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Best sellers come in threes

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Updated: July 6, 2012 9:30AM

For book publishers, the magic number seems to be three — as in trilogies.

The evidence sits atop USA Today’s best-selling books list: The top three spots belong to E.L. James’ erotic Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, followed by Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games young-adult trilogy. Amanda Hocking became a publishing sensation thanks to her Trylle trilogy — Switched, Torn, Ascend.

What makes trilogies work?

“Readers come to know the subjects and characters so well, they become invested in them,” says Knopf’s Paul Bogaards, who’s handling publicity for James and worked on another three-book wonder: Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.

But Bogaards questions if the number matters: “I don’t think readers hunger for trilogies as much as they hunger for storytelling that they find deeply immersive and satisfying.”

Erin Morgenstern, author of the best-selling novel The Night Circus, witnessed that on her 20-city book tour last year. A constant question: Was she writing a sequel? But “a few times I was asked if it was the first of a trilogy and I was a bit surprised by the specificity of that.”

There won’t be a sequel to The Night Circus, “though I sometimes feel that statement should come with an apology. ... I like it as a single volume, it feels complete to me, and I wouldn’t want to stretch it out into something it’s not,” Morgenstern says.

British blogger Stephanie Butland says the trilogy is the perfect format: not too short but not too long. “You can really understand the characters and the story in three books.” And you don’t have to panic as you reach “the last 50 pages of a really great book because you know there’s more.”


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