Coming up: new fantasy trilogy

So, I’ve recently decided to take a really long fantasy novel that’s been sitting here for quite some time, cut it into pieces, and self-publish it. It’s a portal fantasy, more or less, with a tremendously important backstory. You can think of it as a story that asks the questions, “And after the hugely important quest has been achieved, what then? What if destroying the Dark Lord was seriously traumatic? Where do you go from there?” I basically took a big epic fantasy and put the whole thing in the backstory and then moved on from that point.

This is an interesting story to me because I was trying to do several things I haven’t done in other novels. One of the most important influences was Dorothy Dunnett, because I was deliberately trying to do something unusual that Dunnett pulled off perfectly: separate the roles of the pov character and the protagonist. The pov is a person from our world, but the protagonist — the person who drives the action — is not that person and never takes the pov.

I worked and reworked this story several times … I remember referring to it as The Neverending Revision From Hell for a while … but it’s been finished for a long time. So, now that I am seriously trying to increase sales and income from self-published work, this seems like a good time to bring it out. That won’t be tomorrow. I need to do a fair bit of tinkering to get it ready. I’m thinking early next year.

Stuff I need to do to complete this project:

a) Cut it up. That part is done. I have chosen to break this story into a prequel novella that will be about 150 pages followed by two novels that will each be about 350 pages. The novella takes place in our world, then there is a natural breaking point as we leap forward 16 years, then the story picks up just as we move through the portal and into the secondary world.

There are a lot of benefits to breaking off that novella. Not only is that a natural breaking point, but the tone shifts a fair bit. The novella is almost more literary than fantasy. The rest of the story is more fantasy than literary. That is the only natural break. Setting that part aside lets me cut the rest into two average-sized novels.

b) Write new transitions. Now that I have the story cut into pieces, I have to write an introductory scene that helps guide the reader from the novella into the first book and both ending and introductory scenes that help move from the first book into the second.

Moving from the prequel into the first book will be challenging. I want to make it at least possible for a reader to get into the first book without reading the prequel (though that will not be an ideal way to approach this story).

The transition from the first book to the second will be much less challenging. This is because the novella resolves, but (sorry) the first book will not resolve. That’s going to just inevitably involve some sort of cliffhanger. Given that there will be a cliffhanger, there will not need to be much of a transition, as readers will either go immediately to the second book or they won’t, but they’re not likely to pause in the middle.

If you hate cliffhangers (and doesn’t everyone?), that shouldn’t matter too much, as that I will bring all three works out on the same exact day, so it won’t be like anyone has to wait to find out what happens next.

c) Proofreading. This is a story I have been over and over and OVER. Nevertheless, I expect there are some typos in the manuscript. I will, of course, be grateful if some of you are willing to do a proofread in return for getting an early look at this story.

d) Titles. Right now, the working titles are Tenai, Talasayan, and Nolas-Kuomon. These names will not do. One-word weird names are far too much like the Tuyo series. Even with an entirely different cover style, I think I had better come up with better titles that much more clearly indicate that this is a different and self-contained series. (Aargh.)


Prequel, Book I, and Book II?

Book I, Book II, and Book III?

If I go with the first option, then how do I make it clear that really, the reader should read the prequel, that it changes the entire reading experience if you skip it? I’m afraid if I indicate in any way that this is a prologue or a prequel, readers will often be inclined to skip it. But if I call it Book I, then it’s really short to be treated as the first actual book.

Thoughts on this would be (very) welcome.

e) Covers. I would prefer the novella cover have a literary/fantasy vibe and the other two a fantasy/literary vibe, but they all need to look like they belong to one series. This is something I’m thinking about. I really do not know what direction to steer a cover artist. I have an idea about the novella, but I’m not entirely sure how to do the fantasy element. Maybe a sword somewhere.

I am not remotely sure what to do about the other two. I certainly do not need to contact an artist about these covers until I have titles, but still, hmm.


Stuff that I am doing right now that is not this:

I am actually sort of thinking I might finish the third Tuyo book, TARASHANA, or come close to finishing it, this weekend. We’re not doing much for Thanksgiving. If the weather is terrible, I won’t be doing much with the dogs either. (If the weather is nice, we’ll head for the park / go out for long walks / I really need to do some training with the youngsters / every one of the dogs could really use a bath and thorough brushing).

