You’ve come up with a great idea. You’ve got some unique characters. You think it might be possible that you’ve thought of a series. How do you convince a publisher?
The publishing industry is driven by money just like any other. Publishers and writers both want to make a living. One time honored way to please both readers and editors is the series.
By definition, a series is a group of books that maintains a place or characters or sometimes both. Readers begin to identify with returning characters or setting. If your series captures their interest, they’ll want to read the backlist and be waiting eagerly for new books.
Publishers know this too. Many editors are looking for the next J.K. Rowling or Jan Karon. Series books have a long shelf life, an active backlist and guaranteed future sales. Your job as a writer is to convince an editor that:
You’re capable of writing several books.
You have an interesting plot that can carry more than one book.
You have fascinating characters that can continue to be fascinating.
You have a wonderful setting: town, world, etc.
If you’ve had several books published, it shouldn’t be too hard to prove to an editor that you’re capable of getting the job done. If you’ve never published a book, you’re going to have to provide thorough documentation to show that you’ve thought the project through.
How do you show that a plot is strong enough to maintain a series? Not all ideas are big enough to write more than one book. Of those that are, another group of ideas would drop off after two or three books. Your plot has to be expandable. It has to show growth potential. Don’t be afraid to let the editor know where you’re going.
You love your characters. But how do you show an editor that they’re up to the task of carrying more than one book? Character breakdown is a major series problem. If your series has replaceable characters, you don’t have to worry about it. But most series are dependent on their characters: Miss Marple, Harry Potter, Jack Ryan. If you’re starting now, re-design your characters to give them endurance.
You’ve created the ultimate universe that can continue through several books regardless of character changes. Be sure you express that when you contact an editor. What makes your universe so special? What makes it strong enough that people can come and go without taking away from it?
A final word about the practical aspects of selling a series: Be sure the publisher knows you’re selling the books as a series. Your contract should reflect that. It should stipulate how many books are going to come out each year and when they’re going to come out. Each publisher is different. Each contract is different. It’s good for both of you to know what you’re doing from the beginning so there aren’t any surprises.
We learned about the contract idea from a friend of ours, Leigh Greenwood, who has written four different series. We signed separate contracts for the first two books in our first series. The third contract included the next three books, a timetable for them to be published, and the number of books coming out in the year.
A series can be a delight to write. If you love your characters or your setting, you can go back over and over to visit them. They become like members of your family. And with a little care and thought, they can be interesting Great Aunt Sara instead of boring Uncle Fred.
Joyce and Jim Lavene are a married writing team. They’ve written and sold more than forty novels since 1999. They also write a wide array of non-fiction. They are active in local and national writer’s groups, where they lecture and give workshops on the craft of writing. Joyce and Jim live in North Carolina with their family.