That is the question which haunts new writers. I often see people jumping into doing a series, and yet I'm not convinced they have totally considered all the angles and pitfalls. It’s as if they believe you must write a series—what is expected of all writers—rather than they created a running concept from the very start. To build a successful series takes a lot of consideration and development. You should be plotting book three and four before you type The End to book one. One of the best authors at plotting out a series and sustaining it is Lynsay Sands with her Argeneau vampires—now around thirty books strong! She actually wrote out three full novels, before pitching the vampires to her editor.
To start, you should draw up an overall outline to guide you in the journey, and you must keep in mind that you need something fresh to express with each book. It’s simply not enough to give the readers story after story, you have to make them anticipate the second, third and fourth books before they are even written, to have them hungry for more. I have seen several writers who did series—good writers, with WOW first books. Sadly, over time they have lost part of their audience because it felt like they deliver the same novels each time, just retold with different names to the characters. That is the quick path to losing your devoted readers, which you worked so hard to get.
Some books are fine as stand-alone offerings. One successful author, who I have read for about thirty years, wrote dozens of novels, all as stand-alone titles. I loved her stories, and have reread many of them simply because they were so delightful. At some point—assuming her publisher thought series were a better marketing tool—she began to do three books to a series. The problem quickly became apparent that she lacked the ability to sustain the idea over the trilogy. Her lead book would be her typical utterly witty and brilliant brew. The second tied up loose ends, and allowed the readers to follow her hero and heroine into a further adventure. While the second book was interesting, a good read, it was a less dazzling entry. The last one showed her troubles in sustaining the characters into the third outing. It was as if she used up all she had to say about them, so she filled up the third one with less entertaining secondary characters, trying to prop up the hero and heroine. It clearly revealed she was stretching a one-book-concept into three, padding her stories, because the publisher thought a series would make more money for them.
So from the start, if you hope to create a series and keep your readers enthralled, you cannot write manuscript one and then say, “What do I do next?” You need to look beyond. Where would you like to go after book one? After book two? Are you planning to follow one set of characters into other adventures, or are you pairing various characters that will be connected by a common theme—a town, a period or a special setting? You have to map ahead and be farseeing to plan where you are going to take your series, or you might find yourself struggling to sustain your passion for the series—and so will the readers.
Another tricky problem that comes to mind—will each book be a stand-alone title—meaning you can pick up any title in the series and not have to read the previous novels to understand what is happening? Or, will you do a world-building project? Think of Game of Thrones. JRR Martin has built a whole world with heroes and heroines, villains, races, myths, legends, wars, towns, and countries! However, if you pick up A Song of Fire and Ice without first reading A Clash of Kings you might find yourself struggling to make heads or tails of much that is happening. Each style has their own rewards and their own risks. By asking these questions, you can figure out what is best for you and your aims. Books take time to write. People are still waiting for Martin’s latest saga—for nearly a decade! The television series has run into eight seasons and he hasn't produced his latest title in that period, leaving the television writers to decide the fate of his characters as the series comes to a close! Interlocking novels can capture your readers and pull them along from book-to-book. Only remember, stand-alone versions offer the readers the opportunity to pick up book four of a series of seven, and not feel like they are missing out on half of the story by coming into the "middle of your world”. As a previous bookseller, I often heard customers say, < style="font-family: georgia, "times new roman", serif;">“Oh, this is book three? I haven’t read the first two.”They either wait to buy the newest book until they can find the previous copies of the others, or they might forgo the purchase entirely. Thus, accessibility of jumping into the series might be something you wish to consider.
You will also face another conundrum— how much information do you include in the sequels? If you are reading a series front-to-back, you don’t want to bore those loyal readers with repeating the same information dump in each book. When you have a mythos to your storyline you need to remain true throughout, yet you can run into slowing down the action of your plot by repeating the premise found in each novel. Your readers will complain, “Yeah, yeah, we already know that. . .get to the story!” And we all know boring the reader is a big no-no. On, the other hand, if you don’t ground each book with your core codex, a reader who comes into the series through book three or four will be scratching their head and not knowing what went on before that started the whole journey.
One of the biggest mistakes series writers can make is failing to maintain a “bible” —i.e. a chart, log, etc. that covers each character or important details. Most traditional publishers run style sheets, which carry specifics of each character—what they look like (hair, eyes, height, flaws, scars, birthdays. . .anything that might show up again). I even run a calendar for each book. On what day is something happening? What month? These are particulars that you are positive you will remember. But will you? Six years down the road, you might be surprised what you have forgotten. Did your hero have blue eyes or green? I recall years ago one author was asked to write a trilogy, based on the daughters of a series she had penned ten years before. She had trouble recalling the hair color of her original ladies! Worse, this was back before eBooks and computers. The original novels had been out of print for years, so she had trouble finding a copy to revisit to get details correct.
So, to avoid the snares of series writing, you really should do some serious thinking upon why you want to write a series way before you finish that first novel. To recap: 1) Figure out if you really need or wish to write a series. 2) Once you set out on that determined path—learn to maintain your bible with all the details that will root your world 3) Decide which style of series you plan on doing—stand-alone novels that are connected by a common codex, or a series that follows a character(s) through different adventures.
Once you figure out those hurdles, you will have a better handle on confidently creating an engaging series that will keep your readers begging for more, and you looking forward to penning the next one...and the next.
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Currently has two series in production—Medieval Scottish Historicals for Prairie Rose Publications —The Dragons of Challon™, and Paranormal-Contemporary romances for Montlake Romance at Amazon Publishing —Sisters of Colford Hall™ and is launching a new Medieval series for Prairie Rose Publications—Hell Knights: Knights of Hellborne™
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