Why Authors Should Write a Series of Books: Lessons Learned From Patricia Cornwell

The eye-catching book marketing to the left caught my eye in the local mall, and for the first time I bought a Patricia Cornwell novel. It was available on the Kindle and so I just downloaded it there and then (yes, I love my Kindle!)

Patricia Cornwell is just one example of an author who has created a successful series with 17 books featuring Kay Scarpetta.

Why should authors create a series of books?

  • Publishers want them, so do the fans and you make more money. Face it, publishing is a business and if there is a successful series of books then everyone makes more money. Fans also love them and will generally buy/read every one in the series if they engage with the characters. They might discover your story in book 5 and then go back to read the rest of the books, or start at 1 and be a lifelong fan.
  • You get to develop your story and your characters. For a nice, tight plot and storyline for today’s mass market novel, there is not much space for slow character development or exposition. Mass market novels that make money are fast paced with movement and action. If you have a series, you can develop facets of your characters that would get edited out otherwise as too minor to the story.

Lessons Learned From Patricia Cornwell on Writing A Successful Series

  • Create a compelling character whose work /life allows for a series of stories on a theme. Think JK Rowling’s Harry Potter school years; Dan Brown’s symbologist Robert Langdon; Kathy Reichs’ forensic anthropologist Tempe Brennan, Stephanie Meyer’s Edward and Bella, Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus (21 novels!)  and of course Cornwell’s Medical Examiner/coroner Kay Scarpetta. Is there potential for more adventures for your main character? For multiple books, you also have the chance to develop sub-characters, e.g. Scarpetta’s niece Lucy is still going strong in the latest book after appearing as a 10 year old 20 years ago.
  • Understand timelines and allow for growth and change in the character’s lives. For a series of books, you need to have a clear timeline for all characters and make sure you keep consistency across the books. This takes some planning! Check out this great post on Meta-documents from author Scott Westerfeld, who is also writing a series of novels.
  • Add hooks into the book that relate to other books/stories. When writing the first book, be aware of the future possibilities and plant seeds that can be hooks for other stories. In the future books, have references back to other adventures that can encourage readers to go check out previous books too. Once an avid reader finds an author they love, it is likely they will buy the whole backlist and then wait expectantly for the next book.
  • Have a formulaic plot but keep the details original. Readers come to trust an author and like to know what they are getting. The Scarpetta novels are not original plots, but the fans get what they want every time. A series of books must be have similarities in plot and style. But of course, many authors then create another series with another character which means they can expand their writing more.

Personally,  I am writing a thriller for NaNoWriMo with the aim of making it a series, so I am researching at the same time as writing and trying to follow these tips myself. Do you have any more ideas or tips for a book series?

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Comments

  1. BobN says

    I have finished three series books and so far the best has been Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series even thought when I sent him a request to list them as a series he denied they were written as such. If someone would help suggest similar series I would appreciate it

    • BobN says

      One more comment,,in a series I liked the way Clancy evolved the characters age, social life (marriage, kids, personal career) as well as they way he evolved his collegues and adversaries as well. The series evolved in a sometimes boring evolution of Jacks personal history/world history ut all of a sudden Clancy engaged with a co-author (several?) and the books got easier to follow.Not sure why
      I am rwading Travis Magee. J D MacDnald series which does not track as Clancy. Rowling and Scarpetta books also evolved into complex novels making them difficult to follow,,,but all good reads

  2. CandiH says

    I turned my husband on to the Sandford series a long time ago and then hooked him on the Diana Gabaldon’s series. I, however got bored with her details in the Drums of Autumn. I like a story to include enough details to make my own picture. That includes character description.
    In my first published novel, Ermentrude’s Knot, (ebookit.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.) I instinctively put hooks that lead a reader into the second novel, which includes more adventure, humor, mystery, and romance. The characters change and grow in their personalities and interests as they age. The stories also inform the reader of the time period through their events and conversations. Their adversaries change and so does the scenery. Since it’s an historical fiction series, after my second book, I intend to end the story of my characters and descendants but let readers know what happened to their civilization. In time, I intend to write about another family and tribe in my third book, but that will require further research, first. Have fun writing!

  3. says

    I write children’s books and one of the things I like is that my protagonists don’t necessarily have to grow up. I know Rowling did it with the HP series, but the series I;m working on now, can stay withe a much younger audience. I’ll never run out of readers!

Trackbacks

  1. […] I prefer to buy on the Kindle. Firstly I have just moved house and I have over 1000 books that I have paid to ship from UK to NZ to Australia. I seriously can’t hold any more stock here! So I am trying to move to buying less paperbooks, and culling what I have to retain the most loved print books. Saying that I have ordered 2 books in print that I read on the Kindle first. Second, it is cheaper for me. As mentioned before, prices of books in Australia are astronomical and make print books a budget breaker. I can get 3 Kindle books for the price of 1 new paperback. Thirdly, the risk is lower. I can read samples when I like and buy for cheaper without feeling ripped off if the book is no good. (I stopped reading the Scarpetta that sparked the last post!) […]

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