Writing in Series
Posted by Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane Apr 17 2017, 12:01 am
I love romance series. Reading them. Writing them. It seems even when I set out intending to write a stand-alone, by the time I get to The End I’ve got a cast of characters I can’t wait to come back to.
The good news if you’re obsessed with writing series? Series sell. In the Data Guy presentation at last year’s national conference, it was clear that writers who wrote series were (on average) making almost twice as much from each book than those who exclusively produced stand alone titles. Which really makes sense, if you think about it.
Derek Thompson, author of “Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction” said in an interview on NPR that “What most of us gravitate toward are familiar surprises. New products and ideas that remind of us old products and ideas.” And in romance novels, what is better than a book by an author we love, in a setting we love, with characters we love, but an all new pair getting their HEA?
I could not read the Bridgertons fast enough. When I get a new book in Nalini Singh’s Psi-Changeling series, I will hoard it for months before reading it just to appreciate the thrill of having it available to me. Have you ever put down a book and immediately picked up the next int he series because you couldn’t bear to stop? For me that’s Kim Law’s Montana series and Darynda Jones’s Charley Davidson (to name drop a few Rubies). And lately I have been obsessed with Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series.
Which has gotten me thinking – what takes a series from good to irresistible? What are the elements that really hook us and keep us coming back for more?
I think it boils down to three things – 1) the world, 2) the characters, and 3) the series arc.
The world could be small towns or sexy vampire balls or a certain moment in history, but it has to be fully developed and give us that sense that we really are there when we’re reading – and we can’t wait to get back. I think world-building also includes the tone of the book – the author’s perspective on the place and time that seep through and color everything in unique shades. (e.g. Not all Regencies are created equal because Regency authors bring themselves to the world.)
The characters have to been vivid – and those secondary characters have to be real enough to intrigue us. I may only have to see them for a couple of pages, but if they feel like real people, with real problems, I cannot wait to see what’s beneath the surface and get that character their HEA. One of the things I have been loving in Elizabeth Hoyt’s new series is the way she will tempt us with a hint of who will be the next hero and/or heroine with a few scenes in that character’s POV that give us clues about the conflict in the next book. By the time I get to the end of one book, I’m already invested in the next hero/heroine and can’t wait to read the next book. Hello, binge weekend.
And lastly is the series arc. This, for me, is where Nalini Singh is a cut above the rest. The ongoing fight – whether against the big bad or toward some kind of event or resolution – can be a compelling reason to keep reading. And for me it really helps to stave of series fatigue – where a series seems to be going on forever and never evolving – if the overall series arc keeps me on my toes.
Finding ways to keep it fresh can be one of the challenges of series. I know some fabulous authors that I’ve just sort of stopped reading over time because series fatigue got me and I felt like I was reading the same book over and over again.
And that isn’t my only pet peeve. Don’t you just hate it when the action of a book suddenly halts so we can get an update on a previous heroine’s baby for no reason? Or when we get so heavily into sequel-bait for the next book that it feel like the author forgot all about the plot of the one we’re reading? Or – Nora forbid! – when an author actually destroys the lives of a previous couple in the series? Or worse, kills one of them off? Those books go flying across the room at my house.
Yeah, I love romance series, but it isn’t all sunshine and roses. And there can definitely be downsides to writing them – you can get into a situation where you have twelve dedicated readers who are desperate for the next book, but the series didn’t really take off enough for you to justify investing the time in finishing it (and I hate leaving things unfinished).
But if you hit on that magical alchemy of world, characters, and series arc, you could be the next Elizabeth Hoyt. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. 😉
What are some of your favorites series to read? What makes a series irresistible to you? Do you enjoy writing them? Have any pet peeves you see popping up in series?