Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Series Business: Three Types of Writing Series

I love reading books in a series, don’t you? No matter what your favorite genre, you can find a series that grabs you by the imagination and refuses to let go, story after story. The best series are like Calgon…they take you away from your world and give you a free pass to live vicariously through the characters.

As an author, I enjoy writing series as well. When my muse produces a fun character who takes me on an exciting rollercoaster ride, I hate to write ‘The End’ when their story is finished. I want to spend more time exploring their world, watching them get themselves in and out of trouble, and help them on their quests to find true love, save the world, or fight the devil. They become good friends who make me laugh and cry, and sometimes, they even show up in my dreams.

I’ve turned my love of reading and writing series into teaching others how to write them too. I thought I’d share some info today about series you might not know.

There are three basic types of series: serials, sequels and spinoffs.

Serials: The same main character is featured in each book, but each book can stand alone. Most mystery/suspense and action/adventure series fall into this category. While you learn more about the character as the series progresses, the stories themselves are mostly episodic. A few examples:

Stephanie Plum (Janet Evanovich)

Tempe Brennan (Kathy Reichs)

Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwall)

Spencer (Robert B. Parker)

Eve Dallas (Nora Roberts)

Sookie Stackhouse (Charlaine Harris)

Harry Bosch (Michael Connolly)

Spenser, Jesse Stone & Sunny Randall (Robert B. Parker)

Sequels: Sequels have a finite number of books where the plot is introduced in the first book and concludes with the last. Many fantasy and science fiction series fall into this category. While the individual books can be read as standalones, readers get more out of the story if they begin with the first book and follow the series in order. A few examples:

Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)

Lord of the Rings (Tolkein)

Mortal Instruments (Cassandra Claire)

Twilight (Stephanie Meyer)

Witches Anonymous (Me, Misty Evans)

Spinoffs: Spinoffs take a minor character, setting or plotline from the original standalone and develop it. In many cases, the series characters are a specific team engaged in a heroic profession. Spinoffs, or ensemble series, work well for romance writers who need a fresh couple for each book’s romance. A few examples:

Troubleshooters (Suzanne Brockman)

Black Ops (Cindy Gerard)

Bullet Catchers (Roxanne St. Claire)

Black Dagger Brotherhood (J.R. Ward)

Lords of the Underworld (Gena Showalter)

Dream Hunter Novels (Sherrilyn Kenyon)

Rosatto and Associates (Lisa Scottoline)

Super Agent Series (Me, Misty Evans)

Scoundrals Series (Carrie Lofty)

One of my favorite resources to find series and sequels is the Los Angeles Public Library’s Index for Series and Sequels: http://www.lapl.org/resources/indexes/sequels.html . Type in an author and get a list of books in their series, including the main characters and special notes about location or other important facts. Also, try the interactive search through this library: http://ww2.kdl.org/libcat/WhatsNextNEW.asp

For Historical Fiction series, check out: http://1mpages.com/HistoricalFiction.html

A great list of Inspirational Series: http://www.sos.mo.gov/wolfner/bibliographies/inspirationalfictioninseries.asp

Small, but concise Western Series:


Sequels and Prequels to Classic Literature: http://sachem.suffolk.lib.ny.us/advisor/sequels.htm

SciFi Series classics are listed here (though the site is hard to read): http://home.austarnet.com.au/petersykes/topscifi/features_series.html

Even Fictionwise has a series list, although it’s not inclusive to all the series on their site: http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/serieslist.htm

Series allow readers (and writers) to get to know fabulous characters and explore their world in detail. Often when a series ends, we feel disappointed and a little lost. The great thing is, there are more great series out there, in every genre, and written by many of our favorite authors under pseudonyms. All we have to do is find them. Check out these lists, then head to your local library, independent bookstore, or online bookstore to find a new series. Happy reading!

Misty Evans writes the best-selling Super Agent Series and paranormal Witches Anonymous series. She likes her coffee black, her conspiracy stories juicy, and her wicked characters dressed in couture. To learn more about Misty and her books, or to sign up for her newsletter, visit www.readMistyEvans.com. And don’t miss her upcoming two-week online workshop, Plotting the Romance Series April 4th – 17th at http://redriverromancewriters.com/workshops.php .


Lori Brighton said...

