conquest-driven enemy, quick to kill and quicker to appease their war-like god.
The North has invaded, bringing a cruel religion and no mercy. The ciudades-estados who have stood in their way have been razed to nothing, and now the horde is before the gates of Colina Hermosa…demanding blood.
On a mission of desperation, a small group escapes the besieged city in search of the one thing that might stem the tide of Northerners: the witches of the southern swamps.
The Women of the Song.
But when tragedy strikes their negotiations, all that is left is a single untried knight and a witch who has never given voice to her power. And time is running out.
A lyrical tale of honor and magic, Grudging is the opening salvo in the Book of Saints trilogy.
GRUDGING also ended up featuring four point of view characters. A fifth got cut in the editing. That’s four separate story lines and character arcs to build and make sure come around to meet at the ending. Not the easiest task, but for sure a fun challenge.
Selling the First Book
My agent sent GRUDGING out on submission in February to several publishers who specialize in science fiction and fantasy. A few months later, I got a call from her. An editor wanted to talk. We weren’t sure what about, figuring it could either be 1. an offer, 2. a chance to feel me out, or 3. a revise and resubmit. There wasn’t much I could do to prepare for the first or third option, but I wanted to be ready in case it was the second. After I settled down from happy dancing all over the house, I begin to think. What did I want to able to talk about during that call?
Sequels of course! I needed to flesh out some ideas for sequels to mention to the editor. Not so easily done.
As a writer, I’m a total pantser. I don’t use an outline. I have only a vague idea of a middle part of a story, and usually have no plans for the ending. Somehow starting with a few plot ideas, some characters, and an opening for a book tends to work out for me. But if I don’t plot out the book I’m writing, I really have few thoughts for going further. When I finish one story, I take a few months off and the start something totally new. I’ve never written a sequel before.
When you’re not sure a book is going to sell, that’s the safe way to proceed. You can’t write a second book, until you’re sure someone wants it. Not unless you have endless free time for writing. Most writers–me–have day jobs, they have to use their writing time wisely. It’s the sad truth no matter how much you love your characters.
With GRUDGING only out on submission a few months, I hadn’t let myself think beyond it. I’d just managed to move on with inventing new characters for a new story. (Switching stories is kind of like a bad breakup. When you finish a book, you need a cooling off time before you start inventing new characters because you’re still hung up on the old ones.) Suddenly with this call, I had to switch gears and go back to thinking about Ramiro and Claire and all the other point of view characters from GRUDGING.
Pitching A Sequel or Series
The good thing is to market a sequel you don’t need a full three to five page synopsis. All you need is a few paragraphs. Despite having a stand-alone ending for GRUDGING, I’d left some loopholes. I did already have the large central plot obstacle picked out, so I began to envision smaller obstacles for each of the point of view characters. I looked at what mattered to each character and worked out how I could take that away from them. The heart/conflict of a good story is making your characters suffer. Then I wrote up a sentence for each character showing how I would escalate their character arc in relation to the larger plot obstacle.
I also looked at the three cultures and picked out the one the reader would know the least about. Luckily for me, there was an easy way to make the second book spend more time in this culture. Because people might read sequels for the returning characters, but they want to see something new. Moving the story toward the least-known society gives me an opportunity to add that novelty.
So my pitch for book two had a clearly stated overall conflict that affected everyone and smaller individual problems to vex each character. That would carry me through writing the first third of the sequel. But I wanted a trilogy and the second book needed an ending. It didn’t matter whether it would be stand alone or open ended at this point, but I had to escalate more.
I brainstormed with what happened in the finished book and looked for something that could make the carry-forward problem larger. It didn’t take me long to invent something huge. (The writer brain can be truly scary.) That further escalation of plot also led me to a series title: Birth of Saints.
The pitch for book three was even shorter and pretty vague. Publishers just need to know you have a direction and main idea. It was just six short sentences: a recap of the main obstacle and some either-the-character-does-this or they-do-that sentences.
When the editor called, it was option two a feel-out-the-author call. We talked about sequels for all of two minutes, then the editor wanted to tell me about his imprint. At the end of the call, the editor said they’d run some numbers and let us know within a week. That’s when I asked if I could send over my nicely prepared pitch for the sequels.
When the deal memo came it was for three books! Not only that but Harper Voyager Impulse liked my titles and the series title. I got to keep them. Without seeing the contract, I got started on writing, and thanks to that pitch blurb, I had plenty of ideas for conflict and to get my characters into lots of action from the first chapter. I really think being prepared and sending that pitch had everything to do with getting multiple books.
I’m fifty percent done with the next book FAITHFUL and though still a pantser, I love having a direction to head and knowing what the ending will involve. Though of course, with sequels, there’s plenty of room for surprises.
her hubby and two teenagers. Besides working with special needs children by
day, she writes all sorts of fantasy, giving her imagination free range. She is
a co-host of the yearly query contests Query Kombat, Nightmare on Query Street,
New Agent, PitchSlam, and Sun versus Snow. Her Birth of Saints Series from
Harper Voyager starts with GRUDGING
on November 17, 2015. Her epic fantasy, KINDAR’S
CURE, was published by Divertir Publishing. She’s represented by Sarah
Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary.
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