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?
“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.” Yes! I am so with you on this point. It’s such a shame when an author kills a formerly good series by letting it run on forever.
I love series as a reader. As a writer, I’ve had the downside of not being able to sell a sequel, and that blows. Which is why the series I’m currently developing will be sold AS a series, 3 books min. with the option to add more (but finite). When a series ends it’s natural arc or you want to change focus, you can always do another series in the same world, but I agree, Shan, that the endless series is usually a Bad Thing for both readers and writers.
The exception is Discworld, and I think it keeps up the energy and quality by having multiple mini-series within the setting. There are the witch books, the wizard books, the children’s and YA books, the police books, and so on. Not always having the same cast of characters or focus gives the series a lot of depth and variety.
Excellent analysis, Shannon! I agree with all of it.
What’s also interesting is that some of your cons can cancel each other out. Like, how can you prevent zero arc over the length of a series? Expand it beyond your original world.
Like, how can you prevent zero arc over the length of a series? Expand it beyond your original world.
Without breaking the rules of your original world, though, or changing what you’re giving your reader too drastically.
Some readers think Brockmann is growing and expanding the Troubleshooters series and keeping it fresh. I want my :censor: SEAL team back. That’s why I read that series and now I’m stuck reading a series I don’t really want to read because of the few characters I DO care about.
Yeah, I knew that was the one you were referring to. But she intended from book 1 to expand, that’s why she included the FBI and people from other areas in her world from the very beginning. I’m still completely hooked, for far longer than I’ve been with other series that have stuck much closer to their original format. I got bored with those.
My point isn’t that you’re wrong, just that it all balances. Any given choice an author makes can lose some readers, pick up or solidify others. A good argument for staying true to yourself as an author, maybe?
Yes, she absolutely should stay true. And, as much as I’m annoyed by the new Troubleshooters, I’m still there.
The series I’ve more or less dropped is the Stephanie Plum series. I just feel like I was reading the same story over and over, and at HC prices? No. But she’s written herself into an interesting place because I feel that until Steph chooses between Joe and Ranger, she can’t go anywhere growth-wise, but I also feel that Steph making a decision between the two men will Moonlight the series.
Oh hai, I’s back…
Another thing I meant to mention—I really like Brockmann’s method of having almost series within a series. A storyline having a three-book arc or whatever. I think it helps keep things from getting stale without shorting anybody’s arc.
Yeah, I feel the same about Plum, though her humor has held me longer than, say, the Kinsey Millhone books did, which I stopped reading for the same reason (stagnation). The other risk there, not just that Stephanie making a choice will eliminate the tension, is that no matter who she chooses, half the readership will be unhappy.
You know what series amazes me? The JD Robb series. Eve and Roarke grow and change with each book, incrementally so, as very little time passes over the course of the series, but they have come a long way from their beginnings. It’s amazing how many books there are, and my eagerness for each one hasn’t diminished one iota. I’m sure there are other people who feel the opposite, though, there always are.