MP900341542

By Anne Marie Becker

Several years ago, when I realized I wanted to make writing a career, “trilogy” was the buzz word. Series were sought-after by publishers because they could rapidly build an author’s name, as well as their backlist. It seemed a logical business move to structure the stories in my head into a series—especially since I’d always enjoyed reading series by other authors, falling in love with their characters and looking forward to “seeing” them again like old friends. But how do you create a series readers will become hooked on? 

A TIE-IN

A series, by definition, contains items that are related. Therefore, a series of books has someone or something that ties it together.

A Person

For instance, J.D. Robb’s “In Death” books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series center around a character (in these cases, the heroine) who is the main character in each book. The romantic elements come from that character’s romantic life, and show the growth of the character over a broader time spectrum.

A Place or Thing

On the other hand, one can center a series around an idea, a family, an agency, or some other entity separate from the characters. In romance, this typically involves the wrapping up of a different couple’s love story in each book. Suzanne Brockmann has several romantic duos in each book of her Troubleshooters series, but one is always wrapped up at the end of each book, and they all center around her Troubleshooters agency.

Because I enjoy books that can stand alone and have a romantic conflict all wrapped up nice and neat by the end of the book, I chose the second route and created an agency named SSAM (The Society of the Study of the Aberrant Mind) that bound my books together. This way, I have the freedom to pick and choose heroes and heroines with different skillsets, different reasons to be tied to SSAM, and different personalities for each book. I didn’t want to be tied to the same characters for an extended time period, though many of my heroes and heroines are secondary characters in past and future books. I like that sense that each book is a family reunion of sorts, where readers can catch up with their favorite characters.

SERIES GROWTH

Just like with individual books, there should be change and maturation over the course of the series. If your series is focused on a primary character, each book should display some growth in that character, with a more extensive growth arc over the series of books. For the second type of tie-in… well, if characters can grow, then agencies, towns, and families can, too. In this case, the central tie-in element is, in fact, a character in many ways.

The growth arc I created for the Mindhunters series is closely tied to the founder of SSAM – Damian Manchester, who has a point-of-view as a secondary character in each book. His past pain, current struggles, and ultimate resolution are revealed gradually, with a piece of the puzzle in each book, until the end book, in which I hope to give him peace at last.

MARKETING

Each book should be able to stand on its own. Readers tend to get irritated when they realize they’ve purchased a book, but will have to go purchase other past or future books to get the rest of the story. The nice thing about a series, though, is that promoting one book often impacts the others.  More bang for your advertising buck.

CHALLENGES

  • Keeping it straight. As the series continues, it can be difficult for an author to keep all the facts, character traits, family relationships, and events in line with previous books. See Tamara Hogan’s earlier post about creating a series bible.
  • Keeping it fresh. The author should create new challenges in each book, but also tie them into previous and future books without being too repetitive.
  • Making each book stand alone. Start each book as if the reader hasn’t read the others, and doesn’t need to. This includes “sprinkling” in the series backstory as if it was character backstory. You don’t want the reader to think they’ve missed some key piece of the series, but you don’t want to spend page after tedious page giving the history of the series either.
  • Selling early books. I’ve been told that some readers wait until the entire series is available before buying any of them. This can, of course, affect your sales, but if it’s true, it should result in a nice jump in royalties when the final book is released.
  • Keeping the tension high. Maintaining that sense of the “ticking clock” and imminent danger is necessary for romantic suspense, but readers expect resolution, too. Keeping both over a series of books can be a unique challenge.
  • If you write the same-main-character type of series (a la Stephanie Plum, Eve Dallas, or Harry Potter), one challenge is showing character growth over the course of each book, and then over the course of the series.

ADVANTAGES

  • Publishers like series. In fact, with my digital-first publisher (Carina Press), series are sometimes more likely to be put into print form (in this case, by the parent company, Harlequin). I’ve seen this happen with my Mindhunters books.
  • Readers like series. At least, this reader does. I like to get invested in the characters I read about, and see multiple aspects of their lives. It’s almost as if they’re part of a family. And if they’re in several books, even if they’re not always the main characters, I get a multifaceted, 3-D picture of them.
  • Authors like series. Writing a series gives you a chance to really delve deep into plot and character development, and you don’t have to do character development from scratch if the character has already appeared in a previous book, but you have more space to flesh them out, too.
  • As mentioned above, promotion of one book is promotion of all of the books.

 

This post originally appeared on the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood and was reprinted with permission.

 

annmariebeckerAbout:  Anne Marie Becker has always been fascinated with people and how they “work”—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Psychology, and Counseling.  Now, her roles as wife, mother, writer, and domestic goddess satisfy her curiosity.  She explores the dark side of criminal behavior and the saving powers of love and hope through her Mindhunters series. For more about Anne Marie and where to connect with her, please visit her at www.AnneMarieBecker.com.