Thursday, July 4, 2013

Should I stick with my series? Of start something completely new?

WooHoo! The Land of Betrovia trilogy is done! 

Lycentia: Harrak's Scrolls, book two, is the shortest of the three (75K words) while Ahnak: Edelin's Revelation, book three, is the longest (104K). And it was about this time (early July) two years ago when I decided to make Betrovia a trilogy instead of trying to tell the story of Patrik and Harrak's scrolls through one book. Otherwise, as I realized at that time, Betrovia would have been over 200K words!

A few days ago, a lady who bought all three books of the trilogy came into the MFA in Freeburg and, with a sincere but concerned look on her face, relayed more than a few comments about how I ended the trilogy: "Why did character X do this? Why did you kill off character Y? I thought for sure from how you ended book two that character Z was going to do this" and so on. I told her that I have already written and published two prequels to the trilogy, with others in the works, as well as am working on both a spin-off and a continuation of the trilogy. (The plan is that it will be a short story, at least, centering on Edelin and Galena, two major characters from the trilogy.) I then asked her if she reads ebooks via a Kindle or some other ebook-reading device. She said that she didn't. I quickly replied with something like "I should be able to put together a paperback version of the prequels" but I don't think she was listening. Needless to say, she was hoping for fewer "loose ends" upon reaching the conclusion of the trilogy.

With the trilogy being done, where do I want to go from here? I like how the two prequels have turned out, even though they are only short stories, and am on the third chapter of the Kristof and Dalten "spin-off" that will hopefully be at least a 12 chapter "novella." Oh, and I don't want to forget that there's also some ideas for other prequels focusing on Patrik and his family when he was a youngster.

But what about the Life of Beatty stuff? The short stories I've pulled out of the novel that I nearly drafted in 1985? What should I do with those?

Or maybe start something completely new? 

Via Leanpub, I've posted an idea for a young-adult sci-fi novel that could get me a foothold in different demographic.

As I've been wandering through this writing-process malaise, I found out what the fine folks of the Writers' Cafe think about continuing a series as opposed to venturing into 
something new and different ...    

"I'm feeling a little not-so good about things right now. Sales, in spite of a new release, have tanked but that seems to be happening pretty much across the board. Now I worry a LOT about the way my books are perceived as a series. As it is, although it's technically a series, each book is a stand-alone story and doesn't really have to be read in any particular order. It is helpful, of course, because there are ongoing themes and characters. I mention as much in some of my blurbs and the front matter. However, does this structure negatively affect sales of a new release?  If a reader sees a book in the "new release" section and then sees that this is Book Four, would they not just give it a pass, figuring that they won't know what's going on with the story? I know that series are popular with some readers, especially in sci-fi/fantasy, but I worry about shooting myself in the foot by continuing this as a series. I am getting very good reviews but, like many, am not getting the sort of visibility I like. So, because of current sales, I'm wondering if there is any point in continuing the series or if I should try something else. My readers are asking for more stories, and I'd love to deliver those, but I can't just keep writing for the same 100 people. I do regularly offer promos for the first two books (Bookbub, Select etc)."

"People like investing in series. If anything, that sentiment has become stronger with ebooks. They'll buy one book with the knowledge that if they like it, they can go back and get the rest. People are lazy, and would rather buy a second book in a series than go hunting over the internet for something to read."

"Since you have so many books within the same story universe, maybe you should branch out and see what happens. You could either stick to the same genre but use completely new characters in an unrelated storyline, or go further, and try a different genre. Maybe even non-fiction, if you have an interesting story to tell."

"What do you mean:'But I can't just keep writing for the same 100 people.' Why not? They will eventually spread the word and sales will increase. And if you somehow make it clear they're stand-alone books, I think you'd have the best of both worlds. Having a loyal fan base is worth a lot, no matter how small. And to me, 100 isn't all that small."

"Just 2 cents: What if you made an omnibus with the first three books, or even with all four in the series? This way, if someone wants to read it but really wants to start at the beginning, they might get the omnibus."

"As a reader: if book 4 interested me, my next step would be to look at book 1. I would never give up on a book because it was part of a series, but I would go back and start at the beginning. An omnibus would tempt me. I've seen authors keep the order of their series vague (as some have suggested) arguing that they can be read in any order. I'm sure that's true, but I'm compulsive enough to want to read them in order and it is when I can't figure out the real chronology that I wash my hands of the books. I say keep it clear. Sounds to me like you should take a small break and work on something else but don't quit on your series. People like it and more and more people will get into them with time. New books outside the series will continue to be chances to promote your name in front of new readers."

"I'd do 1-2 omnibuses and maybe consider making bk 1 permafree so it could rise in the SciFi charts. Up to you of course. It'd also be good if you could indicate the order of reading in the title or on the covers."

"I think the big thing is do YOU want to continue the series.  If you still like the universe you have created then continue to write that series. I wrote a series and have put the first three books into an omnibus. I also have book one at the 99 cents price with a link at the end to the entire trilogy. I understand your frustration about writing a book for just a 100 people but hey a fanbase is a fanbase and it has to start somewhere. I have about a 100 people i know will by the next book in a series. The trick is to get them to review and talk about your book. All it takes is that one right person to fall in love with your books and sing their praises."

"I guess it depends on your plan/vision if you were to continue it as a series. It has to end at some point. If now isn't the time (meaning there is book 5 in your head), but you want to try writing something else, then you can try writing something else. And then come back to book 5 whenever you're ready."

