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  • Writer's pictureTessa Barron

What's the Rush? Why you Should Hold Off Publishing that First Book in Your Series

Updated: Jan 19

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Writing fantasy series is...well...hard. And writing a fantasy series well is harder. The road to series completion is filled with potholes that need to be avoided, and sometimes it becomes overwhelming, leading to burnout or throwing in the towel entirely.

I’ve worked with plenty of authors on their fantasy series, and unfortunately, not many have the stamina to see it through. It takes a special kind of writer to get it done. So, in this post, we will talk about some of the things I’ve seen and one way I think that all those obstacles could be avoided.

There are many pros to writing a fantasy series. Let’s face it, you have built a large, complex, and fantastical world, and an epic multi-book plot is probably just the right size to do it justice.

Fantasy readers LOVE a good series that they can sink their teeth into for a few years or more. Fans of Steven Erikson have stuck steadfast by his side since 1999 with his Malazan Book of the Fallen (Amazon affiliate link) series. However, as readily as a fan will stick by your series, they will shit all over it if it comes to disappoint them later on.

And can we blame them? Are you not betraying your fans by hooking them in on book one only to stick your ass in their faces on book 3, 4, 7, or 10? They have invested time and money into you, stuck by you when you offered them more....and then you passed on a stinker. For me, a stark example of this was Brian Staveley’s The Last Mortal Bond, the last novel in his Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series. Book one was something to get excited about! The characters and world were unique and interesting. The second book kept me invested and got me thinking. But the third.....ugh.

Needless to say, I’m not moving on to any of his other works.

Even if not totally disgusted by the end of the series, there are many examples where readers have complained about the quality of writing diving toward the last books. Joe Abercrombie’s First Law (Amazon affiliate link) series was this for me, but I have heard the same complaint about the final book in the Harry Potter series or the Farseer Trilogy, just to name a few.

Or a reader may not become disappointed but be left hanging altogether.

The most famous example of this is (naturally) A Song of Ice and Fire...I mean, come on. Georgie-boy is never going to finish that series, and we all know it. Not that it mattered a whole lot to me, because I became disenchanted by the 4th installment anyway, for a reason that also will be touched on in this post.

But all these problems stem naturally from the fact that by the end of a long series, the author is often exhausted, out of ideas, or doesn’t hold the same excitement for the story as they used to. A fantasy series is like a new lover. When it is new and fresh in your mind, it is exciting and full of ideas and forward momentum.

But when it is old, and the honeymoon stage is good and gone, it requires sacrifice and dedication to see it through to the end.

So how do we keep the newlywed mindset with a series that seems to go on and on and on until the day we die? (At least that’s what it feels like).

A solution might have something to do with a little bit of delayed gratification.

Complaints authors and clients tell me:
  1. I fell out of love—sometimes I even HATE this series.

  2. I’m stuck at book (insert). I don’t know where to take the story next.

  3. I wrote myself into a corner. There is a major plot hole in the book (insert), and I can’t figure out how to fix it.

  4. I need a break. I’ve been writing this series forever.

  5. I have a new idea, and I wanna start that instead.

What I hear:
  1. I’m no longer excited about this series. It turned into work.

  2. I’m just winging it. I didn’t know where this series was going when I started.

  3. I didn’t do enough planning.

  4. I’m burnt out.

  5. I’m a totally normal creative person.... :/

As for as I am concerned, all of these complaints are connected. And almost all of these issues stem in some way from...

The # 1 Mistake Fantasy Writers Make – Premature Publishing

We’re all guilty of being a little too eager to share our work with the world. Whether it’s a school assignment or the next great American novel, we’ve all been there. You just can’t wait to show everyone what you’ve created.

Writers are obsessed with the idea that we must get a book out as soon as possible. Like there is some life-meter that is running out slowly, and you will drop dead in the street if your next book isn’t out before the year is through. With series writers, the effect is amplified and not only will they drop dead, but everyone around them will kick the bucket too. Because series writers know that there are so many more on the horizon that still need to be written.

