In the midst of my flailing for a blog topic yesterday, which can now be done in public thanks to Twitter, Jane suggested the limitations and advantages of writing a connected series book.
As a reader, I’ve grown increasingly conflicted about connected series. I used to love them without reserve but, over the last few years I’ve noticed some favorites A) have zero growth over the arc of the series or B) take the series in a direction I don’t care for or C) start screwing it up by blowing off the world established in previous books. And, seriously, not every book has to be part of a series. Could we not kill off the stand alone, please, because sometimes Iâ€™m just not up to the investment.
As a writer, there are definite pros and cons to writing a connected series.
One of the best things about a connected series is the relationship with the readers. If a reader enjoys your series, sheâ€™s going to want the next book and the next and so on. Sheâ€™ll look forward to the next release and tell other readers sheâ€™s looking forward to it.
The downside? If a reader doesnâ€™t like the first book, chances are sheâ€™s not going to buy the second. If your entire career is wrapped in a series, you might be limiting your readership. You also need to worry about whether the backlist titles in the series are readily available because new readers will hopefully want to catch up on the series if theyâ€™ve jumped into it with the current release. Are there readers who might pass on NO SURRENDER because they havenâ€™t read 72 HOURS and ON THE EDGE? Probably.
Living with the world youâ€™ve built:
My favorite thing about writing a connected series is being able to revisit my characters and their world. Itâ€™s a familiar place filled with people I know and like and thereâ€™s comfort in knowing most of the readers who follow a series do so because they know and like the people, as well. Theyâ€™re invested before they even start reading.
But the limitations, there are many. The world you create in the beginning of a series is the promise you make to the reader. And if you promise an action-packed world of Navy SEALs kicking ass and taking names and then, down the line, they all leave the Navy and now there are cops and serial killers and whatnot, the reader might feel like youâ€™re not following through on that original promise. And maybe sheâ€™ll still read the series, but she might not stand with her face pressed to the bookstore window, waiting for the door to be unlocked. If you introduce a paranormal element in the middle of a contemporary series, youâ€™re going to piss off some readers. For the record, if the Devlin Group gets attacked by zombies in book four, feel free to dump me.
Andâ€”very importantâ€” if you even suspect your book might grow into a series, pay attention to every single little detail of every single character. When that minor secondary character you slapped a throwaway name on becomes the hero of book four? That might suck. And if another minor secondary character has a small bit of backstory that makes book two work, youâ€™re stuck working with that when she becomes the heroine of book three.
Roxanne St. Claireâ€™s Bulletcatchers. Jaci Burtonâ€™s Wild Riders. The Black Dagger Brotherhood. The Darkyn. The Chicago Stars. Troubleshooters.
Being able to market the series as a brand is a wonderful thing. While your current book helping to sell your next book is true for any author, I think itâ€™s especially true of a connected series. And every new release in a series by nature promotes the backlist.
You run the risk of being boxed in by your brand, however. While itâ€™s not really an issue in epublishing, if you build a wildly successful connected series, your publisherâ€”and perhaps your readersâ€”might push for more and be reluctant to let you try something new.
When does it end? Best case scenarioâ€”it was always intended to be a defined number of books and it ends in a satisfying manner for the author and her readers. Not so good scenarioâ€”it just goes on and on and on until the reader grows tired of it and the author succumbs to phoning it in. Worst case scenarioâ€”sales of the first one or two titles arenâ€™t quite good enough and the series is dumped mid-stride, with no resolution for anybody.
Overall, both as a reader and an author, I think the pros outweigh the cons of a connected series. What do you think?