I hardly know what kind of weather to wish for. If I write 20 pages a day for four days, that might be just about enough to finish it. That will, btw, bring it to about 600 pages. I will probably be doing some trimming and tightening before I ask anyone to read it, but a couple of you may get that request yet this this year. No rush for this either, as I will not bring this book out this year regardless.

I will need a cover for that, too. It’ll need an animal on the cover. Maybe an eagle would be suitable this time.

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21 thoughts on “Coming up: new fantasy trilogy”

  1. Aftermath portal fantasy! I’m all in!

    Novellas are becoming much more of a thing, so I don’t think it will be a big deal if Book 1 is a novella, so long as it’s appropriately described and priced so people don’t get snarly. But if it’s all one story, and you’re self-publishing, is there any reason not to just publish the whole thing as one book? I suppose you want a lower price-of-entry though, in which case Book 1 as novella is a good idea.

    Hard to suggest covers without knowing anything about the world or plot, but doorways/archways/standing stones are a good bet for portals, and ruins are a good way to suggest aftermath, so a series of ruined doorways?

    My vote (which, of course matters!) is for you to finish Tarashana!

  2. Take a page from the cover of The Hobbit and call it a Prelude? E.g., “A Song of Sturm and Drang – Prelude: The Inciting Incident” “A Song of Sturm and Drang – Book One: The Coming of the McGuffin” etc.

  3. Waves hand hopefully as beta reader. I’ve been wanting someone to tackle the aftermath and do it better than the couple others I’ve found.

    I think labeling part 1, 2, 3 is ok. Or do it just for paper copies, and make the ebook all one, with the parts indicated therein.

    Good image of eagle.

    What kind of portal is it in story? standing stone, glowy ring, huge gate in a void…?
    For a literary feel for the first the stone structure (possibly ruined as Kim suggests), or wait, it’s 16 years prior… That one whole, then the other two in ruins with something indicating fantasy in the scene as well, whatever fits: dragons, swords,.. or maybe half a modern scene, the other half clearly fantasy in the proper way to fit the story.

  4. Kathryn McConaughy

    I agree with Kim that those who are reading self-published stuff are pretty comfortable with novellas now. I would definitely number them as 1, 2, 3 if you need to read 1 to understand the arc.
    I think keep the divisions the same in ebook and paper versions… That avoids the “I thought this was a different thing and bought it twice, give me back my money” problem that a friend had with one of her books.
    I’m very glad to have 850 pages to look forward to!

  5. I think you could do 1/2/3, and just have a sentence providing context in the blurb. Lots of authors put a short “this is a novella” message somewhere.

    And, I can’t provide editing/proofreading level input, because then I need to be at a computer, but I’m happy to do beta reading for high level “does this work” stuff.

  6. Sounds interesting! I’d love to help with proofreading.

    I agree with everyone else that 1, 2, 3 sounds fine. Since you will presumably be charging less for the novella than for the novels, it will be a good way for people to give the series a try.

  7. I can proofread, though it might take some time. If my back goes out again (as it did twice this last month) I can’t sit at the computer too long.

    1, 2 and 3 are fine, if you put something in the back cover copy or the title to indicate that it’s a prequel novella, and price it accordingly. It might help pull in new readers if you set it as a cheap introduction.
    Numbering it as 0.5 will probably make some people think they can skip it.

    Or go with a unified title in parts, as they really are one story together instead of readable as standalones. Something along the lines of (but not these exact words of course!):
    Epic aftermath: the prelude,
    Epic aftermath part 1: the trouble with winning the war, and
    Epic aftermath part 2: how to live together peacefully.
    That way you also avoid people grumbling about book 1 ending on a cliffhanger. Then in the back cover copy for book 1 mention the time shift forward (and if possible indicate something about the shift in pace/tone/setting). And in the back cover copy of part 2 you mention something about the finale, or working towards / can they reach a succesful/peaceful resolution? So people can see that that will be the end of the arc, and it won’t be an endlessly continuing series of cliffhangers.

  8. Hanneke and Mike, thank you, I will see if I can put the titles into some sort of format of the kind you suggest. Well, I’ll see if I can first think of titles and then it should be (relatively) easy to put them into that kind of format.

    And yes, Hanneke, I need to sit down and write back cover copy for these books too, including an indication about the time shift for the first book (or Book II, whatever) and an indication that the story resolves in the last book, because yes, neverending cliffhangers are not very enticing.

