Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thoughts on Writing a Romance Series

by Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager,
Sourcebooks Casablanca

As an acquiring editor I'm always asking for a series concept, a trilogy, or a concept for multiple books that allow for branding and building readership. When I talk about "career arc" I'm looking for what your next, next, next books will be...

Here are some things to think about as you conceive and write a series for the romance readership.
  • In today's marketplace, the current/most recent book is going to be the most visible. The booksellers are very focused on frontlist. That means readers have to be able to enter your series at any point.
  • Each book has to be able to stand on its own. Build and (re)populate the world in every book. Never assume readers have read the series from the beginning.
  • Don't explain backstory--give the information in the telling of the new story.
  • Bring fresh secondary characters into every book.
  • Future heroes and heroines have to be desirable/redeemable every time they appear in any book. You will be working against yourself if you set a character up as a jerk or undesirable and then try to redeem them as a hero or heroine later.
  • If you set up a character very strongly as the next hero or heroine, then deliver that character's story in the very next book. Don't try to keep a secondary character's setup going over multiple books--it's difficult to keep their story development totally fresh.
  • Be consistent throughout the series with the same heat level, tone, quality of writing.
  • If one book fails, the retail buyers may be unwilling to continue or to strongly support the series--for this reason I as an editor am going to be focused on the market strength of the next book as it stands, rather than being dictated by the order of the characters' stories.
  • If you set up your series in such a way that it has to be read in one particular order you may find extensive revisions when your editor rearranges the order of the series.
  • Even after the entire series is on the market, readers may not read the books in order. You have no control over that.
The mission of your publishing house is to position your books and your brand, build your readership and your career, achieve the deepest and broadest possible distribution for each book, understand and research the market, evaluate market data and strategize from there, and, bottom line, to reach the most readers possible. That's how your stories make an impact.

4 comments:

  1. This post confirms for me the sense that publishing is like an ever-widening darkness. I thought it was about putting together a good book, then a good trilogy, then a good series... and it is, but it's also about putting together books that can stand alone, be read in any order, be published in any order, and much more.

    Thanks for the broader perspective, Deb. There are many of us working on a Book Two who have just been spared a lot of unnecessary revisions.

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  2. When I wrote my first four wolf books, I had only one character that made a special appearance in all of them. They were all different wolf packs, mainly because while I was writing them, I didn't know if a publisher would buy the first, then the second, and so forth. So each time, I wrote about a new wolf pack, same world.

    I didn't want to create a series and worry whether book one would sell or not, which would mean the rest wouldn't make it either.

    Or like you said, Deb. That you buy the first book and it doesn't do well in the marketplace, and there's no hope for continuing on with the series.

    For myself as a reader, I rarely read books in order so series that have to be read in order, don't appeal to me. If I've got the book, I want to read it when I can, not worry whether some other book has to be read first! :)

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  3. Deb, This is so helpful. I'm writing book 3 in a series and am planning for 4 & 5 right now. These are great things to think about while writing.

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  4. What awesome advice!
    I'm printing this out and keeping it so I can refer back to it every time I start a new book or series.
    Thank you!

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