The first Friday this month happens to fall on the first. It just so happens to also be time for another Ask the Author, the feature that puts the author in authoritative.
Back then he had two books published in his fantasy series. Now he’s up to number seven in just over two years! He makes it seem easy, doesn’t he, but planning and writing a series is hard work. Have no fear, because Charles has plenty of advice about planning, writing, and marketing a series whether your series consist of three or twenty books.
Creating and Marketing a Series
The Legends of Windemere series is a fantasy adventure that currently has 7 books out and is planned for 15 overall. I believe this is where people groan or run away because long series seem to scare many readers and writers. Well, they are a big challenge and I’m here to give some advice on how to create and market a long series. (Note: All advice is personal opinion and can be discarded as the ravings of a madman that needs to get out more.)
Planning a Series
First, I’m going to talk a little about planning. I use a lot of notes and outlines to keep my series going smoothly. For Legends of Windemere, I’ve had all 15 books outlined since I finished writing the third one. This helps me create foreshadowing and get a sense of where I want the long term storylines to go. A full outline isn’t even necessary if you want to dive into the writing immediately. Maybe you only need a page of notes about what you want to happen later on or a few future events that you’re heading for. To be honest, mine tend to get changed as I go and I have to rewrite the next outline after every book I write. Still the meat of the story is there and that’s what I use to help me guide my characters to their various destinations. The truth is that every author has his or her own system of organization. Detailed outlines and character bios work for me, but there are those who create great stories out of a trio of Post-It notes.
One of the biggest challenges for a series author is continuity. You need to make sure the rules and details remain the same throughout the adventure. This is where character bios and outlines can come in handy. Even if you don’t do a full outline, future installments can be helped by jotting down important information as you move along. Take a little time to review what you wrote every night and list whatever you think you won’t remember. For example, I kept forgetting character eye colors early on and one of my heroes abruptly changed from green to blue for some reason. I had to keep a note by my laptop for a few chapters to make sure I remembered. Eventually, it locked in and then I did the genius maneuver of having something change his eye color to brown. Worked for the story, but it was one of the spontaneous decisions that caused a few stumbles in the next book. A common question in regards to planning a series is the following:
How Long Should Your Series Be?
The answer is as long as it has to be. You might be scared of readers dropping out before the end, but that happens with trilogies too. Yes, the longer the series, the higher the chance of a reader walking away. So the author has to decide if they’re writing to tell the story they want to tell or the story that they think will sell better. These are not always the same thing. I can only speak from my personal experience and I will say that I couldn’t do Legends of Windemere in less than 15 books. It used to be 12 and then I realized that there were characters whose stories weren’t being told. I write using an ensemble cast, which means I want each hero and villain to get a story to shine in. Many of them can do this within the original stories, but I had those that needed something more to evolve. Do I regret doing a series this long, which nets me a few complaints? No. I’m happy with the adventures I’m telling and that should be one of the author’s main goals. If you’re enjoying what you write then it will come through your words and draw in the reader.
Marketing a Series
A brief mention of marketing since this is an area that many authors are concerned with. I’ve found that later books in a lengthy series will not have the same impact as the earlier ones. Not unless you have a massive support system and fan following. The reason for this is because you have people going in and out of the series all the time. A person drops out after Book 3 while another picks up Book 1, but you only see how there are fewer sales for Book 4. It took me some time to realize this and then I aimed more for continuous sales across the board instead of major sales of the most recent. So I do the big marketing things on either most recent book or the first one, Beginning of a Hero. I try to do a little for the middle books too, but you’re going to see a wide variety of sale numbers in there. It’s the nature of the series beast and all you can do is keep pushing on.
Tweets, blogging, guest posts, interviews, various chat platforms, and helping to promote other authors are where you will find most of your marketing power. (Note on that last one: Reciprocation is a great thing. I’m a big believer of helping those who help me.)
All of what I said might seem like an overview and oddly brief considering a big series is a major undertaking. Well, you would be right because all another author needs in terms of advice here are the basics. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that every author, actually artist, has his or her own methods. My series is long because I focus a lot on character development, but it would be shorter if I was more concerned with the main plot. That’s just my way and it took quite a few years for me to realize that along with my specific style. So I give advice and add that this is my personal experience.
Now, is writing a long series a thing for everyone? No because it’s a lot of work and dedication with a high risk of writing yourself into a corner. Still I say follow the story and your gut. If it says a 10 book series then go along with it until you finish or find that it might work better as 5. You can always rewrite the outline.
Check out his Amazon author page here to purchase his current novels as well as learn about future projects.
Don’t forget to be on the lookout for the next book in the series.