Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Publishing a Fantasy Seriesby Jenn Gott
Writing a book is a big undertaking — writing a series, doubly so. Especially a fantasy series, where the worlds need to be built up from scratch and anything is possible. How do you juggle it all? How do you go about turning it from a messy first draft into a completed novel that people will want to read? And once you’ve managed that,how do you publish a book?
There’s no universal answer to all these questions. Writing and publishing are a complex alchemy that changes every year — but there are at least a few general rules that tend to hold true. They may not turn your words into gold overnight, but they should at least help you avoid some of the common pitfalls and make your epic journey a bit smoother.
DO have some idea where you want to take the series as a whole
Perhaps the most important thing you’ll need to decide up-front is whether you’re writing a closed arc or an open-ended series. That is: is it one saga broken up across multiple books, or is it many different stories that are all related? Is it The Lord of the Rings, or Discworld?
Obviously if you’re writing a closed arc, you’re going to want to know where the story is headed from the minute you start writing the first book. After all, the last thing you want is to define something in book one that makes it impossible to pull off your heroic feats in book seven.
But even if you’re telling an open-ended story, it helps to have some idea of where you’re going. For instance, will there be any plot threads that span multiple books? How will the characters change and grow? Or, if it’s truly open-ended: what are some of the next few stories you might tell in this universe?
Deciding from the beginning what kind offantasy series you’re writing and roughly where you want to take it will keep you from falling into too many plot holes, as well as allow you to more realistically plan your release schedules.
DON’T spend so much time worldbuilding that you never actually write
Worldbuilding can make or break a fantasy series, so it’s obviously important to get it right — but it’s equally important to get the books written. After all, no one is going to be able to delight in all the cool things you’ve invented if they never make it into the page.
Personally, I like to world-build as the story is developing, rather than defining it all up front and then building the characters and plot — that way, the worldbuilding and the story inform each other, allowing me to make my cool ideas feel organic. But even if you wait to write until everything is planned out, make sure you actually take the plunge at some point!
DO define the limits of your magic system
Listen, I’m as much a fan of “squishy,” vaguely-defined magic systems as anyone (it’s magic, after all, it doesn’t always make perfect sense), but even I’ll admit: it really helps to know where your limits are. Even if you’re not going to work out a hard and fast set of rules, ask yourself to firmly define some of the “extreme” situations.
For example, can they raise the dead — and if so, are the dead (or the person who raised them) affected by the process? Is there any kind of physical, mental, emotional, or other “cost” to using magic? If your character uses a spell to teleport three feet to the left in an early action sequence, why can’t they teleport straight into the dragon’s lair later, or out of a dungeon? The more you define the boundaries, the more creative you can get in the middle.
DON’T think your climatic fight sequences need to take ten pages
Okay, maybe this one is a bit of a personal preference. I’m sure there are some readers who enjoy when a battle takes up three chapters, and no judgment here if that’s your jam. But often, writers get caught up in the idea that in order for afight sequence to feel grand and epic, it needs to take up lots of space, when in fact actual combat tends to be over quickly. Even movies do not devote nearly as much screen time to cinematic action sequences as you might think — it just feels that way, because we’re so emotionally invested in what’s happening.
In fact, dragging out a fight scene can slow the pacing of both the scene and the book, often achieving exactly the opposite of the intended goal. Try to use plain language to describe the actual motions of the characters, and focus the attention on two or three of the big moments — the points where the fates turn, the balance shifts, or the stakes are raised. After all, you don’t want readers to miss when those actually occur, and giving equal weight to every blow and parry makes it harder to tell when things get really good.
DO write to a niche subgenre
A bit ofmarket research can go a long way.
Now, before you groan and complain about how your book is an art and you don’t want to stifle your creativity with things like writing to market, hear me out: I’m not saying you can’t write what you want to write. I am a huge proponent of writing what’s true to your heart. But at the same time, if you’re self-publishing, you’re going to be the one selling this book — and like it or not, that means you need to view it as a little bit of a product.
Take a few minutes to see what kind of subgenres are out there. Which ones are popular enough to have readers, but small enough that you’re not going up against the biggest names in the field? What are some of the genre conventions they follow — the things that distinguish them from regular fantasy? What kinds of titles and cover styles do the bestsellers follow?
And speaking of covers…
DON’T forget the importance of cover art
Covers matter in any genre, of course, but there are a few more things to keep in mind when you’re publishing a series rather than a standalone novel. Mainly that you want to make sure the covers are similar enough that they’re easy to identify as part of a series, but not so similar that it’s hard to tell books within that series apart.
The easiest way to do this, of course, is to have the same cover artist work on every book — and to pick a good one. (Some self-publishing companies will also offer design services, but we recommend finding a professional book cover designer on a vetted marketplace.)
When looking through portfolios before hiring one, see if they have experience with designing series — if they haven’t, be sure to ask for their thoughts on the process. Let them point you to examples of what they consider good series art, or see if they’re open to giving you a rough concept sketch of the second book while they’re still designing the first.
DO have fun with it
Fantasy is a really fun genre to write in, andself-publishing can be an incredibly freeing and joyful way to get your books out into the world. Of course, you want to take the craft of it seriously and treat publishing like a professional, but try not to get so bogged down in the process that you forget just how wild and magical it is to create a fantasy novel — never mind a whole series of them.
From the initial brainstorming, to exploring your plot and characters, to seeing your name on the cover of a real book, self-publishing a fantasy series is an extremely rewarding process that I’d encourage anyone to get into. And even if you make a few mistakes along the way, there’s no expiration date on success. So believe in yourself, and give it a try! With the right imagination, the possibilities truly are limitless.