To Series or Not to Series

This is the first in a sporadic series ;-) of posts talking about Janet Evanovich's How I Write.

The number one thing to realize is that this is Ms. Evanovich's look at how she, specifically, writes. It's not strictly a how-to book, although she (and Ina Yalof, who helped write the book) gives out some good advice. Anything she says should be considered nothing more than that, or guidelines, at the very most; there's nothing here that's etched in granite (if you're from or live in New Hampshire, you'll understand this small joke).

The Pros of Writing a Series

Someone asked about the pros and cons of writing a series. I'll quote the pros Ms. Evanovich throws out:
If you're in it for the long haul and if it's a success, you develop a loyal readership. Also, if you've given your main character a specific occupation or your setting is distinctive, you can do your in-depth research once or twice and you don't have to keep learning about new things. Less research equals more time to write. --pg. 109
Ah, but there's the rub in the first sentence: If it's a success. Now, my take on this is that even if you have a series in mind, you wrap up the main problem in that first book in case that novel tanks. Leave a tendril or two open somewhere in there so you can hang the rest of the series on that particular idea.

For instance, in my current WIP, I'm going to have a fairly major character admit that she did something that might have unleashed a series of demons into our world (but for the past few months has done something to keep those beasties contained). It's not the major thrust of this book, which I've entitled The Bone Eater. But if I manage to sell this thing, and if enough people are interested in it, I have ideas for further books. (And I'll probably hint at this in my query letter to agents.)

If...if...if...that's the operative word. It's all conjecture at this point. The main problem, though, is wrapped up at the end of the book. No cliffhangers like the stereotypical fantasy trilogy.

Not that I have a problem with that. :-)

Another interesting point Ms. Evanovich makes is that it "...lets you develop the characters in far more detail so that both you and the reader get to know them better with each book." [Page 110] This is what I like about Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series: We get to know more and more about Harry Dresden, his feelings about certain things/ideas, and the major trouble he's in with the wizard side of his world.

That's what I hope to do with The Bone Eater. Only time will tell.

The Cons to Writing a Series

Ms. Evanovich came up with two cons:
If you start a series and it's succesfful, you're locked into it, often for years, so that if you have other ideas for other books you have to forego them for a while. Also, you always have to start out giving the reader information that all your old readers already know...The challenge is to make it fresh for you and for the reader every time. --page 110
I guess there are worse things than having a popular series that sells well every year. (Heh. I should be so fortunate.) But I think I understand where she's coming from. I do have another idea (a time travel-type story which needs a major revision), but would I have enough time to work on it if the other turned into a success? I'd like to say it wouldn't be a problem, but I just don't know that. I do like the character in The Bone Eater, so I don't think I'll get sick of them anytime soon. (Famous last words, I know. ;-) ) But would I have enough quality time?

Probably not.

But I'll worry about that if--and only if--it comes.

And then there's that, "Well, Jackie is five foot four, takes meds every day, has a dog" stuff that would have to go at the start of every book, for those people who come in the middle of the series and haven't a clue as to the who/what/where stuff. (Like I did with the Stephanie Plum series.) To me, this is less of a con than the other one, because to me it's just a fun exercise in throwing out bits and pieces to get everyone up to speed: Time to get the creative juices flowing!


~Nancy Beck