Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Series and Sequels

Kimber asked me about series and sequels, specifically, how much time can pass between publishing dates?

I've done many a series, including one that's fourteen books long (my Warrior series for Harlequin Historicals). Many of those books came out a year or more apart, with other books in between. Other series were trilogies that came out in succession. I've had a series of five books, and some have had only two, a first book and a sequel. Did having books come out in an "interrupted" series lose or gain readers? Was there a problem with the books coming out far apart?

To be honest, I don't know. There are so many variables when it comes to sales (cover, time of year, what else is going on in the world) that it can be hard to pin down sales based on only one thing.

In the case of the Warrior series, I have to admit, it wasn't planned as a series, certainly not at first. I was thinking only about the first book, A WARRIOR'S HEART. During the course of writing it, I thought the villain needed a "yes man," somebody he could talk to as a means of revealing his plans. So I created Urien Fitzroy. Then Urien got a conscience. Suddenly, he wasn't so happy about working with the villain any more. He became a lot more interesting right then, and he'd developed what I now call "hero potential."

However, I didn't consider writing about him when I submitted A WARRIOR'S HEART, or even when I got the call that Harlequin wanted to buy it. I had another story in mind, set in Victorian England and featuring a woman raised in China who is given to the hero in payment for a debt. Harlequin bought it next, and it became CHINA BLOSSOM. Then I sold and wrote Urien's story, A WARRIOR'S QUEST.

And for years, I carried on that pattern -- one Warrior book, one book set elsewhere. After A WARRIOR'S QUEST, I wrote THE VIKING, then A WARRIOR'S WAY, followed by a longer break for VOWS, (part of a Harlequin continuity series, which is a series of books sharing a setting written by various authors) and THE SAXON, which was a sequel to THE VIKING.

But then I did a group of three Warrior books -- THE WELSHMAN'S WAY, THE NORMAN'S HEART and THE BARON'S QUEST. I won't go into the release history of all the Warrior books, but it was more of the same. Sometimes I'd do three together, often one with a couple of other books in between. (If you want to see how the books are connected, go here.)

In hindsight, I do think it's probably better if you can bring a series out together rather than spread over time as a means of building a readership -- provided, of course, you know you've got a series.

However, there was another reason I did it this way. I get bored writing in the same time period for too long, so I needed the change. For some writers, it's all about the sales, and I understand that. But I simply can't keep writing the same sort of book in the same time period for years and years. So this was the right course for me, the writer. I might be more financially successful if I'd done it another way, but I took the course that I believe was best for me in terms of happiness and contentment.

Why bother with sequels and series? Well, plenty of readers love them. They feel like they get to know a whole family, and characters they love get to "live again" in another book.

But there can be a real drawback to a series or sequel if the author feels they have to bring everybody back into every book, or go into great detail about what happened in previous books. I tend to think of my repeat characters as cameos or secondary characters in their own right. For instance, Diana and Edmond, the hero and heroine of KISS ME QUICK, are prominent secondary characters in the sequel, KISS ME AGAIN. Generally, though, I think of returning characters not as something readers of earlier books in the series should expect in later books, but as a bonus for them. I certainly don't want readers who start with the later books to feel lost or out of the loop. That's no way to make for a satisfying reading experience.

There's another less obvious bonus about series and sequels from a writer's perspective apart from (hopefully) increased sales. I think it helps the author create more three-dimensional secondary characters if they may be heroes or heroines themselves down the road.

There have been cases where I've created secondary characters with the idea in the back of my head that they may get their own story, only to find when I'm finished the first book that I'm also "done" with them. The necessary excitement to write a book about them just isn't there. That happened with Lachlann from BRIDE OF LOCHBARR. I had a notion of writing about him after he's banished, but I just wasn't feeling it.

Conversely, and this goes to Kimber's comment about a character she loved from her first book, if I have a secondary character from one book who just won't go away, I always hope to get a chance to write about him or her later, somehow.

I had one character from a book out in 1997 (THE DARK DUKE) who doesn't even actually appear in the story, but I couldn't forget about him. I finally got a chance to write his story in a novella that came out in 2004 ("Comfort and Joy," from THE CHRISTMAS VISIT.) Did readers of the series get the link? I hope so, but the most important thing for me was, I got to give Griffin his happy ending.

So when it comes to series or sequels, the major factor for me is how I feel about that character or characters. If a character just won't let go, I think that's a sign of a good character, and who wants to lose one of them?

Therefore, my advice to Kimber (bearing in mind I am neither an editor nor a marketing genius) would be, if she really wants to write about that character from her first book, she should. If a lot of time has passed, though, it might be better to play down the link and treat it as a true stand-alone, with very few ties to the first book. In the PR for the book, she could certainly mention it features a minor character from an earlier book -- or not, if the first book is out of print or hard to find by the time the second hits the shelves, as some readers will avoid a series if they can't get all the books. Indeed, some readers won't read any of the books in a series until they have them all. Nevertheless, even if the connection between the books is nearly non-existent except for that one character, I would mention the connection on her website, in case readers of the first book are wondering if it's the same character.

And now, speaking of websites, off I go to do my weekly update on mine.

1 comment:

Kimber said...

Brilliant, brilliant post, wow, so much information there.

And the bonus of the different covers (you got some nice one there), that made this post a "keeper."

Thank you SO much!
I do think I'm going to downplay the link between the two books.