Hello and Happy Sunday! If you’re anywhere in the US, I’m sure you’re dealing with some chilly weather. I’m in Houston and it’s a rare cold day in March. I’m not pleased, I prefer it when it’s warm. Okay, enough about the weather. I wanted to do a small post on book series today. I thought it appropriate since I’m about to publish book 4 in a series (and the nerves are starting to hit!) and because the Romance Writers Chat Topic this week is book series. If you’re on Twitter, follow @RWChat and the #RWChat hashtag Sundays at 6 pm CST. It’s a lot of fun, you’ll get great tips and connect with other writers.
First things first. Series. Why do readers like them? I can’t speak for all readers, but for me, I love them because I enjoy getting to be in a world for more than one book. It’s nice to finish a story and know that I get to revisit characters and further explore settings in following books. Some series focus on one couple, like Kate Aaron’s Free Men, while others stay in the same world but tell the stories of different couples. I like both formats. Annabeth Albert’s Perfect Harmony series is one that I enjoyed that has different couples in each book.
As a writer, they’re great for several reasons. First, when we come up with story ideas we often end up with ideas for secondary characters. Writing additional books in the series gives us a chance to set all those ideas free. Sometimes we have a secondary character that gets really loud in our head, or one that needs to be redeemed, like Ryan in The Detective’s Pleasure, and they won’t shut it until they get their own book.
Another reason writers love series is because it can be easier for us to write them. We already know the world and have some background on the characters, so the research and creation part can go a little faster. And of course, writers love series because we already have a built-in audience. If a reader enjoys book one in the series, she’s probably going to want to come back for books two and beyond. There is some danger in that however.
I’ve experienced series fatigue with a couple of authors. It gets to the point where I’m just ready to move on and try something new. Or in series where there is an overarching series plot, it can take too long for the author to get to the point. I’ve had to tap out on a couple of series like this. I do love series where the author gets in, writes four or five amazing books, then gets out, leaving me with nothing but good thoughts for the world they created.
Writing series can definitely be awesome for authors. So if you’re thinking of writing a series, or you’re smackdab in the middle of one, here are a few tips for you.
1. Start a series bible. Do this immediately. Do not pass Go and do not move on to the second book without a series bible. Record character’s names, physical descriptions and backgrounds. This is super helpful. You’ll think you remembered correctly that Mike has brown eyes, only to get an email from a reader asking what happened to his gray eyes. Record those facts, a summary of each book and other important details so that you can easily find them. You can create an Excel spreadsheet, a table in Word or go old school and have a binder full of info like me.
2. Have book covers that relate to each other. Your book covers don’t have to be identical. But they should definitely be similar. So if book one is painted art with a purple and gold background with a red dragon on the front, book two shouldn’t be slick black and white photography of a guy in jeans. Try to stick with a similar theme, style or color scheme. It will help your readers identify the books, and they’ll look super pretty when they’re all lined up together. Kate Aaron’s Free Men series has lovely coordinating covers.
3. Have the same general tone to each story in the series. Every couple is different and has a different story to tell. But if books one through three are about happy-go-lucky couples who fall in love after a meet cute, book four shouldn’t be a tragic love story where h and h are reunited after one goes to prison for ten years. That switch is jarring for the reader, and they’ll wonder what the heck happened to their beloved bubbly couples.
4. Don’t let characters take over stories that aren’t theirs. Readers want couples and characters from book one to make cameos in book two, etc. It’s like saying hi to old friends. But when a new book in the series becomes more about the characters from previous stories, it’s a problem. Some characters are loud and full of life on the page. It’s the writer’s responsibility to keep ahold of them and make sure they don’t steal page time from characters who are trying to find their own love story.
5. Know when to cut bait. There will come a time when you have to let a series go. Maybe you’re burned out on that world. If you are and don’t have any fresh ideas to share, let it go. Readers will pick up on it if you’re phoning it in. Or, maybe the readers just aren’t there for a series anymore. If you notice sales and readers for a series have dwindled to nothing, put that baby to bed. There’s not much sense spending the time, money and effort on something that you won’t see a return on. You can always revisit it later if interest is renewed.
There’s lots more information out there on writing series. If you have any tips or thoughts to share, feel free to post them in the comments. I’d love to know what both readers and writers think about book series.
My rambling and not at all edited thoughts on romance novels, writing, and pop culture.