It was a great joy last week to introduce my fellow writers and contributors to this series which looks at the joys and challenges of series novels. Amongst tonight’s topics for Jennifer C Wilson, Val Penny, Anne Wan, Wendy H Jones, and Richard Hardie to tackle are the challenges of writing a series and what are the issues which arise in trying to promote a series. (Trust me it is challenging enough promoting a single book!). And as ever many thanks to all of my guests for supplying the author pictures and book cover shots.
3. What are the challenges?
Jennifer C Wilson
Remembering what I’ve already written! In Kindred Spirits: Westminster Abbey I wrote a line about one of my returning characters, which completely contradicted what I’d written about the same character when they were in the Tower of London. Happily, nothing too bad in terms of a rewrite, but it made me realise I had to be a lot more careful.
The main challenges of writing a series are probably two-fold: I would not want my recurring characters to become caricatures of themselves, I also want to avoid my novels becoming boring or repetitive, so I do introduce some new challenges into my characters’ lives in each book.
Building your world carefully so that it is consistent throughout the series. This is more critical when creating a fantasy world where money, technology, beliefs, customs etc. are all determined by the writer. I find it helpful to create characters’ descriptions, setting info and rules that govern the fantasy world to refer back to when writing.
A major challenge is finding out in a later book in the series that you really needed to drop certain information into an earlier book. For example, to make the story in book 3, Menacing Magic, work, I needed a character, Madame Etoile to have appeared in book 1. To overcome this, I referred to her experiencing an event in book 1 in order to place her in the story at the right time. Also when releasing a new addition of Vanishing Voices, I added Madame to one of the illustrations! Author Helen Dennis was requested to write all six books in her debut children’s series, Secrets Breakers before Hodder Children’s Books published the first one. There is some wisdom in this!
Making sure that you show that time has moved on in the setting and with the characters from a previous book.
Wendy H Jones
Making sure I keep all the characters straight in my head. This includes all their habits, their backgrounds and what has happened to them in the past. If you say a character has blue eyes in book 1 and then brown eyes in book 8, trust me a reader will remember. They will also let you know. Quite rightly so. The other challenge with writing series is keeping things fresh. Allowing for the familiar whilst surprising the reader with a story that still contains mystery and suspense.
I know my characters very well now. I know how they’ll act in a given situation and what they’ll say and how they’ll say it. The challenge is thinking up plots and circumstances that make sense, not just to me, but to the reader. Initially Terry Pratchett saw that as a challenge and thought the Discworld series might run to 5 or maybe 6 books. He never envisaged 50 or so titles. I’ll be happy to write 10 Temporal Detective Agency books that make sense as credible and meaningful adventures. I suppose the final challenge is WANTING to write another sequel in a series when readers are demanding one.
4. Did you set out to write a series from the start or did that just emerge? If the latter, what made you realise you had a potential series on your hands?
Jennifer C Wilson
It just emerged. It was a fun concept to play with for one book, but when a fellow writer asked what was coming next, I realised I didn’t have a clue. It was then I thought about writing another book in the same world, and taking the adventure elsewhere. I had wanted to go directly to Westminster Abbey, but I’ll admit I was scared of the number of ghosts who might be hanging about, so chose the Royal Mile instead.
I think I always intended to write a series, I enjoy exploring the characters I create a little further in every novel I write.
I didn’t set out to write a series. When I reached the end of Vanishing Voices I hinted that Grandma knew more about the snow globe’s magic than she had conveyed to the children. This made me curious, and I wanted to find out what her experience of the snow globe’s magic was and what secrets was she hiding!
Wendy H Jones
With all my series I knew they were going to be series. In fact I had them planned out in advance, or at least the titles planned out. When it comes to reading I prefer to read a series so this was a natural progression for me. As a reader, once I have invested in a character I want to know more about them.
I always thought that the Temporal Detective Agency books would become a series. The characters had too much potential to kill them off after one adventure. My first agent agreed and made the point that publishers love taking on a series, or at least a potential series. Readers also love a series. The Harry Potter books are a case in point.
5. What are the issues in promoting a series?
Jennifer C Wilson
In a positive way, if somebody likes one book, there’s the chance they’ll go on to read the others in the series, thereby making each book a marketing tool for the others in a way. One issue with mine is that although they are a series, they’re set in different places and feature mostly different historical characters each time, so they don’t have quite as much in common as other series.
