So, when I do finally write a novel and perhaps, as Kress put it, "commit trilogy," I'll keep these points in mind...
It was fun watching Nancy Kress and Mike Resnick fight over who was going to moderate, and by that I mean the way they went round-and-round with, "No, you do it!"
Not everyone on the panel necessarily knew they were going to write any kind of series. In the novel Far-Seer, Robert J. Sawyer killed off the main character in the last chapter. But as demand in the UK rose, he wrote the sequel. Nancy Kress was done with The Beggars Trilogy after the second book, and "fell into" the third one because of her publisher, who would only publish a collection of her stories if the third book was written.
A series has certain special needs, including (but not limited to): Consistency of characters, the need to keep yourself interested as the writer, and the need to deal with the problem of backstory, i.e. avoiding the infodump.
Sawyer had a different view. "I love the infodump!" he declared. The edict against infodump is "Turkey City Lexicon bullshit!" Just don't be lazy, he said.
The different types of series written by the authors on the panel seemed to fall into three types:
- Types with a story arc
- Types when characters cycle in and out of the stories
- Types when the characters are always the same and don't really change
- Planning and consistency are key!
- Each book needs a climax and stories that evolve.
- It's important to have some kind of end in mind to work toward. cf. George Martin. Things have a natural life--sometimes it's best to know when to let it die a natural death.
- It can be scary when a franchise actually becomes popular. You could need a different pseudonym to escape a successful series the same way you would a bad one.
- Publishing is in transition nowadays. As Mike Resnick said, "Everywhere you look there are new ways to make money."
- There is a certain professional pride in wanting each book you write to stand alone. Nothing wrong with that.
- Have an idea that's big enough and make sure you have enough story for it.