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Beyond the Books—The Evolution of a Series

Vivian Arend and Elle Kennedy talk about the evolution of a series. How they are birthed and how hard they are to continue. Series are a very popular selling tool for authors. Readers seem to love them and hate them in equal measures, but the dollars seem to indicate that there is tremendous appetite for connected books, both featuring the same characters and different characters.

On to the Guest Post:

While there’s been an explosion of change in the publishing world in recent years, adapting and adjusting has always been part of the process. Consider two popular series now running at Samhain Publishing. Number 8 in Elle Kennedy’s Out of Uniform releases November 20th, as does Book 4 in the Six Pack Ranch by Vivian Arend. Both series have come a long way from that very first book. We’ll share some of the specifics involved in our particular works, but we’re not alone in responding to the changes around us, and readers are noticing.

The series is in evolution.

From One Book to Many

Birth of a series

 

Elle: I guess the first thing that needs to be said is that Out of Uniform was not intended to be a series.  Heat of the Moment, the first book in the series, was published in a summer-themed anthology from Samhain.  It was just a short novella, but it featured a ménage scene between the h/H, and the hero’s best friend, Carson.

So why did I write a follow-up?  My readers.  I got so many emails asking when Carson’s story was coming out that eventually I decided, hey, this guy NEEDS a book.  So I wrote Heat of Passion, and from there, four more novellas and two novels were born.  This goes to show that readers can play a big part in the writing process.  Without those initial Heat of the Moment readers, Out of Uniform would not exist today.

 

From Solo to Series to a Saga

Viv: I wrote the first book, Rocky Mountain Heat, for an anthology call as well, only I wasn’t as successful as Elle. Anthologies often have a very narrow word count limit (in this case 30K words) so I expanded the story while trying to find a publisher, and suddenly I had more than a single story in mind (Six Pack Ranch kind of screams series, doesn’t it?) Once I brought the series to Samhain, the potential stories again increased. The difference is I’ve gained experience as a writer, and found I enjoy writing the family dynamics around the h/H as much as the main characters’ journey to HEA.

 

The New Regime- Series Dating: Multiple Publishers / Multiple Options

Moving from one publisher to another was rare years ago, and if it happened, it usually involved a business decision to go separate ways. In the past three years, however, having a book series start one place but shift to another has become far more common. Having books with more than one publisher has also increased, and there’s even a new term being bandied about—a hybrid author: one with books available through more than one of the publishing options.

 

Viv: While most writers will tell you they love writing and would do it no matter what, publishing is still a business. The first two books in the Six Pack Ranch series were released through a small press. In the meantime, I had other series taking off at Samhain Publishing. My editor, Anne Scott, had turned out to be not only a superb taskmaster, but a kindred spirit. At that point I decided I couldn’t imagine adding to the Six Pack series without bringing it over to Samhain.

Other series with new homes: Maya Banks’ Colters’ Legacy series started at Samhain, with the first three books published there. Now the series is published by Berkley, who also releases Banks’ NYT best-selling single titles.

 

Lengthy Matters (sorry, bad pun—gotta be Viv’s fault)

Lengthy Matters

Elle: While Out of Uniform has always been published with Samhain, the books have begun to evolve.  The first six were novellas, but Feeling Hot (#7), Getting Hotter (#8) and the subsequent books are novel length.  This raises the question, is longer better?  For this series, I’m finding that it is.  The longer length allows me to focus on character development, deeper conflicts, sub-plots, etc. I don’t think I could go back to novella-length now, not after being able to get more in-depth with these newer titles.

Viv: I love writing novellas, but have to agree with Elle. For what the Six Pack Ranch has evolved into, novellas don’t cut it anymore. The first expanded books are in the category length (60K) and the most recently completed is closing in on 90K (your average Trade/mass market length is 90-110K)

On the flip side are the novellas that more traditionally published NY authors have begun to offer, either as supplements to an established series or introductions to a new series. More on this later.

Old is New

There are many authors who are republishing books that they’ve received the rights back to. Barbara Freethy’s backlist is now available in digital format and she’s achieved incredible bestselling status with them. Many Harlequin and Silhouette authors whose title rights have been reverted back to them are also republishing, offering these older titles in digital format that wasn’t available to them a decade or two ago.  Others are getting their books republished, but revising them first to remove any notable items from the era (Legwarmers, anyone?)

