Is it true that stand-alone fantasy novels are more likely to be picked up than the first of a trilogy/series if you have never been published before (or only as short stories)? I know a lot of people say that publishers will not take trilogies/series if you have never been published, but in Australia I see a lot of new fantasy authors getting their series published without any previous experience (e.g. Fiona Mcintosh, Jennifer Fallon). Is this an old myth or is it still relevant?
The quality of the writing and the story are always going to matter more than whether the novel is the first of a trilogy or not. If you want to write a trilogy, write it - just don't submit all three novels to an agent or publisher! Send the first one and tell them that it's the first of a trilogy. I can assure you that, if they love the first one, they will be excited that there are two more after that.
The main point to bear in mind when aspiring to have your fantasy novel published is that you'll need to be more patient than other novelists. Not only does the average size of fantasy manuscripts mean that they can't be read as quickly as other novels, but there aren't as many publishers specialising in fantasy. Stephanie Smith, who publishes Voyager at HarperCollins, has been at the vanguard of fantasy publishing in Australia (but don't send her manuscripts without checking first!) and now Hachette Livre has its Orbit imprint, and Arena (Allen & Unwin) is also looking for some. But there are lots of people writing fantasy, and it's all funnelling into this tiny stream. So that gives you lots of time to write the trilogy :) I should also say that publishers who are committed to fantasy are usually knowledgeable and they love the genre - they're just short on reading time ... Given the growing popularity of fantasy, though, you'll probably see more publishers getting on board.