I love Twitter. It can be frustrating trying to reduce a Big Idea down to 140 characters but great fun. And inspirational. Today I posted a Lawrence Block quote using the hashtag #quotes4writers. On Twitter, a hashtag automatically groups together tweets (twitter messages) on a related subject – in this case quotes writers might find helpful.
This is the quote I tweeted:
“Concentrate on the book at hand. Projecting an entire series merely dilutes your efforts” – Lawrence Block #quotes4writers
Within minutes, this blog topic was born. Considering how many writers tell me the book they’re working on is intended to be the first in a series, it’s a fairly common concern. But should an author, especially a new author, tell an agent or editor that their book is part of a series? And how much of the series should you develop?
In Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, Lawrence Block makes his thoughts clear, adding, “The agents and publishers are not much impressed. Their interest in a manuscript is in its own merits…”
Even if you have the makings of a series – in a fascinating lead character, setting or profession – the first book has to sell before the second become a twinkle in an agent’s eye. Not because they don’t like series. They do. And readers love them. But there are traps. The first is the need to read series books in the order they’re written. What if you miss book one? Readers feel cheated if they buy a book without knowing it’s part of a series. They must either buy the first book(s) or try to fill in the gaps as they read.
Giving each book a complete story in its own right is a good idea. You can also fill in necessary background with a light hand to avoid boring the pants off regular readers. Giving the book to a reader who’s coming fresh to the series can help you find out what works. The writer can’t know because the back story is all in our heads, although ideally the details should be in more accessible form, in journals or charts you can check to ensure the orphan in book one hasn’t acquired parents by book three without any explanation.
Another trap is “saving” a great story idea for later in the series. Give your first book your absolute all and trust that more ideas will come if and when you get to write future volumes. In my experience, ideas emerge as the series’ characters and settings grow. When I wrote The Monarch’s Son I never dreamed that I’d set thirteen books in the fictional kingdom of Carramer or I wouldn’t have made divorce illegal. In future books, I could only end marriages by killing off one or other party. I could have changed the law but in book one, my monarch had made much of not doing so to suit himself. On the other hand, I was forced to become more inventive.
By all means let an agent or editor know you have other books in mind but 0nly offer a brief paragraph summing up each proposed sequel until you catch their enthusiasm. And most of all, take Lawrence Block’s advice and concentrate on the book at hand.
What are your thoughts on series books, either to write or to read? Have you fallen into any traps? How did you fix them?
Proud to be a Friend of the Year of Reading 2012
on twitter @valerieparv