This always leads (and in all my days, I have never come across otherwise) to writers throwing together their first book in the series and sending it out to be published by whatever means they want. However, this quickly backs them into a corner because even if they have a gist of their series planned out, they will inevitably come across issues when starting the following book.

Turns out that you have written in a plot hole that now you can never go back and change. The only recourse you have is to change the direction you want your plot to go.

Another issue with publishing the first book before the others have been written (at least in first-draft form) is that you cannot tie it together as a whole (well, it makes it a lot harder to do).

A great series is filled with threads that connect bits of information from beginning to end. As a reader, this is the most satisfying part. Because it:

a) rewards the reader for paying attention and makes them feel special, and

b) it appears as if you knew what you were doing the whole time. They trust you all the way through; they are more willing to release themselves into your care and go along for the ride.

Yes, a book in a series should be able to stand on its own as a whole story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But for most fantasy series, this also means that it should be a cohesive whole as well, and it takes a lot of planning to do that successfully. I don’t care who you are.

But if you are thinking is stuck in write this, then publish, write that, then publish etc., you will make it incredibly hard for yourself because it's impossible to go back and change parts of the story retroactively. That can be a plotting disaster in most cases. You can only then write a book that is as ‘good as it can be considering,’ not a book that is as ‘good as it can be,’ and never ever will you write a flawless story.

So what does this mean, write the whole thing and THEN publish? Crazy, you say. Why nobody will see it for years. I can’t sit on this thing that long. But I need feedback and accolades!

But why not? Honestly, ask yourself. What will happen if you wait? So your career won’t start immediately? Will you not be considered a real ‘author’ for a few more years? Will you die? Will you not be able to feed your family?

Can we be honest for a minute...?

Hands up, those of you who are making a living wage off your books and do not need a day job or supplemental income?

No one? I thought so.

If building a reputation as a writer is your goal, why not wait until you can step out on your best foot. I’m not saying you can't be a successful writer by publishing first and asking questions later...I mean, plenty of famous authors have done it. But may I remind you that plenty of famous authors have also written deeply disappointing series?

If you are a new writer, not hampered by deadlines or economic pressure, then you have no excuse for putting that unnecessary pressure on yourself.

There is another reason why you might want to write that series all at once...because right now, in the beginning, you are still deeply in love with your own world and story. You are so excited you could scream. But as the years go by, 5, 10, 15, that excitement may very well wane and leave you with drudgery. I think this is the real reason so many series fail to keep our love and attention until the end because the reader is still excited, they still expect to be wowed. But that ended for the author a loooong time ago.

Especially if you set the bar high with the first few installments. But you’re tired. You no longer feel the love, and you just want to get it over with. That attitude is going to show in your work.

Worse yet, 10 years is a long time. And you are a creative person bursting with new ideas every second of the day. What happens when one comes along in a few years, a younger, prettier, and more exciting project than that one you are working on? Then your old played-out idea will look even worse to you, and your focus will be drawn elsewhere.

In this case, you may not even finish the one you started. Face it, George, we know that’s what happened there.

So yes. I am telling you to hold off on publishing that first book. No harm will come to you if you wait until the rest are at least past the first-draft stage or well, well outlined—having gone back and forth with a fine-toothed comb for possible future issues that may arise. Do all the heavy lifting of plotting, dialogue, and developing character arcs early in the process when you have the most energy to do it, then save the refining for when you are tired.

Not only will this result in a better overall story, but it will also leave you an extended amount of time between books to focus on prose and refining the details.

And when you are ready to show book 1 to the world, agents, publishers, and editors will be amazed because yours is so much cleaner than anything else they’ve seen, and the next is at the ready and won’t be a letdown.

A great fantasy series will attract the most loyal fans, but one that disappoints will be shit on to no end. We are a passionate bunch.



Tessa Barron is the Editor-in-Chief at Foul Fantasy Fiction and Bear Hill Publishing. She specializes in developmental editing and writes Fantasy and Science Fiction when she is able to find the time under the pen name Turi T. Armstrong.


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