The Book Series Gauntlet
Right, so you’ve sat down and written a standalone novel which you have tons of ideas for the sequel, correct? Awesome, you just took a proactive step in your career as a new author.
Binge society, people.
I’m still waiting for Game of Thrones to officially end so I can binge watch it all…or just grab some of the books and binge read.
See what I mean?
Netflix and Amazon have started something in their respective niches; binge watching and binge reading. The masses love a good old binge read, especially our avid readers.
So, I have Northern Knights out, Book One in the Lord of Columbia (LOC) Series, with two more on the way within the next six months and a fourth this time next year whose first draft I’m working on as I write this.
Being a rather new author myself, I want to give the novices and even our grizzled vets out there some tips and quick hits of what I learned when I decided to turn the standalone Northern Knights into the LOC Series.
Below are four tips on writing a compelling series.
Benefits to a Series
As Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn often mentions, there are many more benefits to writing a series than writing a standalone. For one, as mentioned above, we live in a binge society where people will binge watch their favorite series or binge read the new book series they discovered.
A series can make a book timeless. The Chronicles of Narnia became new to me in the mid-2000s although C.S. Lewis wrote the series fifty to sixty years prior. Any book in any series, young or old, backlist or hot new release, is new to the reader.
Therefore, if a reader comes across Swords of Destiny (November to December 1st release date) before Northern Knights, that book will likely cause an uptick in sales.
This is especially helpful if you’re enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select, which is great to do for fewer than three books in a series. So, both Northern Knights and Swords of Destiny will be in KDP Select. Better yet, use simultaneous free days and promote Book One with Freebooksy or Free Kindle Books, or any reputable book promotion site.
Some authors may groan at paying to promote the free books, but per Mark Dawson, you can expect thousands of downloads.
How about for every one hundred downloads, expect a review or two?
That’s 3,000 downloads, equaling 30-60 reviews. It’s something I’m expecting as I release Swords of Destiny within the next month and a half, getting ready for the release party!
But, this is a definite advantage to having Books One and Two in KDP Select for free for five days. You’re going to get reviews and if they’re good reviews (they should be) you will get a lot of buyers for your work.
Amazon favors books with reviews over others that don’t have as many. It shows the book has been read time and again.
In fact, don’t be shy to ask readers to post a review on your Twitter or Facebook Page, and in the back of your e-book and print book. Make it a call to action and you’ll be glad you asked.
You’ll get reviews. Amazon will notice you. And when you set the real prices to your books, you’re going to see an uptick in sales.
What is the theme of your work?
In the LOC Series, the theme is liberty, from a Libertarian point-of-view. For this, you’ll see nonintervention, free markets, self-reliance, private property rights, and zero government overreach in every work. Of course, the enemy is the socialist/communist big government empire on a quest to police the world.
Again, in each work, this theme is prevalent. Other themes throughout include social justice, the Bill of Rights, anti-federalism, anti-globalism, and anti-cronysim.
Whatever your themes are, always remind readers they’re reading the same series by sticking to your core themes in your work. But again, show it, don’t tell it. I’m not going to say Northern Knights promotes a Libertarian agenda by fighting the tyrannical policemen of the world.
You need to show it. For me, when Cain spots tyranny, he comes running. When he and North Columbian leaders plan a defense strategy, he’s the first one on the front lines and the battlefield. But, I show him in action. Use strong verbs, little adverbs, few adjectives, and strong nouns. You’ll be creating adrenaline-rushing scenes before you know it.
Keep such scenes in line with the theme and bam, you have one heck of a series headed your way. Do this in each book and you’ll see a readership grow.
As mentioned in a previous article of mine, character arc is key. Where is your character starting? Why are they in their current predicament?
But, where do they go in each book? Each work of mine shows Cain evolving through his character arc. In Book One, he’s an arrogant college athlete who cares little about anything else, but his character evolves. Ditto for Book Two, Book Three, and however many LOC books I decide to write.
The best thing here is to create an arc for your characters in each book, but like theme, create an overarching character arc. This will keep your readership engaged with each work, interested not only in theme and plot development but overall character development and evolution.
The audience will be asking how Character A responds to the trials and tribulations presented to them in the current work, as they were in previous works.
Setups and Pay Offs
Just like with character arc, let’s talk about plot development. Every single good plot has a setup and payoff. The best book series’ contain the following:
- Setups and payoffs per chapter.
- Setups and payoffs per act (divide that book into three acts).
- Setups and payoffs per book.
- Setups and payoffs from one book to another (maybe have one of these, two tops).
- Setups and payoffs overarching the whole series.
In Northern Knights, one of my favorite setups was a mysterious cold chill Cain felt during tense moments. Toward the end of the novel, at the climax, I give the reader a payoff.
Foreshadowing works in this regard, too. Hint the reader something big is coming or even minor, and they’ll keep their eyes glued to the work until they find out what the payoff is.
In a series, everything must be moving forward. Everything must be evolving. Everything must be flowing in sync in one direction.
Not only is it necessary for the story to make sense, but readers are going to demand it.
And when you follow the benefits of creating a series in a way I outlined, taken from Mark Dawson, you’ll have a legitimate, real readership demanding a lot from you.
Now you must evolve as an author. Follow my steps, double check for plot errors and typos, and build that readership now.