Indie Author Weekly

120: Q&A about writing a lengthy book series

July 13, 2021 Sagan Morrow Episode 121
Indie Author Weekly
120: Q&A about writing a lengthy book series
Show Notes Transcript

Have you ever wondered what it's like to write a lengthy book series (such as my 9-book Polyamorous Passions romcom series)? In this episode, we're doing a Q&A! Get your answers to 5 big questions about how to write a book series.  

This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books.    

TUNE IN NOW to discover what you need to know about writing a book series—dispelling the biggest myth about writing a book series, plus tips on how to ensure continuity across your books, what to think about when including recaps in your books, how to handle character development, and more...  

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:  

Let's chat about this episode:

Support the show (https://saganmorrow.com/secretpodcast)

Hello and welcome back to Indie Author Weekly! This is the podcast for indie authors, aspiring authors, and curious bookworms who want the inside scoop, tips and motivation, and the behind-the-scenes journey of writing and self-publishing books. I’m your host, Sagan Morrow (or @Saganlives on Twitter & Instagram), and I’m a productivity strategist and an author of polyamorous romcoms.

Now, do you have questions about what it’s like to write a book series—especially a series that’s longer than a trilogy? Well, that’s exactly what we’re discussing on today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly!

For new and returning listeners, you can now get all Indie Author Weekly podcast episodes—plus updates on my writing projects—delivered directly to your inbox each week at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes… link is in the show notes.

Now let’s get into this episode of the Indie Author Weekly podcast. Today, I want to share some insights and tips on writing a series of books.

This topic is inspired by a panel that I was speaking on about a week ago, for the Exploring Story Structure virtual conference, hosted by Dianna Gunn. The panel I spoke on was all about How to Plot a Series, and I THINK the replay is going to be made available, but I’m not entirely sure… anyway, you can learn more about that and future events for writers that Dianna hosts when you visit BusinessForAuthors.com

By the way, Dianna is super active on Twitter and is really involved in the writing community, which is SO cool—you can learn more about her on Twitter, @DiannaLGunn (and that’s two n’s in both Dianna and Gunn).

Okay! So, we had a great conversation about plotting a series on this panel, and I thought that you might be curious about the concept of writing a book series, too, so I have 5 different Q&As I want to share with you today—we’re going to bust some book series myths, talk about continuity, balancing plot development from one book to the next, and more!

Let’s dive in: 

Question #1: What is the biggest myth about writing a book series?

While writing my own book series—the Polyamorous Passions romcom series, includes 9 books in total, and 7 of which are already published—what I have found is, the biggest myth about writing a book series is that writing a series is really hard and complicated.

Because honestly? It’s not! I think that most writers tend to overthink it, and then it feels daunting and overwhelming. But actually, when you’re working in the same world and with the same characters, in some ways I suspect it makes it EASIER to write a series than a bunch of stand-alone books: you get to revisit the same characters and relationships and get to know those characters better and better over time, rather than constantly needing to start from scratch with every book. 

Now, that being said, it’s important to stay well-organized throughout this process! And that leads us to the next question...

Question #2: How do you stay consistent & keep a continuous plot going throughout the series?

Consistency and continuity MATTER.

Here are a few things I do to maintain that consistency and continuity across the series: 

First, I have a character bible, where I keep track of my various characters—this might include notes about their physical appearance, work life, hobbies, middle names, family dynamics, age, and so on.

Second, I reread my previously published books twice while writing the next book in the series: once while I'm outlining the new book, and then again after I've finished the third or fourth draft of writing the new book. That ensures I’m not making any glaring errors, and that the personality of various characters is remaining consistent.

Third, I enjoy using mind mapping to get my ideas on paper, so that I can see the most important character/setting notes at a glance. I’m a visual and tactile learner, so that’s really helpful for how my brain processes information. 

You can learn more about how to use mind mapping for writing a book in Episode 44 of this Indie Author Weekly podcast.

Question #3: How do you ensure readers understand what’s going on in a later book in the series, without doing a full recap in every single book? 

