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)
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.
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—
By 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?