And the current craze in repackaging older books with new 50Shades-ish covers means some series are getting a second shot in the spotlight.

Elle: I would actually love to revisit the earlier novellas in the OOU series and add to them. Because they were so short, the conflicts were “light” and not as deeply explored, and I think it would be both fun and interesting to play around with those old characters and situations. I won’t be doing that any time soon, but I’m not against the idea. I think this new trend of republishing or revising old books can help authors.

On the other hand, as a reader, I often feel “cheated” when I see that one of my favourite authors has a new book—and then I find out it’s not new at all.  It’s just a reissued title with a new title and cover, which robs me of that excitement.

Viv: I know when I set out to revise and add to the books I was excited as well, and yet as I got into the writing I unexpectedly felt as if I had boundaries I couldn’t cross. While a limited number of people had read the original books, they were out there. I didn’t feel I could completely change any of the major plot points. Making conflict more intense usually means adjusting plot points. Maybe that was just me, but the sensation set the revision parameters in a way I hadn’t expected. One way I dealt with it was to add an additional plotline through the two books that made sense within the whole, and ended up carrying the family saga forward to this day. Hopefully, a win-win solution.

Traditional NY and/or Digital and/or Self-pub

Viv: There is a lot of excitement in the author community regarding the options now available in terms of delivering stories to readers. Writers can find what works for them based on their current career situation and life situation. The evolving world of options for series is one of them.

There is no one true way.

Over the past couple years my life has involved long stretches of time on the road and/or away from reliable Internet. I can write anywhere, anytime. As long as I find an Internet connection once in a while, I can submit edits. There was no way that I could have dealt with all the other aspects of self-publishing while traveling. Also? I will admit it. The two parts of publishing I love most are putting the stories down and talking to people. I’m very comfortable letting my publisher do the behind the scenes work for me so I can have more time to enjoy telling more stories. The freedom from an expanded To-Do list is worth the ‘loss’ of extra royalties self-publishing might bring.

Elle: I definitely agree that there are major benefits to publishing with a house—the publisher handles your cover, advertising, editing, accounting, and hundreds of other little details that I have no interest in dealing with.  But the benefits to self-pubbing are also present, especially in terms of profit, and self-pubbing allows an author to ensure that their series never ends.  If a publisher chooses not to publish any more titles in a series, authors can continue the series and publish it solo.  I would certainly consider continuing OOU on my own if Samhain chose to let it go.

What The Evolution of the Series

What The Evolution of the Series means for readers (at least for the next thirty days. Subject to change without warning.)

1. Less series (or trilogies) that end before the final book is published, or before readers have had enough.

Elle: Imagine JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series had ended before Vishous had gotten his book?  Or Z?  Or QHUAY? It’s a reader’s worst nightmare—you wait so long for that next book to come out, that one book that features your very favourite secondary character—and then it never does.  The publisher has decided that it’s not cost-effective for them to publish the series for a handful of readers, no matter how dedicated those readers are.

The one caveat to a series continuing at a new publisher or being self-published: the new opportunities available now cannot help in situations where rights are tied up within a contract. An author can’t simply write the next book and self publish it if the contact prohibits that option. One fairly well known example in the romance world is the MacGregor series by Nora Roberts.

But other authors have successfully taken cancelled series and completed them using the new options, allowing readers to enjoy a conclusion to the adventures.

2. Possibilities for short excursions into favourite worlds between full novel releases.

Many examples of variations on a theme here:

- We’ve seen whole sub-series be released, like Thea Harrison’s bestselling Elder Races world visited in the four novellas now available through Samhain Publishing

- Returns to catch up with well-loved characters. Recently Lauren Dane published a follow-up novella to her Brown Siblings series with Berkley. Laid Open is available in digital only.

- In April, Courtney Milan published a novella, The Governess Affair, which introduces readers to her upcoming series The Brothers Sinister. The first full-length book The Duchess War is scheduled for sometime in November.

 Elle: I am actually planning on writing an OOU novella that revisits a pair of fan favourites, which will hopefully release sometime between Getting Hotter (Nov) and Hotter Than Ever (summer 2013). I know that as a reader, I love revisiting characters from a favourite series and seeing what everyone is up to!

