One of the truisms about indie publishing is that, well, there aren’t really any. What works for one person might not work for another! But there is a way of writing in which you are more likely to be able to sell more books and that’s by publishing a series.
Obviously, there are indie authors out there doing very well with standalones. I myself have two standalone psychological thrillers (The House on Fever Street and Lost Girls), both of which continue to earn me money as part of my back list. But, in general, readers like series. They like meeting their favourite characters again and again and watching their characters develop and grow as they meet a series of new conflicts and challengers. Readers enjoy the ‘world-building’ a series gives them. Some of the best series have an overall story arc, reaching across the length of the series (think of Harry Potter battling Voldemort, with each individual book bringing the two antagonists closer to their final battle). This propels the reader through the series, seeking the final resolution of the plot in the final book, while still enjoying each book’s individual narrative and plot for itself.
That’s one way of writing a series. Another (the one I myself use for both my series, The Kate Redman Mysteries and Miss Hart and Miss Hunter Investigate historical mysteries) is to write a series but within that series, write each book as a ‘semi-standalone’. The series still involves the same characters, the same world/location/setting but, crucially, a reader can ‘jump into’ the series at any point. They don’t have to start from the beginning to enjoy each book individually.
WHY WRITE A SERIES?
Series are important for an indie author hoping to make a full time career of novel writing. Why? Because if you can hook a reader with one book in a series, then the likelihood is that they’ll go on to buy more of the books. I have daily proof of this with my book reviews – a huge proportion will state that the reader is going on to buy the next book in the series, or that they can’t wait for the next book in the series, and so forth.
Write a successful series, one that people will come back to again and again and your income as an indie author is far more guaranteed. As mentioned above, readers love series. They love meeting their favourite characters again and again, staying with them as they face new challenges, change and grow.
As a writer, working with a series has a number of advantages too. Once you’ve built your world and know your characters, each successive book is easier to write, because you’ve got the basics down already – you’re not starting from scratch every time. You also have a lot of room for characters to develop and grow over the series.
Recurring characters can spark plots or subplots which are interesting to build – in my Kate Redman Mysteries series, a long-running subplot involves one of Kate’s colleagues attempting to become an adoptive parent. This sub-plot has run across several books now and is building to what is – I hope! – a satisfying conclusion.
Marketing a series is another blog post in itself but, basically, the more books you have, particularly books that are linked in a series, the easier it is to successfully market each book. Once you have three books or more, you can create and sell boxed sets as the series grows, which gives you another income stream.
BUILDING YOUR WORLD
The first thing you’ll need is your location. Where is your series going to be set? This may be heavily dependent on your genre – there aren’t that many murder mysteries taking place on a battle cruiser in outer space, for example (although, damn, that would be a hell of a fun mash-up! <scribbles notes for next book…>).
Have a think about the locations of your favourite series. What is traditional for your genre? What would be a new and interesting twist? Remember, as an indie, you can always push the boundaries but also remember that if you’re too way out, your book might struggle to sell.
Is your location going to be real or imaginary? Personally, I prefer imaginary locations but set in a recognisably real place. So, the Kate Redman Mysteries all take place in and around the fictional country town of Abbeyford, in the West Country, but I do reference real places as well, such as Bath, Bristol and London.
If you’re going to set your series in a real place, then you must either know the area very well or be prepared to do a lot of research. Try and wing it and you’re going to make mistakes and annoy your readers!
If you’re working with an imaginary location, why not create a map? A map will help you picture and describe your location and you can use it to work out distances and possible plot anomalies. Another useful exercise is to build a vision board of your imaginary town that sets the scene for you – either by creating a physical board or by using Pinterest – check out this Indie Author School tutorial on how to create a vision board on Pinterest.
WHO ARE YOUR CHARACTERS GOING TO BE?
Who are going to be your main characters? If you’re planning a series (and a series really needs to be at least three books long at a minimum), then you’ll need at least some characters that are capable of growth and change. Also, what’s the time-frame for your series going to be? If your main characters are middle-aged or elderly and you’re planning a series that’s going to span years, this could become problematic. Agatha Christie once wrote that one of her major mistakes was making both her most famous creations, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, elderly at the start of what would turn out to be a remarkably long-lived series for both characters.
Of course, the beauty of a series is that you can always add more characters (or, rather more evilly, kill some off) if you’re getting bored with writing about the same old people all the time.
One last tip – one of the challenges of a series is keeping tabs on each character. What are their distinguishing features, where were they born, how many siblings do they have? The more books you write, the more complicated this can get so to help you keep track, I’ve created a character spreadsheet you can download by signing up to the mailing list (and get a whole lot more free goodies too :).