Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And now, some actual content

But first, an apology that was meant to go in the World Fantasy post, and never happened because it didn't get written.

Someone, one nice person, did indeed call me when I was in Austin. She (and I could tell from the voice that it was a woman) left me a voicemail message with her phone number. I couldn't understand the message because it was garbled, although I listened to it multiple times. Because the caller happened to call while I was on my (rescheduled) flight from Newark to Austin, my phone was turned off, and so it didn't register the phone number in its list of received calls. To my chagrin, I have no idea why it doesn't do this, although this is likely due to the fact that it is a Motorola phone, and I've really only had LG ones before. I've had the phone since July and haven't yet read the user manual due to sheer laziness... I'm still hopelessly trying to figure out how to activate my speed dial.

Anyway, dear-anonymous-caller-out-there, I am very sorry that I didn't return your call. I had no phone number and couldn't understand your message. =( But thank you for being kind enough to call!

And now, as the subject says, some actual blog-question answering content! I'm going through the blog's Gmail account in reverse chronological order, for those that are interested.

First question:

Dear Jenny,

What is more marketable these days for fantasy and science fiction - series or trilogies?

Kimberley in Alaska

Personally, I think trilogies are more marketable in general, but only because I can do the following. Say you've written me a great book about elves. I love your book. The editor I send it to loves your book. The publishing house wants to buy your book. Everything looks rosy! Then the editor we're doing the deal with calls me up one day and says, "Jenny, we love Kim's book. Does she have more? I'm thinking we'll make it a three-book deal." At which point, I call Kim, we have a little chat about making that book about elves into a trilogy, and voila, she whips up some material for me to e-mail off to the editor. The editor loves it, the publishing house loves it, and there we go, a contract for three books. (This is an idealized picture, by the way.)

The reasons why three is often the magic number in terms of series' are many and varied. From the pure publishing perspective, NO ONE is going to offer a new author a book deal for anything more than three books. It may occasionally happen, but it's really a statistical anomaly. You're an unknown quantity, even if your book is great, and when they make you an offer, they have to put their money where their mouth is. Simply put, more than three books is too great a financial risk to take. Many new authors don't get three-book deals on their first go; most will probably be given a two-book deal, if the agent is persuasive enough, and they love your writing enough. Some will only be given a one-book deal (with an option clause, of course).

This is something that you should be aware of, if you've planned out the next Harry Potter or GRRM saga. Structurally, it's better to make your masterpiece into a trilogy or a duology, since you're not going to get the book contract for more than that. Also, be aware of the fact that if you have an eight book series planned, and your first two books sell badly, they're not going to give you a publishing contract for the next six books. I have an online writing friend whose first two books sold decently, but didn't have spectacular sales numbers behind them. Her editor decided not to pick up her option book, which is the last one in her trilogy, based on the sales numbers. So it's not going to get published--at least not for the forseeable future. That sucks, and really, you'd like to avoid that happening. And trust me, it happens all the time.

Second (and last before bed) question:

Hi, Jenny:

I have a question that is unlikely to be of interest to anyone, but I don't know how to find an answer, so I'm running it past you.

Keeping it short: I had book "A" tentatively placed with an agent we can call Joe. "Joe" knew I was also writing book "B." Thinking book B might be Hollywood material he set up a conference call with Hollywood rights person "Janet." We all had a nice chat and agreed to talk again once I'd written book B.

Janet is independent, not an employee of Joe's. I was not under contract with Joe and, as it happened, we parted ways because I was unhappy with his approach to book A.

Now I'm finishing book B and will probably have both B and A placed with a new lit agent.

My question is this: can I contact Janet the Hollywood person directly about B? Is it ethical? Going beyond that, is it just uncool? I don't want to behave badly.


Well, this is actually a quite simple one to answer.

Yes, you can contact Janet directly about B, especially since she expressed some interest about it. There's absolutely nothing unethical about it; you should think of it as valuable networking that happened through Joe; you're not obligated to him at all because you were never under contract with him representing you. An even better thing to do, however, is to have your new literary agent contact Janet, since they'll be able to speak the same language. It's also part of your new agent's job to help you out with the film rights for your books. And don't worry, it's not uncool at all. =)

Coming later today: kitten pictures!


katiesandwich said...

