This is a story of how not to write a trilogy.
It is a cautionary tale with a happy ending: my master plan to get a third book contract failed, but I sold the third book anyway.
When Penguin picked up my first novel, Daughter of the Sword, they were interested enough to ask for a second book in the series. I said of course I can write a second book, though at the time I knew no such thing. I only knew that I’d been pitching this book for seven or eight years, and after all those years of rejection, when they offered me a second book deal I was damn well going to take it.
So I had to write a proposal for a second book. This turned out to be much easier than expected. Daughter spans 700 years of Japanese history, so there’s lots of space to work with. Plus, I love these characters. Mariko is a 21st century cop, and it’s impossible to run out of cop stories. Daigoro is a young 16th century samurai, and as I told my agent in our very first conversation, I can write twenty or thirty books about him. He’s my Jack Aubrey.
So far, so good. But then I got ahead of myself.
I had a two-book deal on the table. The best way to lock down my third contract, I figured, was to construct a trilogy. I’d leave some important ends untied in book two, so that Penguin would have to buy book three to see how the story ended. Leaving readers with a cliffhanger ending is just good technique, right?
Maybe so, but publishers aren’t readers. It wasn’t until after I’d already sold Daughter of the Sword and its sequel, Year of the Demon, that I learned editors don’t necessarily lose sleep over dropping an author right in the middle of a series. They do it all the time. No matter how gripping your cliffhanger ending may be, they don’t have to care about what happens next; what they really care about—what they actually get paid to care about—is strong writing leading to strong sales. So the only thing that would get me a third book contract was a damn good first book and a damn good second book.
As promised, there’s a happy ending. I got my third book contract, not because I was oh-so-clever and left a few ends untied, but because readers really liked Daughter of the Sword and Year of the Demon. My novels aren’t on the bestseller list (yet, I like to tell myself) but their reviews are overwhelmingly positive.
So that’s how to write your trilogy: write two good books in a row, then promise a third.
My master plan earned me one particularly well-deserved review. So far my work has been well received at Publishers Weekly. They gave Daughter a starred review, and gave Demon a hearty thumbs up too, but the Demon review closed with this line: “Despite all the action, this middle volume feels incomplete, but all three stories promise to wrap up in gripping style.”
I had that one coming. Thanks a lot, master plan. On the positive side, I just turned in Disciple of the Wind, due out in April 2015. This one leaves no loose ends left untied.
Steve Bein (pronounced “Bine”) is a philosopher, photographer, traveler, translator, climber, diver, and award-winning author of science fiction and fantasy. His short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone, Writers of the Future, and in international translation. Daughter of the Sword, his first novel, was met with critical acclaim.
His webpage can be found at: http://www.philosofiction.com/
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