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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Go with one big, fat book, or a series of two or three?

Author Topic: Go with one big, fat book, or a series of two or three?
Member # 3622

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Robert Jordan has taken a few of the Wheel of Time books and broken them down into a couple smaller books. That leads me to wonder which is better?

My story has a lot of potential for two or three more books. However they will all be less than two hundred pages long each. Should I just lump them all into one, or keep them separated? I personally feel that they would be better as separate books, because each part of the story has a different feel than the others. Sure, it's all the same characters, and what is happening in their lives, but...I dunno.

One instance where the separation was good was in Magician: Apprentice, and Master. The same goes for the Mistress of the Empire series, too. They were each several hundred pages long though. Is less than two hundred pages too small for one stand-alone book?

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Member # 3673

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I think that decision should go to the publisher. Write it as one fat book and in your query mention the possibility of the possibility to break it down into a series.

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Member # 1957

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I would think that the big book would be a harder sell, especially if it is your first book. I would try to go with the word count requirements of the publisher you are going to send it to. Most that I have seen ask for around 80,000 to 100,000 words. That being said, write it the length that it needs to be and submit it.
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Robert Nowall
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Depends on how fat it is. If you've hit five hundred thousand words or more, you might want to find a couple of places with cliffhangers or conclusions at three or four points, revise around them, and split it up.

But I second the "putting it to the publisher" thought. Your future editor might have some suggestions for the mix...

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Member # 2442

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I don't imagine Jordan is the best example to use. I believe he's incapable of writing concisely, or even wrapping things up. But we've hashed that topic to death in other threads, and I digress.

There are two points of view regarding size of story. One, write what you need to write, and two, adjust your writing for the needs of publishing.

The reality of the writer is that you have to write your story, as it flows from your imagination, without concern for size. HOWEVER, if your story has grown long enough for three books you need to take a harsh look and ask yourself 'why?' Is it because it's become bloated with unnecessary scenes, and repetitive or irrelevant content?

The reality of the publisher is they often receive queries for three-part sagas, and the majority of the time those stories are multi-part because the author didn't do a proper job of editing. If you read agent and editor blogs, you will see they say any novel by a new/unpublished author that is over approximately 100,000 words is a red-flag warning to them. It takes a remarkably well-written story and a unique approach to convince them to take a longer book by an unknown author seriously.

The advice I've read on every single agent or editor blog is the same: Good writing sells. Good writing is all that counts.

My advice is to concentrate on your writing style, and don't worry about the length. If your story is long because you've not learned the skill of writing concisely, leaving out irrelevant details, or maintaining a pace that creates tension, it won't sell. If your story is long and every word counts, they'll work with you on it. Don't worry about length until you get to the point of editing the finished first draft. Worry about fine-tuning your writing style.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 05, 2006).]

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Member # 2136

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On the low end, however, are novels under about 65 or 70k unless you are writing YA. I'm not sure how many pages that works out to, but I suspect that if you have a choice of three books that are 70k each or one book of 200k, the publisher would go with the three book option.

Another reason trilogies are hard sells though is because as a new author you don't have a proven track record that says sales will be good for three full books. If your first book doesn't do really well, that means the sequels won't either. So publishers are often hesitant to commit to series books from new authors. They advise to write standalone novels first, then once you've built your name, you can branch out to series.

A compromise that many people end up doing is writing one standalone book with series potential. Is that an option you could consider?

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Member # 213

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Jordan can write concise fiction and wrap up a story, he just doesn't want to do that with The Wheel of Time (I believe that the concept of an infinite story is not an accidental part of his underlying milieu creation). People sometimes forget that Robert Jordan was an established writer for decades before he started writing those books.

Which basically comes down to saying, "wait till you're Robert Jordan before you start trying to write Wheel of Time books"

However, this has nothing to do with the issue of dividing a novel into one or more "books". You should do what your story demands. I can't advise you to do anything else.

