RWA National: Doing It All Over Again: Writing Novels in a Series

New York Times bestselling authors Eloisa James and Sarah MacLean and their editor, Carrie Ferron of Avon, delivered a solid hour of  information for those of us planning a series of novels. Although the thought of planning a series, like James’s Desperate Duchesses, and MacLean’s Scoundrels, seems daunting, it becomes less so when you consider the following:

CONNECTIONS: What is it that connects the books? It can be a place, like MacLean’s gaming hell; a town, like the small towns created by writers like Debbie Macomber and Sherryl Woods; a family (Bridgertons or Montgomerys, anyone?); or even an overarching story, like James used for Desperate Duchesses. The connection you choose can almost become a character in itself. MacLean likened her casino to Hogwarts in that there’s always a secret room or feature when you need it.

THE BIBLE: Not the one in the pulpit–the one you create when you create a story series. Your story bible contains facts, dates, timelines, pictures, events, characters–everything you create as your series moves along. The bible keeps you from giving a minor character green eyes in Book 1 and brown ones in Book 3. Be careful when seeding in detail from your bible, though; you don’t want to unintentionally write yourself into a corner in a later book because you were less than judicious when choosing information about that character or situation in a previous book. When you publish, request the same copyeditor. They have to be familiar with small details as they work through a manuscript, so they’re more likely to keep things consistent from book to book.

PITCHING A SERIES: Publishing houses are looking to build the series/author, so they have a vested interest in asking authors to write books in the same mode. It’s harder to establish an author if there’s too much variety in what they publish. When pitching, you should convey the status of the series as a whole: type of book, number of books, planned titles, degrees of completion for each element. Three-book series are popular. Also, know your strengths. What do you do well? Is it a type of relationship or character, a theme? Be able to explain how these tie in with the books. Thematic links are important.

MARKETING: Your platform is the publisher’s most important weapon in the battle to sell you. Be ready. Your website can contain bonus information the series reader will want to know, or extra content. A website is “the only static thing in a moving world” dominated by Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, so make it robust. You can also build platform and increase readership with newsletters, sneak peeks (vital if you’re choosing to self-publish), postcards, and an email list.

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