A former director of Information Technology, Amanda has written everything from technical books and articles for IT professionals to mysteries for teenagers and romances for all ages. She’s delighted to now be a full time writer of Christian historical romances. Her Texas Dreams trilogy received critical acclaim, and Waiting for Spring, the second in her Westward Winds series, was released earlier this year.
I'm so pleased to have you here, Amanda. Welcome!
Writing Books in a Series by Amanda Cabot
Type of Series
Did you know there’s more than one kind of series? While others may disagree with the terminology, I divide them into two categories: continuing characters and connected characters. What’s the difference? In a continuing character series, the protagonists remain the same, while secondary characters and sometimes settings change. Think of Nancy Drew, Miss Marple and, more recently, Harry Potter. In each case, you know who the main character is, and part of the pleasure of reading one of these books is knowing that when you finish it, there will be another adventure coming, featuring your favorite people. Plot-driven books like mysteries, thrillers and suspense make ideal continuing character series.
Connected character series are different. In them, when the first book ends, those protagonists’ stories are complete, but seeds have been sown for at least one secondary character to star in a subsequent book. It’s common, but not mandatory, for the protagonists of one book to make cameo appearances in the next one. Although settings may vary from one book to the next, it is also possible that the setting itself becomes a character. That’s what happened with my Texas Dreams series. In addition to the connected characters, with the heroes of the second and third books each being introduced in the previous book, the town of Ladreville and a cast of secondary characters formed a common thread. In the Westward Winds series, the primary connection is that the heroines of the three books are sisters. A few secondary characters continue from one book to the next, but the links are more subtle than in the Texas books. Character-driven books like romances and general fiction are good candidates for connected character series.
Number of Books
Once you’ve decided which type of series is right for you, the next question is to decide how many books will comprise that series. In the case of continuing characters, the answer is frequently “I don’t know.” That’s because those series are often open-ended. Connected character series, however, are typically finite. Since trilogies seem to be particularly popular now, my recommendation is to think in terms of three books. And, even if you’re writing a continuing character series, I’d suggest including at least three books in your initial proposal so that there’s no question that it’s a series.
Although there are many challenges associated with writing a series, for me, three stand out.
If you’re using the same location from book to book, I highly recommend having a map that shows where houses, rivers and other landmarks are located. Once again, readers will notice if you change the street names between books. Even if you’re using a real town, it’s important to know where the characters live so that you’re consistent.
2. Create each book as a stand-alone. I know, I know. We’re talking about books in a series, so why am I suggesting that each one be a stand-alone? For me, there’s nothing more frustrating than picking up the second book in a series and feeling as if I’m a stranger at a party where everyone else knows each other. They’re all talking about people and events that are unfamiliar to me. If you write each book with the idea that it can stand alone, you’ll make readers happy. The key is to ensure that each reference to a prior book has a brief explanation, bringing the reader “up to speed.” The challenge, of course, is to not give away key plot points from previous books. Is it easy? Of course not. That’s why it’s a challenge.
3. Make each book as compelling as the previous one. For me, this is the most difficult challenge of all. I’ve read so many trilogies, including some written by New York Times bestselling authors, where the first and third books were excellent, but the middle one fell short that I started asking why. Was this an extreme case of the sagging middles that we’re all told to avoid? Was it like sophomore slump? I suspect part of the problem is that, as authors, we’re excited about the first book, but when we get to the second, we’re anxious to finish the series, and the second book suffers. Don’t let that happen.
I wish I could give you concrete advice on how to avoid the middle book doldrums. All I can say is to be aware that this is a potential problem and one that afflicts even bestselling authors. If you have critique partners, ask them whether this book is as good as the previous one, and if the answer isn’t the one you wanted, ask yourself what you can do to improve it. Your readers expect excellence. Don’t disappoint them.
For me, although there are undeniable challenges involved, writing books in a series is great fun. I love the challenge of creating a town and peopling it with interesting characters, then returning to it a second and third time. I love introducing characters in one book, then following them into a second book. I love every aspect of it except one: saying good-bye.
Writing books in a series can be a fulfilling experience. If you’re at all intrigued by the idea, I encourage you to try it.
About Waiting for Spring
Almost a year ago, Charlotte had a baby and lost a husband. Hearing that a notorious robber believes she knows the location of a long lost treasure, she flees to Cheyenne and opens a dressmaker’s shop to make a living. When wealthy cattle baron and political hopeful Barrett Landry enters her shop with his lovely fiancée, Charlotte’s heart betrays her. If Barrett is to be a senator of the soon-to-be state of Wyoming, he must make a sensible match, and the young woman on his arm has all the right connections. Yet he can’t shake the feeling that Charlotte is the woman who holds the key to his heart and his future.
Soon the past comes to call and Barrett’s plans crumble around him. Will Charlotte and Barrett find the courage to look love in the face? Or will their fears blot out any chance for happiness?
Writing a series is a challenge and there are lots of pros and cons. Thanks for this excellent and informative post, Amanda.
You can learn more about Amanda Cabot and her novels at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook.