Pub date: July 2010
Agent: Jessica Faust
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Books in a Series: What Are You Writing?
I attended RomCon earlier this month, a conference dedicated to readers of romance. During one of the sessions, a panel asked readers (including booksellers, bloggers, and reviewers) what their tastes were about books in a series. The conversation briefly settled on a debate between a series of stand-alone books (e.g., books set in the same world, but each featuring different sets of main characters) versus a series driven by continuing characters. While it was mentioned that mystery often has a continuing character, no one firmly attributed either kind of series to a specific genre (like romance, UF, mystery), I think because in many cases the genre lines are blurred.
Here’s my experience, from pre-pubbed to pubbed: When I started Shadow Bound, the first book in my Shadow series, there was no doubt that it would be a stand-alone. It was my first book, so I really felt it needed to have complete character arcs, but I also believed that the world had definite series potential. When I sold Shadow Bound, the acquiring editor asked if I had a series in mind, referencing a secondary character for the next book. We settled on Custo Santovari, probably my favorite character thus far. It seemed that the stand-alone was the way to go. My contract was for two books; they each needed to be complete in and of themselves. I held out hope that I’d get to write more. And, thank goodness, I do.
Shadow Bound was released last month, so now I’m starting to get feedback from readers. The story straddles the line between romance and fantasy (in B&N I’m in the fantasy/sci-fi section; elsewhere I’m in romance), where both kinds of series are prevalent. And sure enough, many readers have expressed interest in what happens next for my Shadow Bound protagonists. They want the second kind of series, with continuing characters, which has made me pause and think (and write this blog). I think it’s a good sign, and I love that readers are invested enough to want to follow these characters. And of course now I have all these possibilities popping into my head for the characters of the previous book.☺ Even so, I think this series is better suited to stand-alones than a single overarching story. The next book still shifts to Custo’s story, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I tortured Custo in Shadow Bound, and it gets worse in Shadow Fall. And then a whole lot better.☺
So today I’m asking the readers of the BookEnds blog a similar question about series: What are you writing (and why)? Do you see it having series potential? If so, what kind of series–stand-alone or continuing characters? And what type of series do you prefer to read?
Erin Kellison is the author of the Shadow series, which includes Shadow Bound and Shadow Fall. Stories have always been a central part of Erin Kellison's life. She attempted her first book in sixth grade, a dark fantasy adventure, and still has those early handwritten chapters. She graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English Language and Literature, and went on for a master's in Cultural Anthropology, focusing on oral storytelling. When she had children, nothing scared her anymore, so her focus shifted to writing fiction. She lives in Arizona with her two beautiful daughters and husband, and she will have a dog (breed undetermined) when her youngest turns five.
Learn more about Erin at www.erinkellison.com.
The book I am working on is the first in a trilogy (so therefore a series?). Each book is a complete story on it's own (nothing annoys me more than books or movies which end in cliff hangers), but there is a bigger story which each book feeds into as well.
My subject matter is a Celtic mythology based supernatural thriller though, and that impacts the choice. Three is such a sacred and essential number in so many cultures - including the Celts. It just felt natural to have it as part of the story concept.
I want to write a series of stand alones. I think it would just work better with the story and the way I am since I have a tendency to drop projects it would really take the pressure off.
As far as what I like to read: I'll go with a series with continuing characters but am good after the third book. Fourth is stretching it and by the fifth book I usually give up on it. The reason is that I start feeling like the author is just reusing the same old plots and I get bored and impatient. It feels like the story isn't going anywhere. Exceptions are Narnia and Discworld.
The book I am writing crosses genres and is women's fic - but also a supernatural mystery. I've been daring to call it upmarket.
Though the story itself plays out entirely - ie. the mystery is solved - the main character, a young woman on a journey of self discovery, does not find out what she really wants, and ultimately ends up heading in a new direction again - but of course leaving something or someone behind she can reconnect to in a later story.
