OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
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!)
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?