As some of you may know, I’ve been on a hiatus for the last two years working as the PTA president for my kids’ school (Pro Writing Tip: If you want to make progress on your book, don’t volunteer for the prez position…or any other board position, for that matter). I’m grateful that I had a hand in getting their school up and running (it was just opening at the time), but now I’m learning to say “No.” A very valuable word if you want to make forward progress on any personal endeavor.
I will say that the hiatus from writing has allowed me to see my book, when I finally came back to it this fall, in a whole new light, and some advice from an editor I met on a writing cruise in October lent even more clarity…in particular to who my book was about, and indeed who and what the whole planned three-book series is about.
Background: My historical series had always intended to be about a family. I’d read (and loved!) plenty of historical romance series that revolved around a central family like the Montgomerys and Taggerts (Jude Devereaux), the Mallorys (Johanna Lindsey), the Bridgertons (Julia Quinn), or the Cynsters (Stephanie Laurens). I had planned out books for three siblings (plus their cousins, but in a different series), and that’s before I went forward/backward a generation or two.
However, on my writing cruise, I heard an editor from a top 10 publishing house (in terms of volume) suggest that a mere family (unless they’re the Montgomerys or Bridgertons, etc.) isn’t enough to draw new readers in if you’re a new author. She could have been on to something, or she could have been feeding me a load of bull. But it made me think.
I thought about the other books I had planned. Besides the novel-length books about my three family members, I had several novellas in mind for their friends. In particular, Nate’s friends. His male friends. And by “in mind,” I mean I knew exactly what their stories would be about, what their HEA would be, and what challenge they had to overcome.
The more I started thinking about it, the more I realized, too, that just about everything that was happening in my current WIP was driven by Nate, my hero. Not Susannah, my heroine. Yet the book, as it was currently written, was clearly Susannah’s book…except she didn’t really have agency…she merely kept reacting to everything Nate did. I asked myself why I was spending so much time in Susannah’s head when clearly Nate was the one with agency.
My mind started working…if a family wasn’t going to cut it (at least to this editor, probably others, and besides, what interesting thing did my fictional family have in common except that they were family?), and if Nate was the driver for most of my current WIP, and if I had stories planned for Nate’s friends who all have a shared past, then why wasn’t I making this a series about Nate and his friends, rather than a family series?
And that’s how The Beggar’s Club was born.
Say hello to Nate Kinlan, Earl of Rainsford, and five of his mates from Eton. The Beggar’s Club refers to the Brotherhood of Eton Graduates – and I think you can guess that Nate and his friends aren’t beggars. They’re not all rich and titled, but they share a common background and a friendship that goes more than skin deep.
So now my WIP, which used to be Susannah’s story, is Nate’s story. The other friends – Guy Tradwick, Rev. Andrew Walpole, Ben Cressingham, Captain James Hedlington, and Sean (still working on his last name, haha!) – will all have their own books, and with the exception of Ben, I already know their stories. And with the exception of James and Sean, they all make an appearance (some more than others) in Nate’s story, my current WIP, which will hopefully make the reader emotionally invested in those characters even before they have their own books.
There are probably a dozen different ways to do a series, but some of the most common are:
- Single story line/character, mini-plots in each book, overarching plot across the series (i.e., The Hunger Games or Court of Thorn and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas)
- Family sagas, where the stories revolve around a central family/last name (i.e., the Montgomerys/Bridgertons/Mallorys/Cynsters)
- Group/Kinship/Brotherhood/Sisterhood. These usually have something in common, such as a school girls attended, men who fought in a war together, run a business, etc., and there may be an overarching plot across the books (i.e., Lauren Smith’s League of Rogues® or Sarah MacLean’s Rules of Scoundrels)
- Single thread. Each of the stories in the series are standalone and may share characters or story lines, but there’s a single thread (usually with its own plot, which spans the whole series) that that ties them all together (i.e., Jenn Windrow’s Redeeming Cupid series)
- Single character, but no overarching plot that spans the series. Mysteries are a great example of this (i.e., Alex Cross or Stephanie Plum).
No doubt you can come up with more examples.
I’m excited about the trajectory of my series now, about the stories I want to tell for the members of The Beggars Club, and I have to admit, I’m looking forward to selling folks on this series.
Have you started a series, only to find that the direction takes a turn midway through a book? When you write your series, do you plan out the story line for all the books in it, or do you start with Book One and wing it from there?