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Rommel Fenrir Wolf II
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Do what ye want when ye write yer book(s). Myself I am writing my story in a series of books. I am cutting them down into 7 books. The first 2 are with in a few years of each other and the third to the fifth are many years apart and the 6th and 7th are even father apart.
To I it all is up to you. Do what fits yer time line for yer story. Or ye can have several books and if they do well republish it as one long book with however many parts like a box set but as one book.
Ye can also re work it so that it would make since as one book. Donít worry about the publisher its yer book donít let them bring ye down when it comes to the length of yer story. Remember its yer book not theirs.
Ye can also ask people who have read yer book in the stage where it stands now to see what they suggest. Thatís what I am doing with my own.

Hope I have been of some help.

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What Robert Jordan did to his first couple of books has nothing to do with how it's written. Splitting them in half was done to make them more palatable for the YA market, but the complete books had been around for over a decade beforehand. And he's not the only one to have done that; Terry Brooks split The Sword of Shannara into three parts that was meant to be sold on the YA shelves, and that book's been around over twenty years before that happened.

The installments were never meant to be separate stories; it's much like what happened to Lord of the Rings, except that LotR never had a chance to be published whole first.

That quibble aside, I can't add anything to what has already been said. Just write what's needed and worry about the rest later.

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Member # 3293

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I remember George R.R. Martin had to cut up A Feast for Crows because his publisher wouldn't print something that big. According to GRRM, the biggest problem was translation into different laguages. A 1200 pages of manuscript (~600-750 pages in print in the US) could end up being 2-3 volumes in other languages after translation.

That and publishers LOVE serials, because there is big money in fantasy serials. Look at GRRMs A Song of Ice and Fire. When it first came out it had a very small following. Word spread and as the series continued to be released it gained followers. When book 4 came out it was #1 on the NY list for a few weeks, and the next one promises to do the same. So from a sales standpoint it would be wise to break it up ... IF the story can be logically broken up that is.

Just my $0.02.


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Member # 3261

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I have the same issue. I decided to find a natural breaking point for it because, based on talking to agents, no one was going to seriously consider a query for a 200K + novel from a writer without a track record.

In fact, at a recent writing workshop with 14 agents, all of them rolled thier eyes at the idea of a 900 page novel.

There are execptions, of course, Jacquiline Carey's Kushiel series is the one that comes to mind. All three books were over 800 pages long. Book 4, which starts a new series,is over 900 pages too.

While ideally the story takes as many pages as it needs, you have to think about getting out of slush. If the agent/ publisher gets to the end and says " that was abrupt" you can probably go back and add but you have to get them to consider picking it up.

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Going beyond the issue of "Will the publisher accept this?" in regards to huge novels is the matter of physical size. Jean Auel is a perfect example.

Her last book, "Shelters of Stone" was so immense that I physically could not hold it for any length of time. It made my hands ache after only a minute or two. I couldn't find any comfortable position to hold it in. It wouldn't fit in any of my book reading holders. Looking it up now on Amazon, I see references that say it is 750 pages and has a shipping weight of 13.9 ounces. Good grief.

I would have suffered through it, had the author done a good job. The reality is this book is the victim of the author's success. A new author would have had an editor that would have demanded, rightly so, that she trim all the long, tedious and repetitive passages.

Just because a publisher allows an overly large book doesn't make it a good thing.

[This message has been edited by Elan (edited November 06, 2006).]

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Robert Nowall
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I should add that, also, a really thick bodybuilder-model novel sometimes looks like the writer had literary elephantisis---an inability to stop or to make things concise and pointed. If you're writing a thousand pages of novel, you should ask yourself, "Could I have gotten my message across in five hundred pages? How about two hundred? Is every word there because it needs to be?" Being concise sometimes means cutting. Even fifty pages off it might improve things. (I plan to cut the novel I'm working on, two-hundred-plus pages and counting, if I can ever bring it to a conclusion, possibly around the thousand-page mark.)
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