I was at Dragon*Con over Labor Day weekend and was on a couple panels. While on an editors’ panel there was a question from the audience about whether someone should mention in a query letter that the novel being submitted is the first of a trilogy (or series) and the next two books are already written.
Now, you’ll get lots of advice on this question, either way. Yes, mention it and no, don’t. That’s not my topic.
The interesting thing that one of the panelists brought up had to do with whether to write a trilogy or series as an unpublished author. The gist wasn’t to discourage the planning of a series, but to point out that, financially and creatively, it doesn’t make sense to start the second book of your series before the first book is sold. The panelist said, "Finish your book, polish it, sent it out, then start on something new."
I hadn’t really thought of it in such bald terms, but I agree with this sentiment. The first book I wrote has a sequel, but I haven’t started writing it (much to my little sister’s chagrin). I didn’t really think about why, except that I needed to concentrate on getting the first book sold.
From a strictly numerical odds standpoint, it makes no sense to start on the second book. If you fail to sell the first, then complete the second, you have two complete books (yay!), but only one salable book. If you had started on a brand new book (even if it’s for another series), then you have two completed books and two books you can send out to agents.
For so many of us, the ideas lend themselves to trilogies or series. And once we’re ensconced in a world, it is hard to let it go, but if you’re an unpublished author with your first book complete, consider moving on to an entirely different project as you shop that first book around. If you sell that book, great! You can switch over to the series at any time. If you don’t sell the first book, when you get the other book done, you have something else to shop around. Two completed books, two salable projects.
Work smarter, not harder.