I had my career mapped out before I sold the first book. I was going to write an open-ended series of stand-alone novels set in the world of Arhel, the magical land in which I set my first novel. I had sketchy outlines for about fifteen books. I would have had a lot of fun doing them.
I sold the first book and it did surprisingly well, winning me an award, getting me nominated for a couple of others, hitting the Locus Bestseller list for two months running (something of a feat for a first novel by a previously unpublished writer with no background in something like short fiction.) And it sold well on the stands, requiring a second printing in relatively short order. I sold the second book in the series, and it was a bit of a sophomore slump, but it was still a strong story. On the strength of the sales of the first book and the completion of the second book on time and in acceptable form, my publisher offered me a three-book contract.
And I said, "Fantastic. What do you want to see?"
And he said, "Anything but another Arhel novel."
And I said, "Oh. Okay, I guess. I have some ideas for other books."
That was the wrong answer. The right answer would have been, "I'm willing to open up new areas in Arhel. I'm willing to introduce new characters in Arhel. But I'm not willing to leave Arhel."
It usually takes at least five books to get a successful series established. I didn't know this. Authors who want to work in a series that they've established need to have five books on the shelves in that series before they start breaking out into unrelated books. They need to establish their reader base. I didn't know this either. You don't break a series that's starting strong after two books in order to write outside your series universe . . . and I didn't know this, either. I eventually wrote book three of that series, but it had been too long between books one and two, and the third book got lost.
I was young and dumb. Now I'm not. I have a series currently in progress with a new publisher. The series was strong enough that it sold to England and Germany,
Holly Lisle too. The first two books debuted at #1 on the Locus Bestseller list (a SF/Fantasy genre list.) Both have sold in decent numbers, both have been wonderfully reviewed. The third is finished, and it's the best book of the three. (Not yet in print as I write this, but completed and in the typesetting stage.) So, after three books, my editor wanted to buy another book from me. But she wanted to see something else -because she wanted to "rest" the series. This time I refused. I sold the fourth book in the series, and am writing it now. Will doing more books in this series allow it to find its audience and allow me to establish a solid foothold in the genre? I don't know. But this time I intend to find out.
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