For those of you starting on your writing journey—there are two realms of publishing. The ABA (the American Booksellers Association) and the CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association.) The ABA publishes what would be considered secular novels and the CBA publishes Christian or “inspirational” books. Publishers generally fall under one of these two categories.
CBA publishers like trilogies. And there is good reason for this. If you can hook a reader on one, they’ll likely buy the rest. There is an inherent marketing value to producing a series. I’ve not quite seen this trilogy trend in the ABA though there are beloved characters (James Patterson’s Alex Cross, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone to name a few) that monopolize more than a few books but are not quite designed as self-enclosed three-book sets.
When Proof was first contracted, it was proposed as a trilogy. The publisher didn’t like the first proposed sequels and asked for different plot lines in the subsequent titles, which I provided. Even after that, they still contracted only the first. In a twist and turn of God fingerprinted events, they ended up contracting the trilogy a few months after the initial offer.
However, having not ever written a trilogy, there are a few things I would do now when planning a series that I thought could benefit future trilogy authors.
- Each book stands alone but should be connected to the others: It’s nice for readers if they don’t have to read one book to understand the others but is also nice if certain characters/themes carry through all the books for those sticking with you. This can be challenging because a little information will have to be given (in a creative way) to readers to both clue them in to the previous story(ies) and also serve as a nice reminder to those picking up the next book who may have read the others—considering books release six to twelve months apart.
Timelines are important: I know—this should have been uber-obvious to me, right? But consider some things that can seriously mess up your timeline—like characters getting pregnant. You have to then backtrack to the time of conception and make sure all story plots support it. Add to that a hostage story (Poison) that deals with younger children that then need to be aged seven years, and a teen pregnancy (yes, I did all of this!) and it can be challenging to make sure all events line up. Graphing out the timeline is a seriously good idea. And then keep it to refer back to until the book is actually in print.
- Avoid absolute characterizations: In Proof, one character commented that another one never sweats (and it was a blazing hot day and he was in SWAT gear.) It was more to relay how calm the man was under pressure. Well, in Poison, my editor reminded me how often this character was now sweating and how I said in book #1 that he never did. It’s just like a test—never, all, and always are not good picks or preludes to character traits.
- Provide a circular moment for the reader: What is a circular moment? It’s something (an event, an emotion) that happens in the beginning that is revisited at the end of the novel that shows how the character has changed. For instance, in Proof, the lead detective, Nathan Long, carries a list of “unforgivables”—acts that he literally writes out that he can’t get over emotionally. There is some forgiveness for Nathan at the end of the first book but it ultimately doesn’t fully happen until the end of Peril, the third book in the series. So each book needs a moment like this as well as the series.
What about you? Do you have tips for planning a trilogy?