I am very happy to welcome the author Kate M Colby to my blog with her tips for writing a novel series. Her new novel, The Courtesan’s Avenger, is out now: www.katemcolby.com/books Over to you Kate Colby…
I’ve always had difficulty thinking “small.” In school, I was the kid with good grades, a dozen extra-curricular activities, a part-time job, and a dedication to an outside sport. At my day job, I’m the person who always accepts extra projects or offers to help someone who is overworked. Why? I want to do it all.
The same goes for my writing. When I set out to write The Cogsmith’s Daughter, I knew one novel wouldn’t be enough. I loved the world and characters I had created. I couldn’t spend 90,000 words with them then just leave, never to return. No. Even though I had never written a novel before, I couldn’t start with one. I decided to start with six. And the Desertera series was born.
This week, the second novel in the series, The Courtesan’s Avenger, hits the virtual shelves. With two books under my belt, I’ve learned a lot about myself as a writer – and about the unique challenges of writing a series. Whether you have an idea too big for one book, want to revisit the characters and world you created, or are trying to build a dedicated audience (Full disclosure: this is one of my main motives, too!), writing a series is an admirable task. As a writer, you’ll have to figure out your own process. In all honesty, I’m still learning mine. But here are a few tips I can offer now that I have finished my second book:
If you know at the beginning of a project that it will become a series, do yourself a favor and plan ahead. First and foremost, consider the series’ arc. What journey are your characters taking? What important milestones must they reach along the way? How much will they change as individuals? Try to plan how many novels you’ll need to accomplish these goals, as well as what big plot points will be covered in each novel. But of course, leave room for surprises and twists – you never know when your characters will take the wheel!
Now, some of you may not be interested in thinking about publishing (or in independent publishing specifically), so feel free to skip this paragraph. However, if you are intending to independently publish your series, remember to think ahead to future books as you publish. For example, you’ll likely want the cover designs to coordinate. When you design your first book’s cover, ask yourself whether its design elements can be tweaked for future covers. You’ll want to make the same considerations for formatting, book descriptions, graphic designs for advertising, etc.
Beware the pros and cons
Writing a series is “easier” than writing several stand-alone novels, because you do most of the “leg work” with the first book. It will establish the world, characters, rules, and themes. In the subsequent novels, you can focus on the story and adding more depth to the previously established elements. At the same time, writing a series contains a lot of pitfalls. You must keep details consistent – not only the color of the protagonist’s hair, but also her speech patterns, basic values, memories, etc. My advice?
Keep a record
After I finish each novel, I collect important details in my “Desertera bible.” This is a Scrivener document where I track the main events on a timeline, record when and where I introduce characters, create character profiles, and more. If I forget what furniture is in a room while I’m writing the next book, I can simply open the document and refer to the setting description. It’s a lot easier than rifling through my paperbacks or doing a CTRL+F in my ebook files.
Don’t be afraid to experiment
Writing a series doesn’t mean that all the books have to be the same. You can write them from different characters’ perspectives (I do!), jump forward or backward in time, incorporate a new subgenre in the plot. My first book has a romance subplot, while my second contains elements of a cozy mystery. Or anything else you can imagine. As long as you stay true to the heart of your series – main genre, authorial voice, key themes, and characters – you can dress it up however you like.
Make an escape hatch
Writing a series is fun … until it’s not. Maybe you’ll fall out of love with the characters. Maybe you’ll get sick of the genre or run out of ideas. Maybe your readers won’t like the books or sales won’t justify continuing the project. Whatever the reason, allow yourself an escape hatch. Brainstorm a way to give your series a satisfactory, premature ending in case you need to cut the arc short. No one likes to think about “failing” or “giving up,” but it’s practical to consider. And, on a psychological level, I’ve found it really helps me to know that I could end my series at any time. When I feel like I’m actively choosing to continue a series (rather than writing it purely out of obligation to finish it), I find I’m more positive and creative than when I feel trapped.
Most of all, remember to have fun with your series. You’re writing not one, not two, but several books. Just by attempting such a project, you’re already leaps and bounds ahead of so many writers out there. Take pride in each milestone and keep your eyes on the final prize. You’ve got this!
For more writing and publishing tips, follow my blog at: www.katemcolby.com/blog
If you’re a sci-fi/fantasy fan, or simply want to see how I’m tacking my Desertera series, check out my books at: www.katemcolby.com/books
The Cogsmith’s Daughter, Desertera #1: https://goo.gl/WY2Lsr
The Courtesan’s Avenger, Desertera #2: https://goo.gl/PEUpp2