The Journey to Publication · Writing

Workshop Shares: On Series Writing

So today was supposed to be about possibly my favorite workshop (or at least the most addictive – art journaling.) However, since I have yet to complete a full-page of an art journal, I’ll work on getting that ready for next week.

Which leaves this week on writing a series. Now, I’ve attended quite a lot of these type of workshops, because I like writing series books. This time I attended one by Joan Johnston, “Writing a Series that Sells Forever” and found information that still fascinated me.

So first question: why a series?

  • readers are used to TV, which is also often in series format. The idea is that readers will get invested in the characters – no matter which book of the series they pick up – and will want to read more (ie: look up the back list or future books.)
  • can help to propel sales.
  • can give you “the next book” to work on.
  • it can be easier to sell a book that’s part of a series and not an “orphan” disconnected from the rest of your books.

How to connect your series? This is one of the questions that inevitably comes up, and so I’ll probably add from other workshops as well:

  • connected family members. The downside, of course, is that once they’re all married off, you can move to children / grandchildren, and you need to start with a very large family. Advantage: if you enjoy writing in different periods, this does allow you to tell the stories of a family across generations, as Joan Johnston has with her series.
  • connected locale. It can be real or fake, but often it might be safer to do the research on a real locale, then place your fictional one in the same place. That way, you don’t run into issues of change in the town, or possible legal difficulties (especially if you did write that shopkeeper you despised into the story). 😉
  • a single character that may join together all the books, or help to create an overarching story-plot.
  • individual plot vs overarching plot – the whole series often has an overarching plot (though not always), BUT each book generally gets its own individual plot (ie: the romance for that couple is complete, but the overall story for the family isn’t). This can help to propel sales if the reader is anticipating the next book.
  • my note: you can also do series where the same characters connect the books, like the J.D. Robb books, or Katie MacAlister’s dragon series. Some writers (and readers) love continuing with the same character and a longer arch. Some really don’t, so consider carefully.

Disadvantages to a series:

  • if the first book isn’t strong enough, no one will want to buy any of the others.
  • if you want / need to switch publishing houses, this can be difficult mid-series.
  • you can get caught in a rut. If readers love your series SO much, they may not want to read anything else you write except for the series.

General tips and advice:

  • if you’re considering a series, make sure you LOVE your characters and locale enough that you could write it for years, because you might end up doing so.
  • keep your own name on everything, since it might be your voice that readers fall in love with, and you want it to be easy for the to find you!
  • on your website, list the series in chronological order, making it easy for readers to figure out what book to read next.
  • consider having two villains: a “good” villain, and  “bad” villain. The good villain is an antagonist to the protagonist, but isn’t evil. The “bad” villain is actually the bad guy, possible criminal, etc.
  • if you have a huge cast, don’t introduce them all at once, and they can only be in the book if they are necessary to move the plot forward. Otherwise, no random visitations please. 😉
  • if working with agents or publishers, protect your work, and watch out for contract phrases where the publisher or agent “owns” the characters or series. Speak up if you’re concerned. 🙂

So that’s essentially my notes from the workshop.

What about you? Did you attend any other series workshops? Have I missed something important in my notes?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. 🙂

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