Thanks for the information about trilogies and series! This is good to know.

December Quinn said...

Man, that sucks for your friend.

So, then, would you encourage a writer planning a series (i.e. has story ideas which would take the series into six or seven books--all stand-alones, but with an overriding story arc) to come up with something for book 3 which would give the series a definite ending, just in case?

cm allison said...

I also have a triology in the works, each will stand alone however. But as a (VERY)new author, totally unpublished, is it of benefit to mention in my queries that the book I'm querying on is part of a triology or not? (And have a fourth book with a totally different story plotting itself in my head as I write this.)

Jenny Rappaport said...

december quinn, I'd definitely try to find a stopping point at around book 3; it's going to make the series read better as a whole.

cm allison, you can definitely mention in your query letter that the novel you're querying about is the first of a trilogy. It won't hurt you.

katiesandwich said...

It's amazing how different people in the publishing industry view different things. I read somewhere that a first-time author would be better off NOT to write that the book is the first in a trilogy in the query letter. Guess I'll write that mine's a trilogy book in my query to you and not write it in other query letters.

Jodi said...

Jenny, I'm with Sprint, and I can't get phone numbers or notifications of calls I missed while my phone was off, either. I think it's simply because the phone isn't on to log the call. *shrug*

Does your voice mail have a thing where it will read the phone number to you? Sprint has that...unless you turn it off. :S

"Her editor decided not to pick up her option book, which is the last one in her trilogy, based on the sales numbers."

This makes me sad. I've seen a few like this before -- not knowing the author, just looking for their last book on the shelves... and no. :(

But that does make a good case for keeping your first masterpiece in as few volumes as possible.

December Quinn said...

december quinn, I'd definitely try to find a stopping point at around book 3; it's going to make the series read better as a whole.

Thanks so much, Jenny. I will definitely do that (keeping fingers crossed, of course, that the first book even gets picked up anywhere! Think positive...)

ksgreer said...

heh, that was me!

Your phone the first time never beeped, and when I called back, it beeped and seemed rather...loud, if you know what I mean. But since it didn't disconnect, I thought it went through. Whoops!

I didn't try again, because I figured you were probably quite busy or had found someone to show you around -- I just know what it's like to take a business trip into a town but never get to "see" anything.

You did get to see at least some of Austin, right? ;-)

kiwiauthor said...

Not sure that it really matters if you write a series or a trilogy; if the first book of either doesn't sell well, the publishing house you're with is going to drop you fast—as you point out, Jenny.

What I have been hearing around the place for some time now is that first time authors (at least in epic fantasy) are better off putting their time and effort into stand alone projects. Have a go at a trilogy or series once you have a few one-offs under your belt.

What do you think, Jenny?

Jack Roberts, Annabelle's scribe said...

Thank you for this information Jenny.

It’s kind of scary for me because my over all story arch is a thirteen book saga.
It shows three hundred years of world history through the eyes of vampire children so it would be hard to cram that all in to three books.
I suppose I shouldn’t concern myself though. The first one is a stand-alone story and all the others are planned to be. All thirteen would hook together into a bigger story but each one would have it’s own proper conclusion.
I’ll just keep hoping I get the first one published. If people like it, then each book will have to stand on it’s own.

M. Takhallus. said...

annabelle's scribe:

A single title is a one night stand. A series is like a marriage: the publisher has to know you can deliver on time, on spec, no b.s., no excuses. Do you have proof that you can do 13 books? More to the point, can you do 13 books?

A trilogy can be just one long book -- like LOTR. But if you extend out beyond that you start running into the structural differences that define a series. Series have their own issues -- backstory that starts accumulating like barnacles, the fact that characters can't have much of an arc, the out-of-control proliferation of characters and subplots (see George R.R. Martin).

Series come naturally to some people, but it's easy to see why publishers are dubious.