Writing a Standalone with Series Potential – the magic words every agent wants to hear

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Just got back from the Surrey International Writing Conference where I pitched my novel series successfully to three agents. Sounds great, right?

Well, yes, it is, but there’s a big but. BUT, the agents have all basically made it clear that they want me to send them a standalone book “with series potential.” Not a series.

Turns out that I’ve made an embarrassing and pretty common “newbie” error: basically, writing a series of books that’s not composed of standalone novels. Who would ever think that would be a mistake? Well, in today’s publishing world, it is.

I talked with about five agents at the conference and they all said the same thing: if you haven’t published a book before, then the agent cannot sell your series. It’s too much of a risk, and publishers won’t take that risk. What they can sell, and ideally want to sell, is a standalone novel with series potential. Then, if the book sells well, they will buy the following books.

What is a standalone with series potential?

There are two kinds of novel series:

  1. A single story arc told over more than one book (think Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings).
  2. A single story arc told over one book, with the following books in the series having the same characters, but not the same conflict (think Agatha Christie and Harry Potter).

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