To Write A Series or Not To Write A Series, by GUEST BLOGGER RACHEL HAUCK
Guest blogger Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as RITA nominated The Wedding Dress and RITA nominated Love Starts with Elle, part of the Lowcountry series, the Nashvegas series and the Songbird Novels penned with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Their novel Softly and Tenderly, was one of Booklists 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. Her current release, Once Upon A Prince, hit #5 in Kindle Amazon.
To Write A Series or Not To Write A Series by Rachel Hauck
Thanks to Chip for the opportunity to blog this week! I’ve known Chip for a number of years of which the last four he’s been my agent.
It’s been an honor and privilege to work with him. Our working relationship started when God shouted “Chip MacGregor” to me in a dream. True story.
It’s also how I found out he played the glockenspiel in the 8th grade band.
Chip likes to joke on his blog and unabashedly share his opinions, but he also cares about people and writers, and is more kind hearted than he’ll let show.
Thanks Chip for being on the other end of the phone when I need it!
So, now to the real purpose of the blog. How do series play into publication for published authors as well as unpublished? Should unpublished authors be concerned with writing a series?
I live in a really cool little community, a sort of oasis in the middle of busyness, and it’s easy to get to know our neighbors.
A new family recently moved in and the wife/mom wants to be a novelist. The other day we stood in front of her house talking books and she mentioned how she had a whole series planned.
Her comment landed on a pile of “I’m writing a series” statements I’ve heard from beginning writers over the years. Seems everyone wants to write a series.
And it got me to thinking…
As readers, we like series. We want to continue on with a character or a certain town or setting, but the reality is series don’t often sell well.
The typical series sell through goes something like the first book sells the most units. The second sells considerably less. Then the third book sells more than the second but less than the first.
Go figure that one.
However, it seems series are everywhere we look. I’m in the middle of writing a series myself.
Series are a great way to draw in and keep readers. Especially with characters and a setting that are dynamic.
While The Wedding Dress was a mini breakout book for me, I couldn’t find a sincere way to make it a series. So we left it as a stand alone.
My NashVegas books didn’t start out to be a series, but my editor and I thought it’d be fun to explore more of Nashville. But that series didn’t sell well.
So how do you know where to write a series or not?
If you’re an established author, talk to your agent and/or editor when developing a series idea.
Chip and I discussed a “wedding” series but at the end of the day, I couldn’t come up with anything really original. So we abandoned the idea.
To develop a series, dig deep for a high concept idea that can carry multiple books. Take an old idea and turn it upside down. Come up with a new twist or angle.
Create a protagonist with enough emotional range you can write mini epiphanies for her across several books.
Author Tamera Alexander picked the great mansions of Nashville to create a series. The dynamic setting made room for several characters and a strong start to book one with more mansion stories to come gave room for books two and three.
Thrill writers Vince Flynn (RIP) and Harlan Coben created successful series with complex characters Mitch Rapp and Myron Bolitar.
James Patterson did the same with Alex Cross. And Lee Child with Jack Reacher. (Have you seen the movie? Really good!)
Jan Karon had us laughing along with Father Tim for more than seven books. She used a small town and the power of a funny ensemble cast to draw us in book after book.
Series can be very engaging reads. Just make sure your “hook” is deep enough and wide enough to carry two or three stories.
A lot of times readers do ask for more books with the same characters. Always a good sign. It means you’ve done your job as an author and made the reader love your characters.
But are the characters series worthy? Take time to consider if a series would really work.
If you’re a new writer, seeking traditional publication, or self e-publishing, the best road to success is to write the best possible stand alone novel you can.
Don’t worry about writing a series before the first book has even been published.
Focus on the stand alone title, then if the book sells to a publisher, or sells well in the self e-publishing world, then consider a series.
Many times while working with new authors, digging into their work-in-progress or a finished manuscript, I’ll ask a plot or craft question only to get the answer, “Oh yea, that does happen but not until book two.”
Book two? You’ve not even sold book one yet and you’re saving a really cool plot point for book two?
Load up book one with ALL the good stuff. Don’t reserve anything for a second or third book when book one hasn’t sold.
The danger of planning a series as you’re starting out as a writer is the temptation to save things for subsequent books.
This weakens the plot and characterization of book one.
Resist the urge to plan a series. It’s fine to think, “I’d like to do a series” but don’t reserve plot and epiphanies for other books until book one is crafted with the most dynamic plot and characters, completed, polished, and accepted by an agent or publisher.
Another draw back to early planning of a series is the subtle overwhelming feeling of “I have to write all of these books…” when book one has yet to be published.
It’s an amazing, grand accomplishment to plot, write and complete one novel, let alone a series.
When I came up with the Royal Wedding Series I had one idea. A princes falls in love with an American girl.
That was it.
After talking with my writing partner, Susan May Warren, I came up with an idea for book two, wrote a paragraph about it and sent it off to Chip.
It was the publisher who asked for a third book and a series.
That was the moment I went to work on how I could write three royal novels.
But I gave my best ideas and best work initially to book one. And it sold.
So, to write a series or not to write a series? Here’s what I advise. And Chip agrees with me. Really, he does. Honest.