So...yes I plan a series - but hopefully only two - though I have an idea for a third - although that could also just be a whole new set of characters and have nothing to do with this one.
I like both types of series I guess. For example:
The Sebastian St. Cyr books by C.S. Harris - which I love. They are Recency Mysteries and continue the lives of a specific set of characters.
But, I also recently read Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood and was thrilled to discover it was a parallel story to her earlier Oryx and Crake. I think this fits in to the connected characters option although I am not sure it qualifies as a true series as many genres have.
I recommend both depending on your tastes.
I'm in the middle of creating a series of Regency romances but all stand alone and no cliffhanger endings. The first book introduces all the characters for the next three but they can all be read as single title.
I am currently working on a series. All stories are stand alone, but I introduce several characters in book ONE and, as the series progresses, secondary characters each become a protagonist in other books.
I hate books that leave you hanging. I want readers to be able to read book II and have a complete story. They might miss a few inside jokes and such, but it's important to me that each story be complete.
Book 1 was just released. Book II will come in November and I'm currently finishing up Book III.
I have been thinking about this very question for a few weeks. Your blog got me so worked up I had to blog about it. http://katharineowens.blogspot.com/
I recently read a highly lauded YA book (Hunger Games) and felt little satisfaction at the end b/c it was set up for a sequel. I feel like everything is a series these days.
Ironically, I am writing a book with series potential right now, but have started to reconsider the idea of a series for later books.
Thanks for the thoughtful post.
I have a few WIPs that are parts of series but then I have some that are stand alone also. I like the fact that you brought this to light for us. Thanks for the post.
I look forward to both of your books. Congrats and best wishes.
I'm working on a YA/Sci-Fi novel that can work either as a stand alone or as the first in a series.
While it's refreshing to just read a stand alone book, I find that if I really latch on to the characters and/or the setting, I look forward to reading more adventures with them. I'd rather invest my time and money in a world that I can get lost in over multiple books.
If I don't identify with a particular story, it becomes a stand alone in my mind whether it's intended as part of a series or not, because I won't pick up another installment.
I prefer writing stand alone horror books for the love of the short intense character arc. therefore, my polished MS's are such. BUT I do have two manuscripts (rough drafts only) that are two-thirds of what I call the "Eli Ross Trilogy". These MS's are supernatural thrillers, giving me a different flavor to write from...from time to time.
Delurking for a very interesting question.
I write stand alones---but at this point, my writing skills (and attention span) aren't up to a planned multi-book story arc. But some of my secondary characters are interesting enough (to me, anyway) to front their own stories.
Romance readers in particular, I think, might have a strong opinions about series versus a series of stand alones---many seem to be impatient for the HEA. I know I am.
A lot of libraries have a rule about shelving series in the romance cross genres (romantic mysteries, paranormal romance,etc.). If the romantic relationship isn't "one couple--one book," the series isn't placed in romance. Eliosa James' Duchess series is in romance, for example, but Beth Ciotta's All about Evie books, which center around one relationship, are in mystery.
I know this is the libraries' call, but writers want readers to find their books . . .
Great blog post!
I had three books in a young adult series finished and had some requests from agents (but ultimately no representation) for the first two, either of which could have worked as a standalone novel. After one agent told me to cut 20,000 words from Book #2, I decided to shelve the project for the time being, until I could figure out how best to make the cuts.
In the meantime, I've been working on a standalone political satire set in a completely different time/place in an attempt both to write something I could sell more easily and to stretch myself a bit! It has been a great learning experience. I'm hoping to have it ready to submit by October.
My heart is still in that original series of seven envisioned books, however, and I think I have figured out a way to rewrite them completely and make them much better. If for any reason I get lucky and sell my new book, I'm not sure it would have much of a crossover audience to the ones I really care about...which could mean I get stuck NOT writing the books I really want to be writing. Just in case, I'm figuring out ideas for other standalone books that could be fun to write.
