Series are among the biggest money-makers in the publishing industry. Once readers latch on to a great series, they often stick to it loyally, becoming reliable customers for future books. Series such as Harry Potter and Twilight demonstrate this phenomenon, having become household names.
Below, we discuss some of the key questions authors have about pitching a book series to literary agents or publishers:
I haven’t finished my first book yet. Can I still start pitching my series?
Generally speaking, agents are interested only in finished manuscripts. Agents receive hundreds of query letters every week, so you need to view yourself as competing with all those other aspiring authors. Which book would you see as having more sales potential, a finished one or an unfinished one that may never be finished?
If you mention in your query letter that you’re still working on your book, your pitch will likely head straight to the slush pile. If you don’t mention it, and the agent is legitimately interested and requests your full manuscript, you’ll then be in the awkward position of having to explain that the book isn’t finished, in which case you’ll be told to come back with a fresh query letter when it is—although, at that point, the agent may be peeved that you’ve wasted his or her time and be less inclined to show interest in your project.
So, in short, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by trying to pitch an unfinished manuscript. If you believe in your series, you’ll have the patience to finish the first book before you start pitching it. Then, see the section below, “I’ve written the first book. Should I pitch my series now?” for advice on a strategy for your query letter.
I’ve completed the first book but haven't published it. Should I pitch my series now?
Having written the first book in your series puts you in a great position, as most agents aren’t immediately willing to take on new authors whose success will depend on landing publication for an entire series of books, which may not see print if the first book fails to sell.
When pitching the first book in your series, focusing your query letter on its strengths as a standalone novel can be a great way to attract prospective agents. Once you land an agent based on the appeal of your first book, he or she will craft a strategy for landing a publishing deal that takes into account current trends in the literary market, publishers’ preferences, and other factors unique to your manuscript. This may or may not include mentioning that your book has the potential to be expanded into a series.
Publishers may be keen to acquire your first book and see how it performs before acquiring the rights to any sequels, so if your first book is successful, you can move forward with a follow-up, poised for success thanks to your loyal readers.
I’ve already written an entire series. How should I pitch my books?
For new authors, the best strategy is to avoid pitching an entire series, instead focusing on the strengths of the first book. As we’ve mentioned above, agents may not be willing to take you on as a client if your potential for success hinges on the ability to land a deal for multiple books. Publishers are often wary of acquiring an entire series, because if the first book doesn’t sell well and the sequels never see print, the publisher’s investment fails.
Sequels of successful books are typically easier to sell than debut novels because they already have strong brand recognition and loyal fans. Having already written your series is definitely not a bad thing, and it isn’t something you should keep secret from a prospective agent. In fact, a prospective literary agent would probably be pleased to know that the rest of the series is either already finished or is in the works. But that information is best saved for a follow-up conversation, not your query letter.
In short, we recommend that you land an agent with a query letter that focuses on your first book, then rely on your agent’s expertise in terms of approaching publishers with either the first book or the whole series.
I’ve self-published my first book. Can I try to publish the sequels traditionally with an agent?
Our advice here depends on how successful your first book has been, but the reality is that you’re going to have difficulty finding a publisher for sequels of a self-published first book. If you’ve self-published your first book and have the rest of your series ready to go, your best strategy will almost always be to simply self-publish the rest of the series, making the books available for sale to your existing reader base.
The caveat to this is if you’ve been wildly successful with your first book, in which case you might find that agents and publishers are approaching you. Since that’s a fringe scenario, let’s focus on your two most realistic options if you’ve decided that traditional publishing is the route you’d like to pursue:
If your first book has seen moderate success, selling in the thousands and creating some buzz among readers, you may have luck approaching an agent, since you can prove your book has the ability to generate sales. In your query letter, be sure to mention important details the agent can use to gauge your book’s marketability, including how many copies you’ve sold, how many reviews your book has on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, and other relevant info. Once you land representation, you’ll likely need to pull your self-published book from the market, but that’s a conversation you can have with your agent at that time.
If your book has not had much success, you may find that the best strategy is simply to go ahead and pull your book from the market, then start fresh by pitching the book to agents as you would any other manuscript. For your query letter strategy here, see the section above, “I’ve written the first book. Should I pitch my series now?” If an agent is interested, you’ll need to disclose that the book has previously been self-published, but your agent will come up with a strategy in terms of addressing any issues that may pose.
Our closing advice is this:
Agents love series, but only if the first book shows potential for success. Your query letter should focus on the strengths of your first book, and then, once you’ve hooked an agent, you can rely on his or her expertise in terms of approaching publishers with sequels.
Writing a query letter, whether for a standalone book or a series, is never easy. If you’re not sure how best to sell your manuscript, turning to professionals can be a wise investment. At QueryLetter.com, you can work with publishing industry professionals who know what agents are looking for and who can elevate your chances of landing representation.
Have any questions? Reach out to a publishing consultant to learn more about how QueryLetter.com can help you achieve your publishing dreams.