Viv: I have a prequel novella in the works for my upcoming Adrenaline series from Berkley Sensation, and plans for more novellas in the Granite Lake Wolves world. Readers aren’t the only ones who fall in love with characters; authors want to know more about what’s happening as well.

3. More ‘first book in series’ free through self-pubs/ short-term freebies or discounted prices from digital or traditional publishers.

Viv: A chance to discover a new favourite author without financial risk is currently an option that more and more publishers and authors are using. Marie Force’s The McCarthys of Gansett Island is one example. I read the first free story then proceeded to glom the rest of the series. (Well played, Marie, well played!)

As you can see, series are constantly evolving. Most readers aren’t aware of everything that happens behind-the-scenes when it comes to bringing your favourite series onto the bookshelves or into your e-reader. Not everyone likes change, but in this case, it seems like most of the changes are for the better and the opportunity endless.  In the landscape of publishing, the potential for series seems a lot brighter and more exciting than it used to be.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

6 Comments

  1. Mel
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 09:28:07

    I hate the whole “revisiting” trend where authors rewrite the first books in their series, sometimes multiple times. As an author it might feel like you’re making your books better but if I’ve been one of your readers from the first it feels like a cheap money-grab. Particularly if you’ve done enough “improving” that I have to buy it in order to understand the sequels. I have two authors blacklisted right now for egregious examples of this. I will not dump over $40 worth of ebooks to pay $60 for the “improved” versions in order to understand the subsequent series.

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  2. Gwen Hayes
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 11:34:25

    I’m also not a reader than enjoys “revisiting”. I prefer the original, leg warmers and all. It’s always fun for me to go back to books I read ten or twenty years ago and remember how it felt the first time I read them. And it’s fun to remember a time when someone had to use a phone booth, ya know?

    Also, sometimes “revisiting” makes me angry. A good example of this is “Han shot first”. And don’t get me started on inserting Hayden Christiansen into Episode III.

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  3. Vivian Arend
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 11:55:31

    Mel– I agree with you, which is why I think I felt that sense of restraint when making revisions/additions. I had to expand the books to novel length, but didn’t want people who had read the originals to need to repurchase the new versions. It’s a tightrope to walk, but it is possible.

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  4. library addict
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 12:51:04

    My feelings about series are mixed. First because 99% of the time I believe in reading books in order. I make the 1% exception (which is probably more) for multi-author series books where a fave author writes one of the books and I am just not interested in the others.

    Sometimes a series ends but because it’s successful the author and publisher decide to write more books. Often this can become ridiculous (the Fortune’s Children series and its gazillion spin-offs from Silhouette/Harlequin is a good example). Or the author writes “filler” books while readers are waiting for their favorite secondary character to get his/her story. But by the time the author gets around to writing it I have lost interest or there’s just no way for the book to live up to its anticipation. It’s fine if the author actually has story ideas that mesh well and is telling an over-arcing story within each book of the series. But filler books to me are books in which the main characters were not around at the beginning of the series and serve simply to delay a major secondary character’s book.

    I think it works best when authors have a fixed number of books and then move on to a new set of characters. If authors don’t want to create an entirely new “universe,” this can include spin-off series as Cindy Gerard has done with her Bodyguards series which introduced the main characters in her Black Ops Inc series which will now spin-off into her upcoming One-Eyed Jacks series. But I would rather an author leave me wanting more than run a series into the ground.

    I hate it when authors go back and release revised/revamped editions of previous books. I feel like if I was a fan of the original book it is a slap in the face as the author has now determined the new version is “better.” I can understand that an author may never have been satisfied with the original book, but use that energy to make your current and next book better. If you feel the need to revisit the same characters, write a new novella or book with them (just don’t ruin the HEA which is another thing I have seen done and dislike).

    I read a lot of series books because I do like visiting with previous characters and seeing glimpses of their HEA. So family orientated and work group series are the ones which work best for me.

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  5. Elle Kennedy
    Nov 06, 2012 @ 14:15:38

    @Gwen Hayes: There are some books I re-read every year, and you’re right, I don’t think I would like seeing anything other than the original book I fell in love with.

    ReplyReply

  6. lsat prep coaches
    Dec 13, 2012 @ 12:00:24

    Yep, I can agree with your post there, being a law school professor and everything!

    ReplyReply

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