November 14, 2011

Seriously Contemplating a Series

It all started with a small idea. One standalone idea, one issue I wanted to tackle.

And then it took root in my mind and soul, grew, and blossomed into something much more than I ever thought it would be.

I’m talking about the story I’m writing. When I initially started planning it in my head, it was a single novel. I didn’t think about writing a series, because the ideas I had so far were only enough to fill one novel. Plus, the main characters’ issues are more or less resolved at the end of this novel.

However, I’d been reading some blogs that mentioned the topic and even asked an agent whether agents and publishers are more willing to publish a series than a standalone novel. The advice I saw seemed to indicate that, if a standalone novel is well written and has a gripping story, then it can definitely find a home with a publisher.

But publishers ARE looking for writers who have more than just one great book idea in their heads. They want people who can be career writers, who are more than just a “one-hit wonder.”

I asked the question (“How many book ideas do I need to present to an agent when seeking representation?”) of a seasoned writer when I attended a recent conference, and she advised me to try to make my novel into a series somehow. One advantage is that you have a built-in audience of people who liked your first book and want to know what happens to the characters in the second book. This writer told me I could even take a minor character from the first book and write the second novel about her life/story.

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I began brainstorming and it didn’t take me long to figure out a story for Stacy, the roommate of my main character. I’m even developing a storyline for a third roommate, who doesn’t yet exist but I’m going to write in. Her story is becoming vivid to me and I can’t believe I didn’t have her in my original outline. It’s crazy what happens when you think outside the box!

In all, the simple question of whether this should be a series has led me to develop three separate storylines for three different college-aged women. And I’ve even been able to develop a uniting concept for the series as a whole, something to tie all the books together.

I think I would have been OK going with my standalone novel, but I’m hoping that writing a series—which of course still needs to be dynamic and well written—will increase my chances of gaining representation and, eventually, a book deal.

Your Turn: As a reader, do you enjoy series or standalone novels better? As a writer, which do you enjoy writing the most?

19 comments:

  1. Congrats on finding a new book to write! After writing my first story I discovered that I could make a series as well and it is so much fun!

    I enjoy series as long as they do not continue FOREVER! A friend of mine was telling me about a series she was reading and she was in like the twelfth book or something. Hearing that overwhelmed me and I decided I didn't care how good they were I didn't have time to commit to that series. Plus the series was still going.

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  2. I'm glad I'm not alone in my series-writing venture, TC! And wow, 12 books is a lot, although there have been successful series that are even longer (think Babysitters Club, Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, etc.). Those examples are all YA, though; I'm not sure I can think of an adult series with that many books!

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  3. I'm a standalone gal. Writing and typically reading.

    It's great you are plotting ideas, but I've also heard it's wise to garner interest from an agent/editor on the first work so you aren't spending time on books 2&3 when another standalone could appeal more. Make sense? If not, shoot me an email and I'll be happy to go into further detail.
    ~ Wendy

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  4. Wendy, that definitely makes sense. I plan to seek representation as soon as I'm done with the first book. That way, like you said, I won't be spending a whole bunch of time on the other books without reason, but I also have ideas to expand the book into a series if the agent/publisher likes the idea. :)

    Thank you for your feedback!

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  5. Lindsay,
    I completely forgot about Boxcar Children, I loved those books when I was young! I wasn't as much into the Babysitters club or Nancy Drew though I did read those as well.

    The series my friend read was adult, but for the life of me I can't remember the name.

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  6. A prequel too! Fans like going into the past of some of the characters and your characters have a juicy past! :)

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  7. Yeah, TC, I admit--I LOVED Babysitters Club! :P

    I remember my mom buying several for me when we'd make the long drive every year to visit my grandparents (Arizona to Oklahoma...it took all day). She'd set them aside for the trip and I'd try to sneak in and read them early because I couldn't stand to wait and find out what happened to the characters.

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  8. I wish you well as you work on your series, Lindsay. I enjoy series where the characters from other books make cameo appearances, but I like a story that can stand on its own.

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  9. Thank you, Keli! Your encouragement means a lot.

    I agree with you. I like being able to find out what happens to the characters I fell in love with from the first book (or books), but the other novels in the series don't have to necessarily revolve around those initial characters.

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  10. Lindsay,
    I've made that drive myself, only the other way around. I originally grew up in the OKC area. I took a very brief trip back there this weekend, it was great to see everyone. I was amazed it could still feel like home even though I have been gone for so long.

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  11. I agree, I think a series will be more marketable. Good luck with it!

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  12. Sonya, thank you for visiting and for your encouragement!

    TC, my grandparents used to live in Norman and I still have some in Moore. Another grandma lives in Altus, which is a few hours outside of OKC, in the SW corner.

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  13. I love to read books that have a tie-in somehow with a series but that can also stand on their own as a separate story. Thanks for your email earlier today...I'll be sure to respond before the clock turns midnight. :)

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  14. Thanks for your input, Sarah! And just answer the email whenever is a convenient time for you. :)

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  15. Lindsay,
    My first book grew into a debut novel--surprise!--and now my work in progress involves a secondary character in the first book coming front and center in the second. It's fun--and challenging, all at the same time. Taking a secondary character and moving her to the main position has it's own set of "now you have to learn how to do this" requirements. I'm thankful my mentor(s) have forced me to stick with it.
    Looking forward to hearing more about your stories!

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  16. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, Beth! That's very good to be aware that there are certain challenges with writing a series, and particularly a series that takes a secondary character and creates a separate story for her.

    It's funny--since I'm writing my first novel now, I feel like there is soooo much to learn (novel writing is definitely different than magazine and essay writing!), but I'm encouraged to know that others have made it through. And since I'm someone who loved school, I love learning--so it's good to know that we as writers never stop learning (since there's always something else to know!).

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  17. I love reading a good series. The kind that really tug at my heartstrings and leave me wanting more. There's something special about meeting a group of characters that become so endearing to you and when the story continues, it's even better :)

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  18. Hi Joanne! Thanks so much for stopping by.

    I'm with you. I think the longest series I've read is Karen Kingsbury's Baxter family series (there are 3 consisting of about 4-5 books each, and each "series" revolves around the same family). I love to see what happens next in each of their lives.

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