Writing a series?

Published by: Squidge on 11th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by Squidge

Just embarked on book 2 of 5 in a series; book 1's out with both my current publisher and a UK based one to see what they think.  

Series writing has its own pitfalls and problems, so I've linked to a couple of articles over on the Scribbles, and mused a bit about the new addition to the Doubt Demon family who's appeared, simply because I'm trying to write a series...

Wondered if any cloudies have anything else to add to the list of what to avoid in a series (either through writing or reading), or anything you've done that's helped you write your own series? 





  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    Anthony Trollope might be a good writer to examine as her wrote several series of books with the same characters. The Barchester Chronicles' is the most famous. Surely most TV programmes to this sort of plotting? The Durrells might be a good example of this as the story progresses from week to week and the characters develop. One episode had a funny pastiche of the Henry Miller.group. The most famous writer who describes the area in which I live is Richmal Compton. All her books have the same characters.
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    As a reader
    Dear Squdge.
    I still use my public library and returned a book yesterday. My choice is often at random. If I pick up a book that is part of a series, It can refer to events from previous novels, so I tend to go for for stand alone books. Some detective series are stand alone books as the murder is the plot, while others pad with the love life of the main copper so you have to have read the earlier ones. I enjoyed the first Ripley novel, but there was do much recycling of plots and material in a subsequent one that I lost all interest. At the moment I am reading ‘The Reluctant Contact’ by Stephan Bourne which I picked off the new books. This is for the train, At home I am reading another library book. ‘The Face in the Glass’ which are the Gothic tales of ?Mary Elizabeth Braddon’ which is a British Library re-print.
    In your case of your novel isn’t your readership is likely to be those who hsve read the first novel. Would there be much need to recycle the first book? I am not sure about the repetition in Trollope. This might be due to his novels being published in serial form and the need to reresh peoples’ minds. I don’t know.
    I used to work in a public library and looked at the return shelf to see what people are reading and it it looked to be mostly light fiction.
    I saw a musical of ‘The Selfish Giant’ yesterday. There were not many children in the audience. When I got home I looked up the composer. He is extremely well known in the pop field., I think to have a popular success in he teenage field, some basis in the popular music field seems essential. All I tended to hear was an amplified bass and drums. I wonder if the age group for ‘The Selfish Giant’ would not get a bit bored with this? But I sure everybody knew what they were doing. It was well done for a family audience and seemed very much the story Oscar Wilde wrote.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 3 months ago
    Hi Squidge,
    I've read your blog and links, and first up - the doubt demon you cite: why write the second one when you don't know the first will ever be published. This is the case with all of us with every book we write, regardless of series or not. Why is it different because it's a series?
    It underlines the necessity for each separate book to excite you and interest the reader; to stand alone if needs be.
    If you're too bored to write the next book, or have run out of ideas, then perhaps that's not the book that wants to be written.
    When a series has been around any length of time, people read them out of order - I do, anyway - so even more reason for each to be able to stand on its own two bookends.
    In the comments of one of those links, someone mentioned The Clan of the Cave Bear and I'd forgotten I'd read most of it - in order, as they came out. The gaps between books became longer (had the author run out of ideas? Run out of love for the series?), and to my mind, the books became worse - rehashing old material, and by the fourth, the entire book was all reminding us of what went before and was an unsatisfying slog, all the way through. It left me with no urgency to wait for the final books and read them.
    Similarly, Alexander McCall Smith's No1 Ladies Detective Agency - I loved the first few, but again - several books in and there were no new, fresh ideas, and an awful lot of repetition. I think the author lost interest, and I did, too.
    It's odd why series-writers feel the need to fill us all in with what went before. I mean every single modern standalone book we read, starts with the characters at a point in time, and great slabs of backstory is frowned upon, isn't it? We start a reading a book with the characters *where they are now*, not where they came from - unless it's *highly* significant to the current plot, and then only as a delicate spice, not a strong flavour. The same advice to 'trust your reader to catch on' applies to series, as much as it does to standalones. Every character, real person, nation has some kind of backstory which led them to wherever they are now - but unless you're writing a history or biography, it's not that interesting. So I'd treat previous volumes as if they're the backstory that you, the author knows, but the reader doesn't need to.
    On the flip side, I read the second in a series by a well-known author without having read the first. And there was a large section in it where minor characters had been given much too much attention - it bothered me, why all this was relevant. A side story that went on for 50 pages, went nowhere, and didn't add value? How come? I'm guessing that these minor characters had been major players in the first book, and the author wanted to 'finish them off'. But I had no idea of their significance in the greater scheme of things and it made me so cross, I determined never to read the first book; or any other book by that author.
    So I'd suggest you chillax. Just write a jolly good book :). You'll have the grand plan in your head, so leave it there and let the writing flow from that private knowledge.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 months ago
    Whisks, Mike - you both hit some of the issues with writing a series, which I'm going to be trying desperately to avoid!!

