I've made it no secret that I'm a fan of the previous two writers' reference books from Karen Wiesner -- First Draft in 30 Days and From First Draft to Finished Novel. So I was thrilled when she sent me her most recent release for writers, Writing the Fiction Series.
This was a timely read for me. I'm gearing up to take part in my first NaNoWriMo, when I'll finish drafting the first novel in a mystery series. Because I'm doing the NaNo "rebel" thing this year, I'm also working on two shorter series -- one with horror short stories and the other is a series of children's picture books.
Given that all of my current big writing projects involve writing series, I was looking forward to picking up some tips. The author didn't disappoint.
I wholeheartedly recommend Writing the Fiction Series: The Complete Guide for Novels and Novellas to any writer even toying with the idea of writing a series. Actually, I equally recommend it to fiction writers who haven't considered series before. The author does a good job of pointing out the value in writing fiction series and the fact that series aren't just a recent trend -- they're the way many people like to read.
In this book you'll learn about how series ideas can make you more marketable if you choose to pursue a publisher. But if you're an indie author, don't count them out. They can help you build more loyal readers too. The real meat of the book however is how to go about creating a series. And that's where it shines. Let's look at some of the highlights.
Here are some of my favorite things about Writing the Fiction Series.
First, I love the emphasis on planning ahead. One of my biggest pet peeves as a regular reader of series novels is that authors tend to be inconsistent. While a fact might seem insignificant in the first novel of a series, throwing that fact out the window in a later book might completely pull your reader out of the story.
For example, in one series I was reading in one book it mentions the lead character's age. In the start of the next book it says we've jumped ahead two years. But shortly after, it mentioned her age again. And she's five years older! Sure, in this case it probably didn't affect the overall story. But I had a complete "WTF" moment, stopped reading, and went back to the previous book to verify.
I was worried I somehow missed a book in the series and wanted to stop before I got further into it. I hadn't missed one. But the author and her editor missed the error.
Remember, your readers aren't always following your series as the books are released. If they're reading an existing series from the beginning, one book right after another, they're more likely to pick up on those things, and inconsistency pulls them out of the story when you want to immerse them in it.
In Writing the Fiction Series, the author offers tips and tools to help you map out your series in a way that will make you less likely to have these consistency issues. The "series bible" worksheets are a fantastic set of tools to help you stay on top of the basics. They'll not only serve as reminders of "the little things" like personality quirks of your characters, but they'll also keep you on track with series story lines so you never neglect a series arc and leave your readers hanging too long.
Another high point is the chapter on marketing a series, which poses additional challenges (and benefits) when compared to marketing a standalone book. I found her section on timing your series releases especially interesting. There she shares readers' views on how often novels in a series should be released. Is there any solid rule? Of course not. But it gives you a lot of good viewpoints to consider when figuring out your own schedule.
If you're a regular reader here you know I rarely, if ever, share the positive side of something in a review without also sharing suggestions or things that didn't appeal to me quite as much. With Writing the Fiction Series, I can honestly say I didn't find any problems.
There was only one aspect of the book that didn't appeal to me as much as the rest, but it was a matter of personal preference.
Approximately the last third of the book features case studies, using several popular series as examples -- most notably the Harry Potter series. It felt a bit excessive. But if you're looking for examples specific to your genre, then you'll probably appreciate it. For me, a writer's reference book is all about the practical information. Examples are nice. They just took up more of the book than I would normally expect.
That said, this book is fairly substantial in its own right, and I didn't feel the case studies took anything away from the more directly practical content. I thought the author covered everything I'd want to know about writing a series and planning things out effectively. She even includes exercises along the way.
All in all, I'd say this is a must-have book for authors considering writing a series of their own. If anything, I'm surprised that this is the first book I've seen on the topic. There is no doubt it fills a gap when it comes to writers' reference books.