It’s not that I ever sat down and outlined a trilogy, but I always have a sense of what size an idea is when I start it.
Though the current trends in middle grade and young adult books lean more towards single-volume contemporary lit now, for well over a decade, readers were more apt to find shelves of trilogies or series from a variety of genres. Even now, there is an aesthetic appeal to a series of novels on a shelf versus individual volumes. Why is that? What is the appeal of the trilogy?
For a number of genre series, developing a world, its fantasy or sci-fi elements, and a sprawling narrative can take hundreds of pages, often best split up into multiple volumes. A collection of books versus a single volume can be more effective for the passing of time as well, as with series like Harry Potter, in which each book covers a year. Literary books can benefit from multiple installments just as much as fantasy series when its characters have more stories to tell. For readers, the trilogy or series can be a way to spend more time with beloved characters and worlds.
There’s also the aesthetic appeal of book series. Just as the mind is attracted to symmetry, clean lines, and blank space, a series of books that share a trim size and design elements, particularly along the spine, catch attention. A trilogy of series also takes up more space on a shelf, which makes a collection of books stand out more than a single volume. This is particularly effective in marketing books for young readers and early chapter books, which typically have very narrow spines.
Trilogies and series can’t be viewed solely as a necessity for longer stories or a benefit to readers. There is absolutely an element of marketability in sequels. For every series a reader picks up with equally-good installments, there are twice as many that would have been better off as single volumes or at least series with fewer books that they ended up having. In these cases, it’s more likely that the author or publisher believed a series would be more successful than a single book.
Some of this does come from the fact that self-published authors and publishing houses recognize book sales as a business and want to ensure income from a successful franchise. It can also be viewed as supply and demand; when a popular genre takes off and readers are clamoring for more material to consume, the trilogy can be a great way to appeal to that audience and guarantee that fans of the original will return for new installments.
Trilogies may appeal to writers with longer stories to tell, readers eager to stick with characters and worlds they enjoy, and publishers who can afford to take more risks on new authors and new directions when a popular series. Like just about anything in publishing, they’re neither good nor bad overall; it’s all about the individual examples. Regardless, there is something eye-catching about the trilogy, and it will remain a staple on children’s and teens’ bookshelves.
For the time being, it’s refreshing to see that trilogies and series are winding down but not disappearing. Some characters benefit from having more time and pages to tell their stories, and others are able to say all they need to in a single volume. While I have a fair number of trilogies and series in my personal library, I have plenty of individual books as well. Authors shouldn’t feel pressure to write trilogies to be successful, but if their stories require more than one book, they should have the freedom to write them.
If you’re interested in checking out successful trilogies, my top picks are Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy, Kieran Scott’s Cheerleader trilogy, Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales, and Rachel Schurig’s Three Girls series (which started as a trilogy and has since expanded). If you’ve read trilogies or series that you love, be sure to recommend them to me!