    Whisks, I think that what you describe is what I'm aiming for in reality - a standalone story which is coloured by what went before yet doesn't rely on necessarily knowing that information in order to read further into the story. In that respect, having written two standalones already, I have a handle on what I can do to make it complete (up to a point) while still leaving enough of the ends hanging to continue a particular thread across several books.

    And you actually highlighted something I hadn't considered - what if I run out of steam/enthusiasm/ideas for the later books? I hate reading a series where there's nothing new to add as you get further along. I wonder whether, in those instances, did the author actually set out to write a series in the first place? It would certainly suggest they hadn't sufficiently planned the biggest and most far-reaching of the story arcs from the word go. (Again, I hope I've prepared for that!)

    I suppose I've already written a series if I think about it; the Granny Rainbow stories. Each one deals with at least one central character, but puts them into a new 'episode', which doesn't mean you have to read them in order. Perhaps it just feels like a bigger issue because with a series of novels, there is much more common ground than one or two characters. Hmmm. Food for thought, that!
  • Julie C
    by Julie C 3 months ago
    Hi Squidge, I can't speak for traditional publishing, but many of my indie-publishing friends swear by writing series in order to get enthusiastic fans who will buy everything they write. At the extreme, they are trying to attract 'whale readers' (terrible term but just think of a whale opening its mouth to hoover up all the fish!) who are more prone to stick with an author who writes in a series.

    Some writers complete a series and then publish (they must write more quickly than I do), making the first one free or 99p, which succeeds in attracting large numbers of readers, a good proportion of whom then go on to buy the rest ('read-through' income).

    Why miss out on the opportunity of attracting readers who like a series? You can control how many you write - if you do run out of steam, just create a satisfying ending for all the characters, or leave some strands so you can put one or two of them in a different location/situation etc for the next book.

    Hope some of this makes sense - apologies I haven't read your blog as I'm already feeling guilty about stopping writing this afternoon!
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 months ago
    Thanks Julie - I unfortunately have the issue that my publisher - or their distributor, I've never received a straight answer to the question! - sets my ebook prices way too high to do that. And as I'm not speedy or teccy, I daren't self-pub so I can set it myself...
  • Julie C
    by Julie C 3 months ago
    I have no idea how they sell at those prices. But I still think it's good to do a series - after all, you don't need to invent a whole set of new characters, locations etc with each new book! I have several ideas for mine - I just need to apply myself to complete the first one amid my rather busy activity with my consultancy, non-fiction and conference speaking...

    If I can self-publish and format my own books in Scrivener (epub and mobi), and Createspace & IngramSpark (print), then anyone can, honestly!
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    Just an idea. Little Women' has been adapted for the tv, screen and stage many times. I read the book recently and had not been aware that adaptions combined Little Women and its sequel.
    As a frustrated film director, Tv producer, etc ertc, I woild have kept to the original structure and filmed in two parts. Thus there would be a transition from Little Woman to Women. This would save confusion over ages, for a start. But the second hall could even be filmed with older actors.
    Harry Potter works in this way as in each subsequent novel, the characters age by one year. But I must confess I thought the first film very good but did not take to the books or the subsequent films
  • Newbie
    by Newbie 3 months ago
    Hi Squidge, I've written four books that have the same main characters in. Each book tells its own story but I bring in other characters throughout and they usually end up in the next book. I didn't start out writing it as a series, it was supposed to end as a trilogy. However, book four niggled until I did something about it and now book 5 is complete and awaiting further editing after being beta read.

    I self-publish through Lulu.com for paperbacks and KDP on Amazon for ebooks, which enables me slight control over the pricing. Usually, I release a new ebook as a freebie for about a week. The paperbacks are dependent upon page number, which does tend to control the price, which is astronomical unless, as I do, it can be slashed it by 40% - 50%.

    None of this probably helps, but...

    Don't know

    I refer to incidents that have happened in previous books but only briefly if they're warranted at all. As for running out of ideas - each time I finish one book another starts to form. I tend to write by the seat of my pants so it's scary; especially if I try to think ahead. That never works for me. My characters dictate the situations, problems and resolutions and I seem to be along for the ride.
  • Squidge
    by Squidge 3 months ago
    Poggle - I suspect the answer's probably 'how long is a piece of string?' or something similar. It's going to be entirely dependent on your story and whether in fact it can be split up into parts, while still giving the reader of each individual book a complete story arc that they are satisfied with when they get to the end. And as Newbie said, sometimes a series takes on a life of its own... Thinking of HP though, look at the difference in word counts in them, as measured simply by spine width of the books; JKR can't have been too bothered by word count for each one.

    Each story/series will be utterly unique.
  • poggle
    by poggle 3 months ago
    Thank you, Squidge. I was just looking for a rough figure so I could split some off and see how it shook down. But there is no answer, then.
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