Okay, this is a great question, and I have very strong opinions on this!

The way I see it, is this: When you are writing a brand-new book, how much background information do you think it’s necessary to provide? Most of the time, we don’t start with, “The main character was born, here’s a complete history with 40 pages of their first decade of life,” and that kind of thing. Right? Instead, every book starts somewhere in the middle of the story. And what you end up doing is sprinkling in bits and pieces of background details that might be helpful for situating the reader in the story. 

The exact same thing can occur when you’re writing a book series. If you write each book with the idea that it stands on its own as a new concept, that your reader is stepping into the story for the first time… then, what’s most important for them to know, right now?

All of my published works to date in the Polyamorous Passions romcom series are short novels, and that means that every sentence counts. Frankly, I don’t want to waste page space writing a full recap on what readers missed in a previous book. You can just read the previous books in the series to get the full scoop! Instead, I like distilling what’s happened in previous books into just a sentence or two. I ask myself, “What is the MOST relevant thing the reader needs to know right now to understand this scene?” and that’s the only thing I add for a recap. 

It works great. This way, readers who have been around since the beginning of the series get a quick refresher without getting bored, and brand-new readers who are jumping into the middle of the series are getting a teaser for what they missed out on—so they can still enjoy this one book without confusion, but they’ll also get interested in reading the previous books in the series for the full details.

I would love to know what you think of this. Connect with me on Twitter or Instagram, @Saganlives, and let me know what book series you’ve read that did a good job of balancing this!

Also, you can get a really good example for how I do this when you read my books. Just search “Polyamorous Passions” on your favourite e-bookstore, or grab them at SaganMorrow.com/books.

Question #4: Where do you draw the line between “this is a scene idea,” vs., “this is a full book idea”?

Honestly? ANY idea can be fleshed out and turned into an entire book—it's a matter of what you're willing to expand on and spend time with.

I look at it in terms of, "Am I willing to explore everything around this concept? Is this something I want to sit with for however many hours while I write the story?" 

Now, I've definitely had a lot of ideas where I think, "Ooh, that's cool!"—but I really don't see anything for it beyond that one scene or vague idea. That's okay. Not everything needs to be turned into a book. Play with it and explore what happens! If you are willing to really flesh out a single idea and spend a lot of time with it, then that’s a good sign that it can be turned into a full book.

This is especially true when you keep in mind that you get to tell a story any way that you like. It can be plot driven or character driven or concept driven or what-have-you. As the author of your own story, you get to make your own rules.

Question #5: When do you know that you have a good handle on a character, and are confident about writing a full book (or several books) about them?

When creating characters, I like doing something I call "Situationals," where I'll ask myself, "If this character was in XYZ situation, what would they do?" 

If I know right away how they'll react or what they'll think about compared to another, that's a very good sign I understand them. If not, then I need to get to know that character better. These aren't scenes I necessarily write down or are included in the story—they're just an exercise for me when I'm thinking about my character and getting to know them better.

By the way, you can grab a resource featuring “Situationals” as character development writing prompts when you sign up for my author email list at SaganMorrow.com/behindthescenes

So that’s a good way to assess your relationship with a character. But another thing is, I really love getting to know my characters as I’m writing the book. Often, I don’t start a book with knowing all about the character. I just know a little bit about them. They reveal themselves to me over the course of writing the book. So I would say that trusting yourself to be patient and build that relationship with your main character over time is really important. 

You can start writing your book today, right now, without knowing hardly anything about your main character. Again, you are the author of your own book: You get to write it any way that you want.

All right. That, my friend, is a wrap for today’s episode of Indie Author Weekly! Access the show notes for this episode, including all links and additional resources, at SaganMorrow.com/podcast.

Thank you so much for tuning in. Please take 2 minutes to rate and review Indie Author Weekly on Apple Podcasts—I really appreciate your support. 

Until next week, this is Sagan Morrow, signing off the Indie Author Weekly podcast.