Series are a tricky beast.
One the one hand, particularly in certain genres, a series can be a great way to build a fan base around a popular character and/or compelling world. It gives an author a chance to really flesh out a world. Series can be extremely successful.
On the other hand, it requires a bigger commitment from a publisher, it may pigeonhole an author for that all-important second book, and an agent or editor may want the author to tackle something new and/or branch off in a different direction.
It all depends on the genre, the idea, the author, the house, the agent, the editor, the weather, the astrological conditions, and, of course, which side of the bed the respective parties involved woke up on.
Why flexibility is key
When you have an idea for a series and you’re pursuing traditional publication it is important to be flexible. That first book should stand alone, whether or not it’s eventually expanded into a series. That way, if your agent or editor thinks it should be a stand-alone, that’s cool. If they agree that it would make a killer series, that’s cool too.
Think of it as being more Star Wars than Empire Strikes Back. Sure, Darth Vader was flying away at the end of Star Wars, but that was a self-contained movie that didn’t leave too many cliffs dangling. In Empire Strikes Back on the other hand, Han Solo was left frozen in FREAKING CARBONITE and I don’t think audiences would have been satisfied had that been the end of a stand-alone movie without a sequel in the works.
If you write an Empire Strikes Back novel and your agent/editor wants it to be a stand-alone, well, they’re not going to love the ending.
Your novel should stand alone with threads dangling
Thus, in queries I would suggest to the agent that the idea COULD be expanded into a series, but I wouldn’t really convey that you’re dead-set on it being a series. That way the door is open for both possibilities, and you’re not putting yourself in a box. Or carbonite.
Here are the magic words: “My novel stands alone but I have ideas for a series.”
I can understand why people love writing series. Writers grow attached to the worlds they create, those characters become friends, it becomes familiar, and people just keep on writing in that world because they love it. It’s amazing to flesh out a world in multiple novels. Perfectly understandable.
But it’s so important to be able to walk away for something new. You created one amazing world, surely you can create another!
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Art: Interior with a Woman at the Virginals by Emanuel de Witte