I had no idea what the differences were! lol. Thanks for explaining. I do love reading all, series, sequels, whatever. And as an author, I do like writing, but at the sames time usually I'm so eager to move onto a new idea so I'm torn.

Tess said...

Love series books! And I love your Super Agent Series, Misty! I have a series including FBI agents finding their HEA!

Donnell said...

Good morning all, good morning, Misty. I don't think there's anyone more qualified to teach a writing series class. Misty does them so effortlessly, coming up with three-dimensional characters who pique your interest in book one, and who you can't wait to get to know when they have their own story. Thanks for being here, Misty. You're always so generous to share your expertise!

Misty Evans said...

Happy Wednesday, all! Hope the sun is shining wherever you are.

@Lori - when I started writing series, I didn't realize their were different types, even though I'd been reading all three for years. Once I understood the elements of each one, and what readers expect, it made plotting a series much easier! Lori, I have one of your books on my Kindle not and can't wait to get to it. :)

@Tess - I can't wait to read your FBI series. Love men (and women) in black! Please let me know as soon as the first one is available, Tess.

@Donnell - thank you, D., and Five Scribes for inviting back. Always fun to chat with you ladies and share what I've learned. :)

jblynn said...

Great post! Thanks for offering those great resources.

I love that series allow you to revisit characters who have become old friends.

Judith said...

That list of resources for finding series is great, Misty. Thank you! And for anyone interested, Misty teaches several good classes on writing series. I took one and learned a lot from the material.

Misty Evans said...

Hi JB! Thanks for following me over here from Twitter. I, too, love series where the characters are so familiar, you want to invite them over for coffee or go to lunch with them. They really do become part of our lives!

Misty Evans said...

Hi Judith! Thanks for complimenting my series workshop class. When I started writing series, I had NO idea what I was doing. All the lessons I've learned should be shared, so that's why I decided to give online workshops. No one should have to reinvent the wheel. :)

Vince said...

Hi Misty:

I’m a big fan of the series from a marketing point of view. Here are some of the advantages:

Each book in the series acts as a gateway to all the other books.

Each book helps sell the backlist.

The bigger the backlist, the more leverage the author has when doing any promotional event. If you have only one book, then a book signing has only limited effect. If you have 10 books in your backlist, and they are all available as eBooks, then a book signing or blog appearance can have many times the effect for the same amount of time and effort.

Marketing efforts that attract prospects to a given type of story, produce prospects who are ideal for the type of books the author writes. This makes targeting the prospect more accurate.

A good series is one of the best ways to build a platform of loyal readers.

Authors can usually increase productivity because they can use the same research and world building. More books per year means more publicity with each book and more books at all times on the bookshelves.

Many readers are more likely to read an author new to them if the book is in a series. This is because the reader knows if they love the book there will be many more available to read now and in the future. A stand alone, non-series book does not offer this hope.

A series is more likely to generate word of mouth publicity and book club enthusiasm as people like to discuss books many others have read. The series acts like a single bestseller with many fans without the need of bestseller sales figures. That is, the series has a larger 'footprint' than a single book. (Other than a big bestseller.)

As a marketing person I always like to see an author who writes series stories.

There is also the series in which each book is by a different author. This also is a good marketing tool for the publisher more than the author. However, it also helps all the authors if the series is popular. A big name author may attract the reader first to the series and thus produce sales for the lesser known authors.

The major downside of a series is that if the reader does not like the first book read, all the other books may be avoided. Even this is only a real problem if the book is poorly written. Reader's who do not like the concept are not really prospects anyway.

Great post. Series Rock!


Misty Evans said...

Vince, you rock too! This is an excellent list of pros for writing a series. Readers love them and once you have a base of readers established, it makes marketing easier and more rewarding.

Thank you for sharing this info with all of us!

Michelle Diener said...

Oooh, so glad I popped by. Loved the blog, Misty, and loved Vince's info, too. As the first book in my own series is about to come out, I'm happy to see all the pros to a series over a stand alone book. Thanks to both of you :) .

Leslie Ann said...

Hi Misty,

I have a series of cozy mysteries that I'm working on and your comments couldn't have come at a better time.

Thank you!

~LA of the Scribes :)

Gillian Layne said...

Misty, this is an excellent article. Thanks so much for sharing, I'll definitely be reading this one more than once.