The Show Must Go On. Stay Tuned for the Unending Sequels…
You’re writing the novel you always wanted to write. You’ve studied grammar and usage, timelines and plot structure, character building and dialog. You’ve sharpened your imagination and you’re fresh from creative writing classes and popular writer’s workshops, and now you’re ready.
But before you lay out your story, flesh out your characters, and write your debut novel, keep one piece of very important information in mind: getting your fiction published is a business. Crafting the finest romance or thriller or dystopian fantasy that eerily resembles your college years is just the first step in the process.
Unless you are going to self-publish and spend the next few years trying to get readers to notice your book, you now need to get your opus into the hands of acquisitions editors at publishing companies. You will most likely need the help of professionals, a literary agency and an agent who has the ears of a number of well placed acquisitions editors in what remains of the traditional publishing world.
As you embark on your journey to secure an agent you must impress that agent with your credentials, the timeliness and marketability of your novel, and in many cases your platform (see the earlier post The Great American Novel – Noah had an ark, you need a platform.)
But to get your fiction work the consideration of agents and ultimately editors, there is something far more important you must plan and prepare for. You must be able to show that your main character(s) can go on forever, even after your death. The harsh reality of fiction publishing today is that publishers are committed to ‘more of the same.’ The newly published fiction author must become a brand. They must develop a loyal and hungry fan base that will want more of the same, and even if the author gets tired after volume 12 and stops, the publisher can carry on with ghost written ‘more of the same.’
The greatest example of this is James Patterson, who has something like 23 Alex Cross thrillers in print. Patterson couldn’t kill off Cross, his publisher wouldn’t let him, so he was clever enough to begin other series with other characters (Michael Bennet, The Women’s Murder Club, Private, and a few others) to carry on as more than a one-trick pony and employ his vivid imagination and talents.
While Patterson still lives and breathes, the post mortem publication of The Girl In The Spider’s Web, written by David Lagercrantz carries on the tales of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, characters created by Steig Larsson. Larsson’s untimely death could not stop the publication of the new thriller, which his publisher billed as “this much anticipated continuation to one of the best-loved crime series of the last decade.” Death be damned, the publisher decrees, we’ve got hot characters here and a big market. The Show Must Go On!
And so, dear new novelist, your book proposal should include your ideas for sequels, prequels and spin offs that can go on forever, and make arrangements in your will for the post mortem life of your characters.