You may have been planning a book, and you may also know that the best route to increasing your book sales is by producing a number of books. So why not buckle down right at the beginning and outline your book series?
That might sound a little ahead of the game, but if you have in mind a large enough overarching story—or in the case of nonfiction, enough material—then you’re better off figuring out up front how to organize it. Plenty of writers do.
Amy Braun, a BookWorks author, and writer of several book series (Cursed, Agents of Limbo) says, “I plan the novels out as a series. Most of the ideas I have are too big to fit into one book, though I can't always tell how many novels I'll end up writing. Some stories may take six books to tell, another might only take two. Though I find that with around three to four books, you have enough space to expand the world and help your characters evolve without dragging the series out to the point of exhaustion.”
Newly-minted science fiction writer Paul Calvert, this year in the process of self-publishing his debut novel (Imperium: Betrayal), said on Quora.com that before starting to publish his new trilogy, “I sat down for a good two months just sketching out the story arc for the books, chapter by chapter, making sure there would be enough interesting material for all three. If there wouldn't have been enough material for three books then I would have just written two.”
You should be comfortable that the ideas and material you have will sustain more than one full-sized book. Don’t do as some authors have done and split what would be a solid single novel into several thinner ones by padding. Your readers are unlikely to appreciate it—or come back.
This doesn’t mean your book series has to have a beginning and end, at least at the beginning. Many mystery series, for instance, are open-ended, and sometimes stay so a long way through. But if you do have an ending planned, think it through carefully early on. (The bestselling novelist Stephen White has posted on his website a great essay on his choice to end a long-running series and the decisions he made in the process, and it can provide some good food for thought.)
You should put some definition around your series early on. Write a sentence or two describing it, and indicate what makes your series different from others in the genre, then do the same for each of the books in the series—or, at least as far out as you can project. Try plotting out at least to book three or four, so you’re sure you have a true series in mind.
Note which elements in the initial book should be carried over in each following book, or at least in most of them. Science fiction series, for example, usually operate within the same set of worlds or universe, and many other genre novels do much the same thing. Even most private eye novels generally set us down in a familiar world, with a familiar group of people, each time out.
About the same time, adopt a series name. Writer Eve Paludan suggested, “Give your series a name that conveys to prospective readers a clear idea of the genre. Here are some examples: Brotherhood of the Blade, Witch Detectives, Ranch Lovers Romance, Angel Detectives, and Ghost Files (J.R. Rain, Scott Nicholson, et al.).”
The book titles should fall within a recognizable pattern. That can mean a similar set of phrases or the common use of a word. Many of the best-known fiction series do this, from John D. MacDonald’s naming of his Travis McGee novels for colors (The Green Ripper, A Deadly Shade of Gold) to Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum numbers (To the Nines, Explosive Eighteen). When a new one is published, they’re instantly recognizable.
Try to have a professionally designed set of series covers created up front. (Of course, all your covers should be professionally designed, but doing so might get you a volume discount.) Along with series and book titles, a consistent and professional cover design will signal to your audience a consistent and professional reading experience.
Maintain some flexibility as you go. The characters and the story are likely to head off in directions you may not have anticipated.
If you’ve written your first book and you’re ready to release it, consider holding back and putting in some work on book two, and maybe book three, first. If your first gets a good response, you won’t want to leave your readers hanging too long to pick up on book two.
Romance author Liliana Hart, a bestselling (New York Times and Publishers Weekly) author who has produced more than 40 books, has even suggested having seven books ready to roll (“five down and one in the hole”): Releasing five at once, on the same day, a sixth one month later, and seventh a month after that.
That may be a little much for many writers. But closely linking your book series is one of the best ways to sell them, individually and collectively.
Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books.
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