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Writing Series

by Linda Butler
Most romance novels are written as series today, partly because of the encouragement of publishers. A publisher may not accept all books in a series, but they want to know that if the first book is successful, that additional books are available. Readers love series. Once the writer has established a successful “world”, the reader wants to read more similar stories. Obviously, the first book must be good enough to encourage the reader to want more.

In romance writing, each book must be a complete love story. Readers want “happy ever after” and the hero and heroine of one book must only play minor roles in the other books. In romance, there is also the time factor to consider as people get older. For instance, if you are writing about a family of 6 siblings, if the youngest is 16 in the first novel, and 6 years pass in the series, and the youngest sibling has the last book, then he/she would be 22 at that time. On the other hand, if the oldest is already 35 and his/her book is written last, then they would be 41. It’s important to consider the ages of the siblings and consider their ages when their novels take place.

In a mystery or detective series time can stand still and the hero/heroine can go from one adventure to another. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher can move from one novel to another and remain the same age. Stephanie Plum, the character written by Janet Evanovich remains largely unchanged throughout her adventures as a bounty hunter. The Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelley is the exception, as he gradually ages and for the second time, plans to retire.

When you are planning a series, you need to establish the framework – things that will be constant throughout the novel, such as the setting and names of the main characters. If necessary, prepare a family tree. Minor characters may come and go throughout the series so they should also be in the initial planning. People like the landlord, footman, butler, maid, cook, family friends, school chums or relatives may show up periodically.

Sometimes series develop by accident. You may write one book and find that a minor character demands his own story. Perhaps the reader gets a glimpse of a mysterious character and wants to learn more about them. In general, the most mysterious or elusive character’s book should be written as the last, as the reader will want to keep reading to find out about him/her. There may be a sub-plot that continues through as a thread until the last book. Perhaps there is a mystery to be solved and it is mentioned in all the books of the series, but only comes to a conclusion in the last novel.

Series are good for the author as they build an audience faster. Readers come back and sales go up, pre-orders increase and the print runs are higher. People are encouraged to read your backlist, so your older books sell better. A writer’s name becomes better know through writing a series. People may buy a series book that is controversial, whereas they might not buy a single title.

Series are easier to write, as the world is already established but they need a binding idea. In romance, it could be the stories of the brothers and sisters in a family; it could be a group of school chums or perhaps a group of people with a shared experience. Mary Ballogh’s current series is about a group who suffered as a result of the Napoleonic wars. She writes about wounded characters – either wounded physically or emotionally, and pairs them with a character who is most unlikely to suit.

Debbie Macomber wrote a number of novels centered around a knitting shop on Blossom Street. Various people attended the knitting classes and we learn of their stories as they discuss their problems with their classmates. The thread running through these diverse lives is that they all knit.

The titles to the books in a series should sound similar or have words in common, so the reader realizes that it is another book of a series. Books should always be complete stories. Some series have been published where the individual books are not stand-alone and the reader must read them in sequence. This usually frustrates the reader and does not encourage them to come back.

Writers sometimes write a short story about one of the minor characters in a novel to give away for free on the internet to publicize the series or draw interest to the writer.

It may happen that you cannot find a publisher for all the books in your series, and you may decide to make your unpublished books available on the internet. You already have a following from the books that were published so you are more likely to sell the e-books for the rest of a series.

Each book in a series should be a stand-alone book, but be tied by the setting, characters or sub-plot to the framework of the series. As an author there is greater potential in furthering your career if you write a series than if you write stand-alone novels.
(c) 2012 Linda Butler




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