Lately, Allison and I have been writing out new spells for our clients and we came up with a gem. We’re introducing you to our series on how to sell a book. This is our first entry: How to Write a Book Series.
Doesn’t this seem obvious, though? You simply write more than one book with the same characters, right? Wrong. That is how to write a book series that doesn’t sell. Allison and I want your book to sell.
Like anything there are “steps”, and like anything I write, the steps are more like basic ideas that I put in numbered order.
1. Develop characters who people want to read
2. Develop multiple arcs: one for each book and one that overlaps all the books in the series
3. Put all your big guns into that first book
4. Care more about the reader than yourself
5. Write the books back to back
6. Try not to write filler books, but they work
7. Stop writing when the story is done
So is that first step apparent? I really want to think it is, but authors are artists. That means we write what we want to write. Many times that’s not really what a reader wants to read. There’s no hard fast rule for this. So it’s really at the discretion of the writer. But it does help when gaining an avid following to write characters that they are compelled to read.
That means no carbon cutouts of popular characters from other books, but do make the characters familiar. So don’t rewrite Bella from Twilight, but do capture the essence that made Bella a household name. Girls identified with her. Make your characters, especially the villains, easy to empathize with.
This isn’t how new authors think, though, but they should. Write living, breathing characters who the reader wants to meet. Simple.
Idea two is easy for some and harder for others. The multiple arcs idea is done by every master storyteller famous or not. So I won’t take credit for it, but I will highlight how authors can get this wrong. If your character isn’t developed in your head by at least the end of the first chapter the sequel will fall apart.
I know that sounds so dire, but the overlapping story arc is less about plot and more about the motivations of the character. In some genres, this is less true like thrillers or sci-fi, but in genres like romance and YA, the most popular genres, this is truer. Whichever genre you write in, understand that a developed character from the beginning will tie the stories together and force readers to keep buying.
From the first page of book one write for multiple books. Lay the foundation for mysteries and side plots in book one. Be a crafty storyteller, not a hasty book writer.
Putting all the big guns into the first book doesn’t mean to give everything away. It means making sure that the first book is the best you are capable of writing. Pour every effort you can into that first book. Once readers trust you as a writer they’ll stay fans.
All this leads to caring more about your readers than yourself without losing the integrity of your story. I recently scrapped my first chapter based on readers needs. I loved that first chapter, but the book is so much better now. Allison keeps raving about it when she easily forgot the original first chapter. It hurt at first to make the change, but now I prefer the new chapter.
Write the story from the perspective of the reader. What would they care about? What is an idea you have to give more attention to? Is the writing clear? Are all the pieces in the order the reader needs them to be? Will your book draw readers back to subsequent books? Think about these things when writing the first book.
I wrote both my book series as two long novels. Then I broke them up. Et Voila! I had two book series! Later my editor said it was good to have book series since readers want characters they can grow with. If you can strike gold with characters then people will keep reading them.
I say write them back to back to help keep plot holes and such low. Let’s say you get a huge following and your series has ten books. It’s easier to keep track of what Lacy did in book two when you just keep writing. Everyone can’t do this, but if you can, do it. Aim big with your book. Studios like book series.
While you’re writing those ten books it will be tempting to write filler books. Don’t be lazy. Filler books could give readers fatigue and they may drop the series. But sometimes life has highs and lows. So book series will too.
It’s okay if a reader thinks a book is written to set-up the next, more exciting book. They’ll still read it. You as the author shouldn’t write the book as filler, though. That means you shouldn’t be lazy about how you write it. Even if the story is simply a link from book two to four write it as well as all the other books. Your readers will appreciate you and remain your fans.
Two of the most popular shows in the 90s were Martin and Seinfeld. Both were the fictional lives of real celebrities. Both had large followings. Both are considered iconic. Both ended during seasons with high ratings. Fans were shaken when both leads pulled the shows, but the leads stuck to the integrity of the show. In the long run, people remember the shows as epic.
Then there are shows like Roseanne. Another 90s show that had all the above checks except it went one season longer than it should have. That last season of Roseanne is ridiculed to this day and hardcore fans hate it. Many refuse to watch it. Essentially, Roseanne had run out of stories that kept to the integrity of the show. Two decades later and the show hasn’t lived that down.
Simply stop writing when the story is over. Period.
That’s it, boys and girls. We hope these “rules” help you in your journey to success, but like with everything, there are exceptions. All the “rules” won’t work all the time. You’re the author, so you’re in charge.