I'm a huge fan of continuing characters. If they're well written, I fall in love with them and one book just isn't enough. It bugs me sometimes when authors jump to another minor character to continue a series. My mind is still focused on the main characters from the first book - I want to know what THEY'RE up to.
The fantasy trilogy I'm working on is closer to the "continuing" series than a pure stand-alone. The individual books are stories within the larger series arc that focuses on the same set of characters.
My most recent finished book (now in review of my novel group) is a stand alone. I'm prepping to get started on my next book and thought I'd continue where this last book left off. It wasn't my intention, but that's where I'm heading.
I'm currently writing a series... of sorts. The full thing will be 4 novellas and one novel. The first and third novellas will focus on one group of characters, and the second and fourth will focus on a different group. In the novel, the two groups will meet and realize that they need to work together to achieve their goals.
I'm not going to try to get something with a weird format like this traditionally published, though. It's pretty much just an experiment, I guess. I do have ideas for publishable works, though. One is a stand-alone, and one is a series, a rather long series. The series idea is heavily inspired by manga, and I was thinking of trying to get it made into a graphic novel series instead of a novel. But I'm not good enough at drawing to do something like that by myself and I'm hesitant to try to find an artist for a whole long series like that...
I like ensemble casts so one thing I like to do is focus on one set of characters (interacting within the ensemble) and then move to another in the next book (if I have one).
I like series that do that as well as series that cover generations. I haven't approached the second kind yet, but I might. All of my novels have to be able to stand alone, but I like my characters and like the notion of doing more with them later. I don't prescribe a set number of books, though. I want each book to feel like it ends satisfactorily even if there are a few loose ends.
Erin Kellison, congratulations. You're doing something right to be pre pubbed, pubbed and re pubbed!
I'm finishing my first memoir. Note, my first memoir. After trying and failing with every other genre, I know this is it.
I'm writing a Cozy Mystery for a 3 book contract--I have a couple relationship things that will be 'continuation' but the mysteries will of course each be confined.
I think FANTASY is well suited to continuation, and romance, not so much, because of the genre rule for the happily ever after ending... if there is happily ever after, then what's to come after? Then again, that is one of the reasons romance isn't one of my frequently chosen genres. It sounds to me like your use of a side character to continue is a good route to not have to cheat readers out of the FIRST happy ending by having something bad happen.
The novel I'm shopping is written as the first of a 3 or 4 book series focusing on the same cast of characters and epic storyline. Some of those introduced late in the first book will play major roles down the line.
I grew up on epic fantasy sagas like Dragonlance, and my preference has always been to see a series at least start with a trilogy that tells an expansive story over a few books; then might wander afterwards.
After all the time and effort I put into world building, I can't imagine abandoning the little universe I've created. If I get to do it the way I want to (if, if, if) I'll finish the first 4 books in the series then branch off into the tales of minor characters. Or, perhaps, tell the stories of historical or future events. If I decide to write some sci-fi down the line, it could well be the distant future of the same world.
I have concepts for a half dozen novels that don't have all that much to do with the story I'm writing now, but would benefit from the strong foundation a trilogy provides. Since I can take any story and tell it within the framework of the world I've created, I could theoretically go on forever; choosing new locales, time periods and characters that fit whatever tale I'm spinning.
My preference depends on how the series is done. If the protagonists of one book have had their 5 minutes of fame and are done, let them have their happy ending. Even if I loved the characters and want to see more of them, I'll accept that.
Now, if a cliffhanger lurks in the background, I like it. If it's overt and stops halfway through the climax, I feel cheated, tricked into reading half a book.
I'm currently writing both kinds of series (though I'm not yet published--and yes, I considered what I was doing before deciding to go ahead and continue writing the same world/characters instead of starting another project).
My more traditional fantasy work is lending itself to the stand-alones. Yes, all the stories will intermingle, and each will lead to the other, but the main player changes for each major event that will occur in each book.
