How Do I Know Where My Book Begins and Ends?
Our readers are often curious about the process of writing and publishing books, and we’re happy to provide access to the experts. In the sixth post of our Publishing U series, novelist Leigh Bardugo and agent Joanna Volpe shine light on a common quandary faced by first-time authors.
Joanna Volpe: If you’re writing a series, it’s wise to plan things out. But planning things out isn’t always productive or possible for a debut author. If you ask an author what their plan was after they sold their first book, most will say something along the lines of “I just wanted someone to like it enough to publish it—I didn’t think past that point!”
For the majority of writers, the first book they sell isn’t the first one they’ve written by a long shot. And one of the things they learn with each and every piece they write is that no matter how much you plan and write and craft, the book is not guaranteed to land a publishing deal. So how can one plan for a trilogy or series when the odds seem stacked against it happening at all?
Unfortunately there’s no secret formula to figuring this out. In fact, the only answer I can give is a little old-fashioned, but in my opinion there’s no better way: Write the best book you can, be open-minded about the possibilities, and start submitting your work.
Once you’ve found your advocate and champion, you aren’t
alone in figuring out where your book begins and ends!
When I find a project I love in the slush pile, the first thing I do is set a call with the author. And it’s on this call that we discuss what those “possibilities” are for the story; this includes its series potential. Most agents will have a similar conversation with hopeful clients. And editors operate in a similar way, too. Which means that once you’ve found your advocate and champion, you aren’t alone in figuring out where your book begins and ends! But you have to put your work out there by submitting first.
This is almost exactly how things happened when I signed Leigh.
Leigh Bardugo: When I started writing Shadow and Bone (2012), my only goal was to finish the book. I had no thoughts of a trilogy. But about halfway through that first draft, I began to think of a larger arc for the story and to take notes for a potential second and third book. At the time, the idea that anyone would want to buy one book from me—let alone three—seemed pretty farfetched. When Jo and I first talked on the phone and she offered me representation, I was relieved to hear her say that Shadow and Bone felt like the start to a trilogy.
We went out to publishers with the manuscript and when we started getting offers, Jo asked that I work up synopses for books two and three. I went into a writing frenzy, trying to turn my messy notes into proper outlines. The end result was rough, but it was clear I had enough story to carry the series and that I knew where the trilogy would end up.
Sometimes I just have to scribble “Here there be dragons”
and jump off the edge of the known world.
A month later, I was in upstate New York with a lot of downtime that I spent going on long hikes through the snow with my headphones on, listening to the same songs over and over and reworking those synopses in my head. I changed a lot—characters that I’d intended to kill survived, a second POV was eliminated, and some major plot points shifted, but the ending to the trilogy always remained the same, even down to the dialogue.
To be honest, I think I was a little too rigid in my thinking when I dug into the trilogy. I clung so tightly to those outlines that, when I was writing the second book, at one point I looked up and realized the battle scene I was working on had exploded into nearly a hundred pages. The book had changed in the course of its writing, but I was still holding to the original outline and trying to squeeze all of the old ideas in. So I cut the battle in half and ended up moving a lot of those major plot developments to the middle of the final book in the trilogy.
As an author, I feel I’m always walking that line. I need the map to know where I’m going, but sometimes I just have to scribble “Here there be dragons” and jump off the edge of the known world.
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Leigh Bardugo is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, 2012; Siege and Storm, 2013; Ruin and Rising, 2014) and the upcoming Six of Crows (Fall 2015). She lives in Los Angeles.
Joanna Volpe is a literary agent and president of New Leaf Literary & Media. She represents everything from children’s picture books to adult fiction and non-fiction, and has a particular penchant for intelligent dark fantasy.