The issues with promoting a series are making the books and their stories distinctive enough that readers look forward to the next instalment. It is also important that my readers are sufficiently invested in the characters to follow the series. There is no room for a dull book!
I looked into organising a blog tour for book 1 but found this is more difficult with subsequent books. The books really need reviewing as a complete set rather than individual books. It can be harder to sell books later in the series, i.e. when at a new event, people will often buy book one and ‘see if they like it’ rather than buy books 2 and 3. I provide a special offer when people buy the complete set to make this a more appealing option.
Wendy H Jones
There are not so much issues as strategies. The idea is to promote your first book and if readers invest in the characters and your writing style they will read further books in the series. You always need to ensure that you market the new books at the same time. So it’s a balancing act. In other ways it is fairly easy. If people like the series, then they will carry on reading the books and buy the new ones. It is readers who make writing series so worthwhile.
There really aren’t any negative issues in promoting a series. Bookshops know that if the first book in a series sells well, then the second will do so almost automatically. The same applies to publishers. Even the media marketing companies like BookBub like a series, because they can advertise the series as a package. As with a film series franchise, the follow-ups may not be a patch on the original film, but people will still flock to see it. The same applies to books.
6. Having written a series would you write another? If you have or are thinking of this, what is the attraction here?
Jennifer C Wilson
I have the vague idea that the next few books might be connected, albeit not strictly a series, but we’ll see how that pans out!
I might write another series, but I have not really thought that far ahead yet. I am quite happy creating problems for and solving them with the characters I have already created.
Yes. Being able take your readers on a journey over several adventures.
Wendy H Jones
You’re asking the queen of series here. I currently have three series out
The DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries
Cass Claymore Investigates
The Fergus and Flora Mysteries
I have also written a children’s picture book called Bertie the Buffalo. This is about Scotland’s very own wee escape artist. This is based on the true story of a young Buffalo who escaped last December. The BBC picked up on this and called him Bert. I was asked to write the book about his escapades.
I also have started a new cozy mystery series so who knows where that will go. That will take me up to five series.
The attraction of writing so many series is that it allows me to stay fresh and engaging, it allows the reader to be engaged for longer and new readers will find your new series.
Yes, if a good storyline cropped up I’d certainly start another series, but at the moment I’m happy with the one I’ve got! It used to be true that authors would use a pen name if they started a new series, so their readers wouldn’t get confused. That can backfire of course as it did for J K Rowling when she finished the Potter books and started writing detective stories. They didn’t sell until it was leaked that the author was actually JKR and then sales went through the roof.
Many thanks, everyone, for some fascinating insights. Next week’s concluding part to this mini series will look at the issues of making each book in a series still read well as a stand alone book. (You can never know which book your reader will start with, it isn’t necessarily book 1. I got into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series with Mort, which was well into the series!).
About Jennifer C Wilson
Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who developed an equal passion for history whilst stalking Mary, Queen of Scots of childhood holidays (she has since moved on to Richard III). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating.
Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to work on developing her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. Her Kindred Spirits novels are published by Crooked Cat Books and available via Amazon, along with her self-published timeslip novella, The Last Plantagenet? She can be found online at her blog, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
About Val Penny
Val Penny is an American author living in SW Scotland. She has two adult daughters of whom she is justly proud and lives with her husband and two cats. She has a Law degree from Edinburgh University and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, lawyer, banker, azalea farmer and lecturer. However she has not yet achieved either of her childhood dreams of being a ballerina or owning a candy store. Until those dreams come true, she has turned her hand to writing poetry, short stories and novels. Her crime novels, ‘Hunter’s Chase’ and Hunter’s Revenge are set in Edinburgh, Scotland, published by Crooked Cat Books. The third book in the series, Hunter’s Force, follows shortly.
Author contact details
About Anne Wan
Anne Wan is the author of the Secrets of the Snow Globe series, aimed at children aged 7 to 9 or thereabouts (Key Stage 2). She now has three books in the series: Shooting Star, Vanishing Voices, and the recently released Menacing Magic.
About Wendy H Jones
Wendy H Jones is the Amazon Number 1 best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse, was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the forthcoming Christmas Anthology form the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, will be released at the end of October 2018.
About Richard Hardie
Richard is the creator of the Temporal Detective Agency series which, to date, comprises Leap of Faith and Trouble with Swords. As well as the adventures of his heroines, you also discover some home truths about Merlin!
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