Writing a book series

This is a reworked repost from my travel blog.

As I’ve mentioned before, most cozy mysteries are part of a series that feature the same protagonist and a recurring cast of characters. The readers tend to prefer cozies in serial form, as they get to know and (generally) like the characters, they know that since they liked the first book in the series they will probably also like the following ones, and they also know that the writer doesn’t feature any material that has no place in a cozy mystery. So they buy the first book in the series, which has perhaps a teaser of the next one which gets them intrigued, and they buy that one, and before you know it they’ve bought all your books. It’s a cunning plan! And as simple as falling dominoes (finding photos for these writing posts is hard work, so forgive me if this is a bit of a stretch!).

I am now about third of the way into writing the second book in my cozy mystery series and thought it would be a good moment to write about writing a series. Where can you buy my first book, you ask? Thank you dear, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but it isn’t available yet. I finished the first draft of book one a few weeks back and I will write the first draft of book two before I go back to book one. Read on for reasons why. And why writing a series of books is the best thing ever and why it is sometimes the worst.

lord of the rings photo
Photo by traceyodea

An existing world and characters

I have touched on this topic before, and this still stands as the main incentive for writing and reading a series of books. You already know the characters, you have established the world and its internal rules and the tone, so you can just hop right in. You’ve already established all that, so you can just get on with your story. And you don’t have to have a massive info dump on who your main characters are in your first book, but can tease and trickle it out slowly over several books. It took me about a year to plan out my series and I am still discovering who my main character is.

Building a world is of course most important in fantasy or sci-fi, where you may have different races and languages at play, but it is still important in a mystery book as well. Mine will be set in a world very much like ours, based on my travels around the world, which makes it much simpler. I can just view photos I’ve taken during my travels or read the blog posts I’ve written to take me back to the sights and smells and people I encountered. As a novice writer, I don’t quite trust my imagination to come up with something that doesn’t exist, so it helps me enormously to have the real world to describe.

Working on several books at once

This may be particularly pertinent to mystery novels, but there is only so much that can comfortably fit into one book. In a mystery book, the main focus has to be the mystery, and how the sleuth solves it in the end. There needs to be the right balance of action, character development and supporting characters, which inevitably means that some great idea won’t fit into the book you’re writing. Obviously when you are planning several books in the same series, you can always take that great idea out and plop it into a later book.

I had a great idea when plotting book two that links it to the following book much closer than I had originally envisioned. This means that I can re-use some new characters from book 2 in book 3, which will make the book world richer and also more familiar to the reader. I’m only two books in, but I think I will keep this process I started of writing a draft of one book, then plotting and drafting a second book, then going back to book 1 to edit it, then perhaps skip ahead to book 3 plotting, then go back and edit book 2, and so on and so forth. This means that I can keep adding links between all the books during the writing and editing cycles, instead of realizing when writing book 3 that I really should have introduced this character or that personality quirk in the first book.

winding road photoKnowing where you are headed

As I mentioned in my earlier blog post, I have drafted a series arc that plays over a dozen books. It is on a very high level as of yet and mainly concerns the main character, not recurring ones, but it gives me a direction. I know where the main storyline will go, so it’s easier to plot ahead and see where each book falls in the series.

The series will be structured as loose trilogies, where each three book set will track a particular overall story line. Writing those three books in each trilogy all at once makes sense. I mean, they didn’t shoot the Lord of the Rings movies simultaneously for nothing! In the movie world that made sense because they could shoot all scenes in a particular set all at once, before moving elsewhere, thus saving money and time.

In the book writing world this is not a consideration as such, but writing several at a time does help in keeping the books internally consistent. And knowing the overall arc means you can drop clues in earlier books that will make you seem like such a clever writer, come book seven, when the reader goes, oh this thing, I remember this was mentioned in book 3 already!

Getting sidetracked

Working on several books in a series all at once can mean getting sidetracked into exciting research into book three when you should be writing the first draft of book two. You keep telling yourself to focus on the book you are currently writing, but once that curiosity bug bites, there is no stopping until you’ve scratched that itch. Three hours of trawling through the internet later you’re sitting there looking sadly at your word count for the day.

Or, if you are like me and just starting your writing career, you can get side tracked into researching important topics like publishing (traditional or self published?), money and tax (will I ever make a living out of this?) and marketing (should I create an actual writer’s blog?) and so on. This is of course all quite vital and it is a good idea to have reasonable expectations and a sensible plan for getting published. But do you really have to do it right now when you should be writing the murder reveal for book two..?

hourglass photo

Slower initial progress

As you can appreciate from the above, all those ideas and research into subsequent books does slow you down. It’s kind of like when a child is growing up in a bilingual family. They may take a little more time to learn to speak, but when they do, they will do so in two (or more) languages. So when you work on several books at once, the progress might be a little slower for book one, but when it comes out, you already have the next one ready for final edit and the third on drafted.

And during the writing process is also helps that when you start actually writing a later book in the series, you already have a ream of notes instead of a blank page staring back at you. You might even have complete scenes that were cut off from earlier books all ready and waiting.

I do think that this process will make the books stronger and layered. If I were rushing now to finish my first book (in the hopes of actually making some money sooner), the book wouldn’t be as good as it will (hopefully) be when I have written or at least drafted all three books in the first trilogy. And if I were to try and get published the traditional route (agent, publisher, the works), it would help in being able to show three finished books in the same series. And if I were to self publish, it might help generate more buzz when I could tease the following books when publishing the first one. A cozy reader likes to know there are more books on the way, set in the same world. I know I do.

But for now, publishing is still very far off in the future and I must get back to my book.

Photo by Kurt:S