Seriously? Why Do Authors Write So Many Series?
I was engaged in a conversation with a reviewer the other day and she asked, “Why is it so many authors are doing series nowadays?”As the author of three successful series, to which I, for some reason, keep returning, I thought this was an interesting question and deserved some exploration.
Series vs. Serial
First of all, I would like to distinguish between a book series and a serial. A series is made up of standalone books connected by something. To be truly satisfying to a reader, each book should have a complete story arc for the major characters and should, if a romance, end in a Happy Every After (HEA) or a Happy For Now (HFN). In erotic romance, an HFN is more acceptable than in a mainstream romance.
In contrast, in a serial, you will read part of a story in each installment. Both types of books have their audience, but it is important for authors or publishers to note that a book is a serial in the marketing blurb so blood isn’t spilled when a reader, expecting a happy ending, gets a cliffhanger instead.
That can be awkward.
Let’s explore some of the reasons series are so abundant…
It takes a lot of work and emotional investment to create a character. Some flow from the pen fully formed, but most emerge like the peeling of a very obstinate onion (with lots of tears). Getting personal information from others is like pulling teeth. Oftentimes, in the writing of a book, a secondary character snags our attention and we cannot help but be inspired to tell their story too. It’s easy and fun to do, because these characters already know who they are.
When I was writing Folly, my first outing in erotic Regency, this happened to me. I fell in love with James and Helena, the couple hosting our beleaguered heroine Eleanor when she needed a place to hide out. I knew I needed to write their story and toyed with giving them a break up so they could reunite in the second book.
While Helena railed at this idea (she does have a tendency to rail), James, in that dominating way he has simply crossed his arms and said, in a low authoritative tone, “I think not, Sabrina.” Needless to say, their story, Dark Fancy, ended up being a prequel to Folly. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to flout a direct order from James.
While I was writing Dark Fancy, of course, Edward (Dark Duke) and Violet (Brigand) started talking to me— Violet jabbering away about her romance with Ewan and Edward whispering into my ear about Kaitlin.
One book quickly became a series of four. Through no fault of my own.
A Familiar Place
Part of writing a great book is world building. Creating a universe readers want to visit again and again. A series provides just such a venue. I can’t tell you how many readers have told me they want to vacation on Tryst Island, the setting for my contemporary series, featuring the romances of a group of friends who share a vacation house. It’s not just because all the guys on the island seem to have cut abs and buckets of money. They want to walk on the beach, hang out at Darby’s Bar and Grill. They want to eat bacon with Holt. (Some of them—those with wilder tastes— want more from Holt.)
Readers love this “coming home” feeling, love “hanging out with old friends,” and a well written series provides that experience. The most addictive series also have, in addition to individual story arcs, an overarching series arc, with each book moving the grander story along. It’s fun to plant clues for loyal readers about what’s coming. It’s even more fun when they spot them and send me hushed emails about what they think is going to happen.
A caveat here. It is important for authors to remember, while they have loyal readers who have gobbled up every book—in order—there will be a reader who discovers the series mid-stream. References to incidents and people from previous books is exciting for the Read-In-Order crowd, it can be annoying or confusing to a first time reader. Those references belong in the book but must be carefully threaded through the story with an invisible seam.
I don’t know about you, but if a reader discovers my book, I want her to LOVE it. I want to keep her!
And I am not talking about the erotic type of passion here—I am talking about the emotional attachment to something you care about. If an author is in love with her series world and her characters, she can’t help but evoke that passion through her words. Readers will connect with that emotion and want to revisit these people and places again and again because of that attachment.
My very first series, Wired, takes place in the offices of a tech company with one rule for management—no fraternization with the staff. Imagine the difficulties that occur when our heroes, to a man, meet the woman of their dreams (each in a different book), but she’s working for the company and, therefore, off limits. I never intended to write a third book in this series, but one reader was so passionate about one of the secondary characters (and I mean, she hated him), she demanded I write his story and, by the way, he needed a spanking.
Making Over Maris—a sweet, humorous Fem Domme—was born. It wasn’t easy turning someone I’d written to be the comic relief in one book into the hero of another. But through passion, and compassion, I was able to do it. Once I knew Jack, really knew him, I had to tell his story. The reader, also a reviewer, gave the book a stellar thumbs up.
The Bottom Line
The final reason authors love series relates to all of the above. It is, in fact, the bottom line. My series have far outsold my standalones by a factor of five. It is easy to understand why. If an author is passionate enough about her world to revisit it again and again, the reader is going to want to do so as well. Beyond that, that reader is going to tell her friends about the book and insist they tell their friends.
A series can create momentum for an author, for a line and for a publisher. In fact, Decadent’s One Night Stand series has hundreds of standalone stories by as many authors.
You will continue to see series abound on the bookshelves, my friend, because they satisfy on all levels.
And isn’t that what good writing is all about? Read the rest of this entry »