    Even though I’ll finish Tarashana first, volunteers will get requests to look at TENAI much earlier because it’s in much more finished shape. There won’t be the slightest time pressure. Months is fine. If I’ve got comments back by, say, the beginning of February, that’ll be fine. But, Hanneke, I sure hope your back is okay! Ow! I try to keep up with the annoying exercises I am supposed to do for my neck and back and shoulder in the hope of avoiding episodes like that.

  9. If it helps everyone for titles, the prelude is the purely personal working-out of Post Epic Victory Stress Disorder (does that sound snarky? it’s literal). Then v. 2-3 deal with the aftermath on a broader scale.

    And for covers, in the last version I saw, the sword that cuts the way between worlds is just about the only fantasy element in v. 1. Just brainstorming, the sword could be a unifying element in the covers, bagged & tagged / slicing between worlds / doing something else active.

    Good luck with Tarashana!

  10. Thanks, Craig!

    I think a sword will indeed work as a unifying thing, but … Magic 8 Ball says: Everything else is cloudy, come back later.

  11. Tremendously exciting news! I see you are already besieged with proofreaders but I will raise a belated (as usual) hand as well.

  12. More books! Sounds great! I’m looking forward! I’m also happy to proofread if you need another proofreader.

    With respect to your inquiries, I wonder if people would be disappointed if they buy book 2 and/or 3 based on the novella if the tone changes from one to the next? I don’t know what the solution is to this though.

    Would it be possible to leave the novella as a standalone but combine 2 and 3?

    I also like Mike S’s suggestion about the titles. But when it comes time to writing copy, it would help if you could explain that the novella is a necessary but tonally different introduction that sets the scene for books 2 and 3.

  13. @Jeanine, if the novella gets labelled as “prelude” or something like that, instead of just as no.1, would you expect that to help people not be surprised at the difference in tone and time and setting?
    (And then there’s the information in the back copy too.)
    I would, but maybe that’s my personal bias.
    I can’t speak for Mike, but it was the reason why I thought it might be a good idea to do the naming and numbering that way, as prelude, and then part 1 and part 2.

  14. I love aftermath explorations so much that I legitimately GASPED seeing this post – and I hope it’s not weird to say that you’re one of the only people I break my “don’t buy books from Amazon” rule for! (Authors who self publish are brave and deserve all the support, and me and my pile of manuscripts salute you.)

    Sounds like you have an abundance of good advice and beta readers here, so this is mostly an enthusiastic vote of confidence for both new works and Tarashana, as I am obviously going to buy everything and devour it on release day. But if you ever need a speedy proofreader let me know!

  15. Tone may be a really good reason to put “prelude” in the title of the first book. All your comments have been super helpful in showing me how to think about this, so thank you!

    I prefer to break the long part up almost entirely for marketing reasons. I’m pretty sure readers will in general be more inclined to pick up three books for $2.99, $4.99, and $4.99 (say) than any other version that puts a higher price on one or two volumes. I can certainly also do an omnibus version — that’s something I should keep in mind when I contact a cover artist.

    Amara, thank you so much! Comments like yours are so flattering! Also good motivation to get to work and make all this happen.

  16. @Hanneke – Hi Hanneke! Well, you and I would read all the advertising copy and not be surprised (or not read the copy because we would happily read everything Rachel writes regardless of tone). But I definitely think there are other people who would buy the novella and read it and then buy the rest of the books. And then they would complain about the books not being like the novella. I think labeling it a prelude helps, but I don’t think that alone will be sufficient without additional explanation, because I would generally expect a prelude to have the same tone as the main books. Maybe you could have a primary title and then a subsidiary title that somehow explains it. For example: “The Prelude to Tcha, or the Fantasy that Resulted in this Reality.” That’s an extremely bad example but…

  17. Jeanine and others raise a good point, and it’s one I suspect can at best only be mitigated, not removed. A series with an abrupt shift of tone is inherently a harder sell. Best idea I have is to pitch it as a plus and make it clear to the potential buyer up front. Something like, hey, we’ll learn about these characters as they explore and investigate, then we’re going down the rabbit hole with them and nothing will be the same.

  18. Thanks for continuing comments on this topic, and I can see I’ll have to think very carefully about back cover copy.

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