Focus on writing the best stand alone novel you can. Create that dynamic story world. Design a complex, flawed character we’ll all sympathize with, and twist and turn your plot.
Then, when the book sells to a traditional publisher or sells well in the self e-pubbed world, go for a series. You’ll have plenty of material to develop an equally stellar series.
What is your experience with reading or writing a series?
Interesting discussion, Rachel. Surprising that someone would decide to write a series before starting a book. On the other hand, I typically prefer reading a series. Especially in romances, I love to find out what happens to characters after “I love you.”
Great post, Rachel. I wrote my first book and started a second. Then, when I got my line edits from the publisher, I realized there was a minor character who has her own story to tell. So, I’m starting that now. Sometimes there’s more to be said and sometimes there’s not.
As a reader and librarian, I find it annoying and frustrating when I can tell a series has been made just to sell more books…..that’s there’s nothing interesting going on. I’ve noticed it in several big named authors (both Christian and mainstream markets. I’ve wondered often if that’s the publisher or the author or both.
Thanks, Rachel. Yes, I’ve heard Chip give the same great advice. Loading up the original story with unique plot twists and intriguing character development makes for the great stand alone novel that will cause readers to ask for more.
I loved your thoughts on making Book One the very best you can make it. Makes perfect sense. I liked Tamera Alexander’s idea with the mansions for a series. Sounds interesting!
Good post. Not all series writers are created the same way. I fell into it by accident. I had three books published by Kensington in the 1980’s, so my grasp of contemporary writing and publishing was out-of-date to the max. After my husband went to heaven to start building our mansion, I began writing the tale that had been filling my mind for over thirty years. After five years of twelve hour days at my laptop, I had three long sagas, (over 440,000 pages each). I sent the printed copy of book one to Natasha Kern, an agent I had met at a writer’s convention. She not only read it, but sent me a two-page instruction sheet on how to turn this large saga into at least three or four books. After several years of rewriting, I now have six complete books in my “Thistle Series.” Praise God for His grace and the people he has put my way to encourage and instruct (I’ve sat through many of your sessions, Rachel).
Dianne, but that’s the way to do a series. Your agent showed you how and probably knew it would sell!
Glad I’ve been able to help through teaching, Dianne!
Totally agree. Write your best stand alone.
You are wise and knowledgable and helpful as always, Rach.
Thanks for this post. It was helpful. Especially about not holding back for the next book. It might have answered a question I’ve been mulling over.
I didn’t start out writing a series, but these secondary characters kept wanting their stories told and Revell liked the idea, so I’m writing a series. Loved Once Upon a Prince and can’t wait until the next one comes out!
Pat, that’s the way. Write the best first book and more than likely secondary characters will begin to demand their own story too!
I’ve read a couple series, but each one I’ve read really did fizzle in the end.
My daughter on the other hand DEVOURS manga series. She has literally read each one in our library system that is appropriately rated (and more probably that I don’t know about).
She also has more than enough interesting tales to tell her own series, while I would never. I don’t think it’s age, just a difference.
You might be right, Esther. Just different stories “series” better than others.
I’m writing stand-a-lones for the very reason you stated, Rachel! Yes! Good to know my research on that topic has been confirmed. *was starting to sweat armor piercing bullets there for a sec 😉 But here’s a question: when writing more than one stand-alone in prep for hoping to be pubbed someday, is it good to diversify location/setting even with completely different premises? (Montana, one / Boston, two) Or doesn’t it matter?
Great minds think alike Jaime!
To your question: write where the story demands to be set. Write so the setting matters to the story.
If your story is about a cowboy, don’t put him in Boston. If your story is about a burnt out detective, don’t put him in Montana.
But if you are writing a dynamic setting that can support different kinds of characters and stories, use it over and over.
CREATE your own story world that works. 😉
I’m unpublished, Rachel, and am just finishing a mystery that I can turn into a series. I’m tempted to put the romance subplot on hold (meaning they’re still uncertain at the end of book 1) until book 2. It sounds like you’re recommending I wrap up all subplots in book 1. If it sells, then I can worry about bridging the first two books. I also thought about dangling a teaser at the end. Just one or two sentences that have the protag’s daughter, who he’s been distant from, showing up unannounced. That’s easily cut if an editor makes it to the end and doesn’t want the loose end. My own writing partner, Gina Conroy, is on her second book in her series after publishing the first (Chip is also her agent). We’re both discovering how difficult it is to tie the two together, yet also make them stand alone. The lesson learned is that a series can be more work, not less. Yes, you can recycle characters, but they’ve changed after the first book. If they didn’t, you did something wrong. And now you have to sort out what characteristics stay the same and what has changed.
Ron, I would put the romance in book one. Almost all books need some romance element or relationship dynamic. If you hint at a romance thread in the end of book one, the publisher might say, “where’s that story?” and want to read it before deciding.
Make book one as complete and well rounded as possible! Bump up that romance! 🙂
Series can be hard to weave together. That’s why I say put all your heart into book one. And more than likely you’ll have threads you can pick up for continuing books.
Hhhhm, I’ve tossed the idea of writing a series back and forth in my head … and with a mentor … still wondering how far I’ll go with it. Great post!
This is a great article, Rachel! Very informative and insightful.