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Triple Your Sales with a Series! (part 2)

In Triple Your Sales with a Series, part 1, we learned what types of series there are, why each book has to stand alone, and how to incorporate information from one book to another to bring readers up to speed in each new adventure.

Now it’s time to get into the nuts and bolts of creating your series.

Structuring a short series—

Each book in a series must contain all story elements (hook, turning points, and satisfying ending) and give the reader a full and satisfying reading experience. But for a series to really grab the reader and inspire them to nag you for more, the whole set should fulfill the same pattern of a good story, spread out over all of the books.

Using a standard three-act structure, the pattern for this would be the following:

  • book 1 functions as the first act (hook to plot point 1 in diagram below),
  • book 2 functions as the second act (plot point 1 to plot point 2), and
  • book 3 functions as the third act (plot point 2 to resolution).

Suzanne Collins used this three-act structure with great success in her Hunger Games series. Each book delivers its own story arch with the successful defeat of the minor problem/villain at the end. But the entire series also forms its own arc, culminating in the final crisis and defeat of the major problem/villain.

For a longer series—

If you plan to have more than three books in your series, you can change this pattern up a bit. For example, in the classic three-act structure, there are actually four parts you could model:

  • Hook to Plot Point 1
  • Plot Point 1 to Midpoint
  • Midpoint to Plot Point 2
  • Plot Point 2 to Resolution (which includes the Crisis point)

Story Plot Incline

Using this more detailed structure, you could create a series of four books or more. The Harry Potter series is designed this way. Like Hunger Games, each book is its own adventure with its own minor villain to defeat. But as the series progresses, the threat escalates until finally, Voldemort, the power behind it all, is destroyed.Harry Potter

Keep continuity between books—

A detailed and high-level of continuity is crucial in a series, especially for series types 1 and 2 (see Part 1). I recommend creating what is called a “bible” which is an extensive and organized system for keeping track of all the characters, the world, and unfolding details of the books.

To create your series bible:

Buy a two-inch, three-ring binder and a set of dividers.

  • Organize the binder by Characters, World,  and Series Storyline.
  • In addition, make a tab for each book you plan to write.

As you structure and write your planned novels, keep notes and information in this binder for easy reference.

The vital importance of using a system like this chomped me in the rear when I decided I wanted to write a sequel to Instructing an Heiress a year after publishing it. Sadly, I never created a bible for that book. Worse, I couldn’t even find my original notes!

I ended up having to recreate all the character information and story details based on the published book and whatever I could remember. At least as an added bonus, my office got a much needed cleaning out. (Yippee.)

I’ll never make that mistake again! Every book gets a bible.

Avoid dead ends—

Finally, don’t skip any of these steps. Treating your series as one big book as well as individual ones means plotting out the way it will unfold before you ever write the first novel.

The importance of this can’t be overemphasized. If you don’t know where the series is going, the chance of writing yourself into a dead end by book 2 or 3 is high. Imagine getting to book 3 and thinking, “Character X would be a perfect match for this heroine. I wish I hadn’t killed him off in the first book!”

Once a book is published, it’s too late to fix stuff. Plan ahead. You’ll be glad you did!

A word to the wise—

We’ve all experienced it, that let-down feeling when a favorite author ends a favorite series. As a novelist, this reaction from readers is something to keep in mind when you plan out your series.

You may have to live with this team of characters and travel in their world for a very long time. (We should all be so lucky, right?) When you’re planning, remember to write for your own enjoyment as well as for your readers’. Give your series enough complexity and flexibility to sustain your creativity for years to come.

The joys of a series—

Cinderella Heiresses seriesBy now you might be thinking that writing a series sounds like a pain in the neck. Far from it! It not only gives you a better shot at selling, but a series also affords you creative advantages that single books can’t.

For example, if you find secondary characters trying to take over a story, make a note to give them their own book and tell them to settle down. If you loved your villain in book 2, redeem him in book 3 and make him the hero. As long as your overall plan for the series remains in-tact, stay flexible and the possibilities are endless.

On the practical side, half of your research and world creation work is done once the first book is finished. For all the books that follow, you’ve already established setting, core characters, tone, and genre. You now know everything there is to know about your main characters, their jobs, the historic period they live in or the small town they call home. You’re poised and ready to jump right in and start writing. Sweet.

A series is smart business and smart writing. Give it a try!

Now that you know more about writing a series, can you tell me how it can triple your book sales?

Triple Your Sales with a Series! (part 1)

The task of conceptualizing, plotting and writing one book is daunting. Why torture yourself with the overwhelming task of creating three or four of them for a series?

Because readers, agents and editors love them!

Harry Potter booksWriting a series is the best way to build readership. When readers become invested in characters they’ve come to love and the world you’ve created, they want more. It’s only smart business for you to give it to them.

Look at the list of  bestselling books on Amazon. Nine out of ten times, the top selling books are part of a series.

Types of series—

There are three basic ways to format a series. Types 1 and 2 listed below are the most common, but type 3 is a good option, too, especially if you’ve never written a series before.

To create a series, you can:

  1. Use the same recurring main characters like Charlaine Harris did in The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and like I’m doing in my new series, Dangerous Magic.
  2. Turn secondary characters from one book into the main characters of another like Sabrina Jeffries did in Hellions of Halstead Hall.
  3. Create a similar theme throughout several books like in my Cinderella Heiresses romance series.

Make each book stand alone—Cinderella Heiresses series

No matter what method you choose, it’s vital that each book stand alone. A reader should be able to pick up any of the books in your series and have a full, enjoyable read without having to know anything about the other stories.

This is easiest to accomplish with the third type, in which characters and events are more loosely connected. But not impossible to manage for the other two types.

Treat the events of earlier books as backstory—

So, how do you bring a reader up to speed if they pick up a book in the middle of the series?

Easy! Treat events from earlier books as backstory (which they are!). Use the moments when characters refer to past events or past experiences to weave in background information. This allows the reader to catch up on the over-arching story line without compromising the focus of the novel they’re currently enjoying.

In addition, many times six months to two years have passed since the last book in the series was published. Your followers have read many novels during that time, and a refresher of the storyline helps them dive back into the world and lives of characters they’ve come to love. It can also help fans keep up with the order of books in your series.

Southern vampsA couple of years ago, I picked up a Charlaine Harris novel, thinking it was the next in her series featuring Sookie Stackhouse. As I long-time fan, when I encountered some backstory, I kept thinking, “I don’t remember that happening. What’s going on?” Turned out, I’d inadvertently missed the release of the book before. I immediately purchased it, caught up on the series and happily continued with the newest book.

What are some of your favorite series? (books, shows, or movies count!)

Next week –

How to structure a series, keep continuity, and avoid dead ends