One of the best things to do as an indie author is to write a series. People like reading them, and it makes your author page look much better when you have more than one title to your name.
For most of us, writing our first book is a Big Thing. Finishing it, whether after six months or six years, does not immediately change your mindset into ‘published author’. It’s often only much later that you read the advice about series and start to think of the sequel.
Even the most successful authors fall foul of this. I was at a Crime Writing event last year (Noirwich), where the well-loved British writer Elly Griffiths confessed that she had never expected her first book, The Crossing Places, to lead to the long run that is the Ruth Galloway series. If she had, she wouldn’t have packed so much into it, she said. Secrets revealed too early made for uncomfortable story lines a little later, till she’d moved past what had already been written.
I’m at the stage with my own series, The Princelings of the East, where I know what she means. It’s one thing to keep a detailed record of everything that recurring characters do and say, but sometimes they’ve already done it in print when you want to undo it a few books later! You also don’t know early on which characters are going to be essential in later stories, or at least, it seems that some worm their way more essentially into the plots as time goes on.
Maybe if you’re a detailed planner, you don’t have this problem. Maybe characters always do exactly what you expect them to. I’m more character driven, and one of the first things I discovered about writing was that characters surprise you; they do things because of who they are. And sometimes they really don’t help you keep to your plan. But it’s more likely they make the plot more interesting!
I now have book 7, Willoughby the Narrator, nearly ready for release. This time I got on with Book 8, The Princelings of the North, within a few weeks, before I’d even done the second draft of Willoughby. I’m glad I did, because I had this nice wrinkle with some business that crossed between the two books; then when I double-checked the timeline and realised I couldn’t do that, it would have to be later, only to realise that if it was later it wouldn’t have happened for another reason. Confused yet? So in order to have the nice bit of business in Book 8, I had to amend book 7. If I’d already got book 7 out, I don’t know what I’d have done. It would have made a major problem for Book 8’s plot, that’s for sure.
However well you know your characters, and make records of what they do and say and their preferences and life events (when are their birthdays?), you will have trouble with later books if you leave too long between writing them. You can get over that by just re-using their world, rather than the same characters, like Anne McCaffrey seemed to do. But readers tend to love the characters more than the worlds (I think the dragons were the constant in Pern), so take that into account when you do your series.
One more tip: write at least two books in your series before you publish the first. Really, it’s worth it.
I wish I’d done that with my scifi books, the Viridian System series. The second is ready now, though. You can catch up on news of that on its website, or of the Princelings series on its site, too. If you’re up for meanderings of my mind, reviews and flash fiction, follow my blog, or for news of all my books and the MG BookElves too, follow my publishers site, Princelings Publications.
Have fun, and have a very successful 2017!