Are you writing or have ever written a series? I just finished Saving Sarah, Book 4 in my Women of Willow Bay series. I’m wondering about how you know it’s time to end a series.
Series are a huge thing in romance right now—publishers are looking for them and indies are cranking them out like crazy—it’s like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys for twenty-first-century romance readers. But I think it’s more than just putting out book after book that revolves around a huge family in the same small town or a big-city hospital full of swoony doctors and hot nurses. The series phenomenon is also about readers falling in love with secondary characters and wanting to hear their stories, too.
For authors, and I speak from experience here, writing a series is both a blessing and a curse. Right off, a series give us a ready-made setting for our stories. Willow Bay was created in Book 1, ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP, so for the next three books, I had a village, quirky citizens, shops, the Daily Grind coffee shop, a lighthouse, and of course, Willow Bay and Lake Michigan all right there for me. In Book 2, SEX AND THE WIDOW MILES, Julie, a secondary character from Book 1 told her story from Chicago, but came back to Willow Bay, and in Book 3, THE SUMMER OF SECOND CHANCES, Sophie and Henry spent an adventurous summer in Willow Bay. In Book 4, which will be released September 26, Sarah, Julie’s friend from Book 2, flees Chicago for Willow Bay to hide from her abusive ex-husband. In each book and any subsequent ones that may come along, the little village is already created and all I have to do is plop my characters down in it and write their stories.
However, that said, each book brings more elements of the village into play—very minor characters show up in every book, and readers begin to feel like they can shoot the breeze with Perry, who owns the Daily Grind, order a triple espresso from Kelly, the barista, talk bait with Noah at Dixon’s Marina, or even pop into Bertie’s yarn shop for a cup of tea and to ohh and ahh over the new angora yarn from New Zealand. A series gives readers a sense of home.
Sometimes a series happens because a secondary character just demands her own story—Julie Miles stayed in my mind after I wrote The End of ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP. Carrie’s best friend just wouldn’t leave me alone. But she was already happily married—the only way she was going to get her own story was for me kill off her husband Charlie. So I did and Julie’s story practically wrote itself. When readers clamored for more Willow Bay stories, Sophie (in Book 3) moved to her summer cottage in Willow Bay to heal after the death of her grandfather and brought mystery and adventure along. And in Book 4, Sarah got her own story, partly because readers kept asking for a new WOWB story, but also because she was an intriguing secondary character in Julie’s book who needed her own story.
But—and I’m finally getting to the real point here—there is a down side to writing a series. Frankly, although I love my stories, I’m a little bored with Willow Bay—I want to go somewhere else. So, is this the end of the Women of Willow Bay? I can probably come up with a couple more stories in the series, but I’m ready to move to something new. That doesn’t mean I’m closing the book entirely on WOWB—but I think it might be time set them on the back burner and listen to the other voices in my head for a while. So I’m wondering if other series authors feel the same way after four stories or six or eight or however many you’ve written in a series. Talk to me—are you a series writer? How many books are enough in one series?
Nan Reinhardt has been a copy editor and proofreader for over twenty-five years, and currently works mainly on fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.
Author Nan writes romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after they turn forty-five! Imagine! She is also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, and a secretary.
She loves her career as a freelance editor, but writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, post-menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.
Visit Nan’s website at www.nanreinhardt.com, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors; and she is a regular contributor at the Romance University website, where she blogs as Nan Reinhardt, Copy Editor. Her latest novel, Saving Sarah, book 4 in the Women of Willow Bay series September 26, 2017.
Writing a Series~ By Mary E. Thompson
Series has been a buzz word in romance for years. So much so that now, it’s just how things are done. Writing a book? Turn it into a series. Have an idea? Make sure you can expand it. It’s standard operating procedure.
But why? Why do we write series?
The better question is why do readers love them?
How many TV shows do you watch? My DVR has twenty-one shows we record. It’s a lot, I know, but that’s not the point. Why do we record shows? Or watch them online? Or on Netflix? Is it because the shows are unique and different and interesting? Or is it because you enjoyed it when it started and got invested? You liked something about it at the beginning. But every episode follows a formula. You knew Lorelai and Rory would both learn something at the end of Gilmore Girls. You knew the bad guy was going to get caught on Hawaii 5-0. You knew someone would get eliminated at the end of The Voice.
So why do you keep watching?
We always want the bad guy to lose and the good guy to get the girl. We want characters to grow and change. We want to believe the same is possible for us. The overweight woman can end up with the SEAL. The dorky guy can get the model. The invisible girl can catch the attention of the jock.
It’s not the main story that captures our attention. I loved Gilmore Girls. I loved it so much I have the DVD’s of every episode so I can watch them whenever I want. With each episode, we knew that Lorelai was going to do something crazy. Emily and Lorelai would argue. Rory would try to keep the peace. And Richard would barely pay attention.
But that wasn’t what kept me returning week after week to watch what was going to happen. It wasn’t what made almost 6 million people tune in the weekend Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premiered.https://youtu.be/Hjqrr7nss3s
I wanted to know what crazy thing Lorelai would do, yes. But I also wanted to see Rory go to Harvard and then Yale. I wanted to know if Lorelai would marry Max. Or Christopher. Or Luke. If Rory would end up with Dean. Or Jess. Or Logan. If she’d go back to school. If Rory and Lorelai would make up. If Rory and Paris would ever truly be friends. If Lane and Zach would get together. If Richard and Emily would ever take it easy on Lorelai.
The individual episodes didn’t keep me going back. The characters did.
That’s what readers want from us. They want that familiarity. That sense of knowing what to expect. They want to see their favorite characters again and again. They want to know the one character they relate to the best is going to end up with her happily ever after.
That’s why a series works. Grab their attention at the beginning and they’ll be begging you for more. A reader knows what the series stands for. What each book will be like based on the ones before. All their favorite characters are there. They know the backstory. They know who’s going to have a snarky remark and who’s going to keep the peace. They know who the introvert is and who’s going to bring the party. It’s like sitting down for a few hours with their best friends, if we’re lucky.
Because hearing a story from your best friend is the best kind of story.
Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. Her series, Big & Beautiful, is eleven stories long… and counting, because her readers asked for more. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.