Saturday, October 14, 2006

The worst things about a Trilogy

From a reader's point of view, surely the worst thing must be buying Book 1 and realising that you can't get Book 2 right away, and that the finale is not going to available for as long as a year or two. You have to pause one third of the way through, and again before the end. You forget what happened earlier. You curse and wait, sometimes longer than normal, as a writer struggles with the ending.

If you buy them as they come out but don't read them until you have Book 3, well you may find you hate Book 1 and have bought two more books you will never read!

Even if you don't come across Book 1 until years after it was published and decide to try it then, you have to be careful. You may never find Books 2 & 3 - they are out of print.

For the trilogy writer, the problem is more profound.

The recent Man-Booker prize winner is supposed to have taken eight years to write the winning novel. Look at any mainstream book of real calibre, and you will probably find the author spent at least 2-3 years writing it. They took their time. They crafted every sentence with care. They paused and took time out to stand back, to let things gel before proceeding to the next rewrite.

Most of us trilogy writers don't get that chance. The public wants the next one NOW. The publisher wants it as soon as you can deliver. We have a much more complex story to write and we have to do it one third the time. Because we write fantasy, we often get told our work is inferior by people who haven't even read it. Possibly they are sometimes right - but on quite different grounds. We are obliged to write much quicker, with less time to craft.

It's a wonder we aren't all on Prozac.

7 comments:

Simon Haynes said...

I was lucky with my first three books - I'd written them all by the time a publisher expressed any interest, and it was 'only' a case of 18 months work to bring them up to scratch. The first two came out six months apart while the third has a gap of 10 months.

They're only series books, though, not a trilogy. I intend to get the first draft of book four out of the way next month, thanks to Nanowrimo (Mine are 80,000 words per title, and I have 40k already.)

At the moment I'm just writing on spec - my contract was for three books, now delivered, and so it'll be up to my agent to find a home for any others. However, I'm not sitting on my hands while he's trying to get people interested, and if I have one or two more manuscripts in the bag by then I'll be looking a lot better than if I only have a notebook with a few ideas in.

Kendall said...

Not even close, Glenda. ;-) Here's the worst:

I loved a stand-alone SF novel by a new (to me) author. I bought their stand-alone first book. Their upcoming series sounded cool, so I bought book 1 when it came out. (Support the author! Help sales numbers! Don't get burned again!). I finally read their first book & loved it, and started that book 1 of trilogy...only to discover, after 50 pages, that there won't be a book 2 or 3. ;-( (In fairness, Syne Mitchell said she tied most things up in book 1, so perhaps it doesn't count for this purpose. I think it counts, but I stayed out of the semantic discussion of what a trilogy is.)

Second0 worst would be if 2 books came out and then the publisher dropped the trilogy/series.

I think what you describe is a distant third worst, but I think I have more patience than most and I'm used to how it works (isn't everyone? ;-). Del Rey & Naomi Novik are exceptions to the spaced apart releases; they released books 1, 2, & 3 a month apart each in the U.S. I hope it worked out well for them.

I've never planned to wait till all three books come out before starting to read. I have read book 1, bought book 2, not gotten to it, and bought book 3 based on confidence in book 1.

But unless it was a favorite author, I doubt I'd buy more than one book in a series without even reading the first. I've probably done it once; there's always that pesky exception.... ;-)

bibliobibuli said...

actually kiran desai probably could have split her book into three volumes - there's so much story there!

Glenda Larke said...

Simon, I'm jealous. Sf writers have it better when it comes to length and series.

Kendall, you mean they advertised the book as a trilogy and then, after publication, announced there weren't going to be any more? Weird. And not playing fair with readers.

I do know of a NZ fantasy author who abandoned his trilogy after publication had started. He'd decided to do something else and just walked away. He found it easy because the publisher had only been signing him up for one book at a time...

But where's the responsibility to the reader?

I am looking forward to reading the Desai book, Sharon. Sounds like a great read. When i have this darn tome of my finished.....grr

Kendall said...

Yeah...the publisher cited lackluster sales. ;-( Apparently book 1 was the second of a 2-book contract, so I guess they had no contractual obligation to continue when sales weren't good enough. (Ironically, the editor has suggested the author do a trilogy! D'oh....)

ink paw prints said...

was thinking about the prize thing, and I think that the true prize would be being able to say that "[x] number of people read & enjoy my books, and slowly but surely other people are buying them and then buying more. I have a growing career as a writer."

Cos after all, most prize winning authors seem to vanish.

Glenda Larke said...

It must be tough to win a major prize early in your career. What do you do for an encore?