My urban fantasy work is lending itself to a continuing series. Yeah, I can see some side projects from others' perspectives, but my narrator's life is too full of drama to end everything after one book.
I am a big fan of continuing characters in a series when the prot's arc, world building, and authors inspiration allow it. As a reader I will follow a good series indefinitely with the expectation that the last book (whenever that is) will bring closure. Once a series builds a relationship with it's readers I think stand alone spinoffs or a continuing series can be equally effective.
I wrote my first ms, a cross genre YA/NA fantasy+, with full intention of it becoming a 2 (and hopefully 3) book series. In my mind, the stakes and the HEA broaden their scope over the series, but the story arcs will remain. I already have a stand alone in mind (indeed, outside the genre), but this is where my heart is so I will pursue the series despite the risks.
My novel that's on sub to editors (it's a fantasy about selkies in Maine) stands on its own but can be the start to a series. I like both kinds of series, the traditional same-character sequel and the companion-book type of sequel.
I have always been a series girl. I love getting to know characters and then be able to come back and visit with them again and again, seeing how their lives are progressing. I see that reflected on my bookshelf - there are shelves and shevles of different series.
So this is what I write as well. From a writer's perspective, I also find it fascinating to follow the lives of my characters and to be able to expand upon them in broad arcs. I'm currently querying my first novel, which is absolutely a standalone book, but is definitely set up with the potential for expansion. My critique team is already champing at the bit for the continuing adventure; now to see if I can convince an agent and a publishing company that it's something that they'd like to see as well...
My WIP is the first of a fantasy romance trilogy, but there's a series arc that could carry it beyond.
That said, it's my responsibility to make sure that (if it ever gets published), no one leaves dissatisfied with the book's ending.
I've given up on an open-ended series that never answered questions or got to the next step of the arc. If you're going to do that to me, it better be a finite series.
As a character writer I am a character reader as well. My two favorite authors are Maria V. Snyder and Tamora Pierce. The reason being, not only do they write series where I get to see the growth, advesity and love of the protagonist. I completely am euphoric in the fact that they continue within the realm they created with new main characters but yet we get to see glimpses of those previous characters and where they are in the next series of books. That is what I read, therefore that is what I write.
I recently realised that I was accidentally writing a series. I've 3 WIPs in the Commercial Womens Fiction genre and they have a central element. They all link back to one family, but each are stand alone and told from a different person within the family with only minor references to the others.
When I realised what I'd been subconsciously doing I was very excited. I just hope it works. The first is now zooming along at a near uncontrollable pace, my fingers whippety whipping across the keys.
I agree with Sarah W. I read romance because of the HEA, so my favorite series are the stand alones. And I love when the H/H from the first story show up as minor characters in the second or third story.
I think series with the same protagonists work better in other genres, like mystery and fantasy, where the love story between the H/H is not the primary focus of the story.
I write both kinds, and the response on them is very different.
With the Richard and Rose series (same characters, continuing story arc, but with an HEA for each book) sales aren't initially as high, but there is a lovely central reader base. This is also the series that has done most for my reputation and the one I'm "known" for. The most important thing, I think, is for all of the books to be available for new readers, which is the main reason that I decided on the epublishing route when I first submitted the series. It's published by Samhain, and has been very hard but rewarding to write.
I also do something similar in paranormal - I do miniseries with a continuing story arc within my "worlds" (I've done it in Department 57 and in STORM). The results are very similar. Some readers love them, but some will wait until the end of the arc to buy them. I've just completed the Ecstasy in Red arc (Ellora's Cave) and am now doing a few single titles.
Other series are complete stories, only linked because the heroes are friends, or related or whatever, depending on the series. Initial sales of these are excellent, but tail off faster.
I've also been involved in multi-author series, (eg Cougar Challenge) which brings in new readers. They're fans of another author in the series, and so they might have a look at yours.
Of course all this is subject to other factors, like the quality of writing, the popularity of the subject, availability and so on, so YMMV.
Hope some of that helps!
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