Series and Continuity

So as I learn things about the business and craft of being a writer, I try to write a new Business For Breakfast book, so that others can take advantage of that. (And pay me some money along the way.) The goal is 2 of these each year, on a variety of topics, because the world keeps changing.

My latest B4B is Series and Continuity for Professional Writers, available for pre-order now and drops Aug 21 (next wednesday as I write this post.)

This grew out of a conversation last year at the Novelists, Inc. annual conference in Florida that I went to, where I was chatting with some folks who were trying to figure out how to make the leap from single novels and trilogies into longer arcs of story.

In the old days, a writer wrote a novel. It went to a publisher. They sold it. If the writer got lucky, fans would clamor for more books about these characters, so the writer would create more stories and novels. Arthur Conan Doyle and Leslie Charteris, for example. None of those were really series, however, so much as returning time and again to the same character. Even Ian Fleming didn’t really work up longer arcs of plot and story telling.

But the modern consumer is more sophisticated. They want those long arcs. They want a meta-story that spreads across seasons and novel series.

Since I already think and write this way, I decided to take a hack at the topic. Jessica Keller will end at fourteen novels and novellas when Petron comes out in December. Javier Aritza has eight novellas published so far, with a ninth in the can and a tenth started. The Star Dragon is five novels and two (so-far) short stories. Shadow of the Dominion comes in at six novels in the first section. Plus several more series that I’ve written at least a book one, including an SF mystery, an urban fantasy, alternate history, and a bunch of space adventure and opera.

I grew up on comic books. My mother liked to shop in fabric stores, and learned that if she bought me two comic books and a 7-Up, I’d happily wait outside for an hour without complaint. (Had a massive collection before I finally gave it to a friend for his kids. That bastard turned around and sold them off for money and didn’t realize someone might tell me. But that’s a different story for another time.)

Comic books in the 70’s and 80’s didn’t do reboots and retcons every 3-8 months. There weren’t collector’s edition #1’s twice a year. Detective Comics was over issue 500. I have Captain America 300. Etc.

So I’m used to thinking in long story series.

You need to do a lot of planning up front. I’m not talking about the usual argument of plotter versus Pantser. (And I prefer Architect and Gardener, anyway.)

If you want to write a series like I do, you can’t just sit down with Lester Dent and a big cup of coffee. There are questions you have to ask yourself.

Will it be space adventure or space opera? (In my case, but every genre has equivalencies you need to pick ahead of time.) I won’t read Glen Cook anymore because he likes to play stupid games with the reader and not deliver a particularly enjoyable reading experience, regardless of how well he writes. (The ONLY Glen Cook books I still own are the Books of the North and The Dragon Never Sleeps. Gave the rest away because I got tired of his shit. Won’t pick up another.)

And there is a lesson there. Cook kept changing his mind about opera or adventure, and so the tone and themes of the books kept changing. And not in ways that brought me along with him. In the “throw the book across the room and sell it at Half-Price Books” way.

Next, you have to have a main character that the reader would want to invite over for a beer. And don’t tell me that this asshole man-child in book one eventually becomes a nice guy by book eight, because I won’t even make it to book two to find out. You need to make them someone a reader will want to spend an evening with, without gritting their teeth.

Plan what kind of story series you will tell. Not just the architecture of the story or the seeds you’ll plant. The meta-design. Adventure/opera. Three-man team or five-man band. Earth-centered or not (Star Trek vs. Star Wars, for example). Aliens or not?

Once you have those sorts of things sorted out, only then should you start your world-building and character notes. Because if this is a series, the goal is readers even more excited by the last novel than they were the first.

Another thing to consider: know when to stop. I know a guy who just dropped book 14 in his ongoing series and is complaining about declining sales. He had gotten bored with this series, and his writing has begun to suffer, I’m guessing. And his fans.

Jessica has 14, but only 9 at the core, with a side trilogy for Kosnett and two novellas to help set up Vo and Yan without detracting from the core novels. We’re still close to one million words of Jessica by now. The others will be shorter (8 novellas for Science Officer Season One, maybe 7-9 short novels for Season Two, but I’m not sure.)

So when you are ready to start writing series, there are a bunch of things you need to know and questions you must answer before you start, or you will pay a terrible price later.

And you need to consider series if you want to make money in the modern era. I know many fans won’t buy a book one until book three or four have come out. They’ve been burned by TradPub and lazy authors. They also want to binge, rather than wait for you to drop a novel every year or three. They might have forgotten about you by this time next year, ya know.

So Series and Continuity. This is a 201-level book. You’re past the “how do I write?” stage and working on your craft as a professional writer. Looking for a way to level yourself up to new heights so you can turn your hobby into a profession and quit the day job.

I did it. Feb 2018. Working for myself now and writing faster than ever before. And having more fun, because I get to tell all these stories, across all these universes.

Are you ready to up your game?

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