"I worry about the same kind of thing and would love to hear the advice you get. I'm about to release the second book of a swords & sorcery fantasy trilogy. Like your series, my stories can be read stand-alone, but the books are clearly marked as Book 1, Book 2, and Book 3. Most of the advice I've seen here on the boards has been that series rule. I guess readers like the continuity and familiarity that a series offers. However, I could see how that sword would cut both ways. If the audience for your series is limited to begin with, continuing a series will keep you stuck in that limited market. It might be necessary to write something different to widen your exposure. In so doing, you might even bring new fans over to your series. That's my theory anyway. After I finish the trilogy, I'm going to take a break from that story world to write an urban fantasy that's been roiling around in my head. FWIW, I read The Catalyst and enjoyed it. You can definitely spin a good yarn. I didn't see anything that would limit your success with that series, other than the fact that the SciFi market itself is limited compared to, say, Romance. I guess we can't all be Hugh Howey or George R.R. Martin."

"Many people wait until the series is complete. When you promote, 99% of the time you should be promoting book 1. Once the series is done, advertise book 1 but make sure you say 'This series is now complete' and 'Start with _____' etc. I only advertise the other 4 books in my series once in a great while. I never do paid advertising for them, only the first one. When I do guest blogs and interviews, I talk about the first book, show all the book covers, mention it is a 5 series that is now complete, etc. Mine have not gone crazy with sales either, but I'm convinced that for most of us it is a slow build. I agree with others who have said:

1. It is important to let people know books are part of the series and which number each is
2. That each book can be read stand-alone.
3. That if people find book 4 interesting they will check out book 1."

"Perhaps just completely avoid using the word 'series', or numbering the books.
Just give them all a cover that looks very similar to each other (Edit - I see you've got that already), with similar titles, and put something about 'set in the nnnnn universe' in the blurb. I've just finished reading a set of books by Adam Hall, and a huge number of them have similar titles like Quiller Balalaika and Quiller KGB and Quiller Solitaire.  So, something like that."

"Can you work on two books at once?  If so, I'd work on one in the series and another new book outside the series.  Or, if you can't write more than one book at a time, try writing the series book and then write the new book.  I have a friend who dragged her feet on writing a book that was not part of a series, but when she finally published it, it sold way better than any of her books in the series.  You just never know what book will take off.  I prefer to diversify when possible. However, if this series is all you want to write, then I'd stick with just writing for the series.  There's no sense in forcing yourself to write something your heart isn't into."

"I think you should write something else in between books in a series. It makes life interesting, though I can see getting caught up in your world. It sounds like you need to take a break for yourself, also, so that's something to consider. I'm going to be in a similar situation with titling/numbering books in a series, as my books could be read by themselves, but they carry a long arc that's going to be resolved in the last book. I had planned on doing something like Jim Butcher does with his Harry Dresden books, but I'm rethinking that. Not sure what I'll decide, but I do know as a reader I like to read books in order."

"My suggestion is to take a short break from what you're doing now and try something new. I'm about to write a standalone book in a new fantasy universe I've been creating for years. If it actually takes off, I will probably start an actual series in that world. If it doesn't, I can continue to write standalone books that take place there to satisfy my own creative needs. Maybe do something like that. Write something that's completely standalone, and if people respond to it, take your readers' favorite character and give him an actual series."

"The best thing I ever did was switch genres and start writing something else.  My Junco series has one more book, maybe another novella next year.  But in between I've written two books in another series and a stand alone.  First thing - it's good to take a  break and do something different.  I've enjoyed writing contemporary and I'm just about ready to go back to SF and enjoy it for the freedom it provides.  And number two  - I think switching genres, going from SF to contemporary romance, to YA sweet romance has not only helped me as a writer, but given my readers something else to think about (and purchase) that they might not have ventured into.  I'm not sure how many people jumped from junco to Tragic, but I have enough reviews saying they were not sure they wanted to and took the chance anyway to keep me satisfied.  Also, even though I did not expect it, I now have NACR readers giving the SF a try too. I say move on and come back to that series later.  I stretch out my SF releases farther apart than my CR's because frankly, they are a lot harder to write.  Readers understand. And case in point about releasing book four and being worried about gaining new readers - yesterday in one of my book clubs someone mentioned the last book in a series I've never read. I decided to pick up the first book, read it in one sitting, and now I'm on to book two. This is how it works.  Don't worry about writing more books in a series, but DO worry about only writing the same series over and over again.  Start a new series."

"I'm planning the 'switch genre' trick myself; same setting, but instead of military sf I'll be doing some 'space noir' later on this year, once I've got a few Battlecruiser Alamo books out, just to hedge my bets a little. I figure the cross-over from readers should be pretty decent in any case. That and it will give me a break from Alamo for a little while; I might need it after five books to keep me fresh."

"After doing lots of promotions and getting some good sales on my series book I was all excited about releasing a stand alone in March. It tanked. Despite getting one of my best blogger reviews so far I've sold 5 copies since March. I thought I had fans, but then realised they were series fans, not fans of me as an author. I started out as a stand alone writer and have very little love for series either as a reader or writer. However, self-publishing seems to have moved the goalposts and I've got caught into writing a series if I want to sell anything at all. I would suggest that you at least finish the series, make sure it has a proper end, and then go on to the next thing. I know there are all those threads 'how to sell a million books' and all that, but if you're not writing from your heart and writing what you want to write then eventually you're going to hate your books and yourself. I'm happy for people who can write in cold blood and churn out what the market wants but not everyone can. Maybe it's a lot easier when you're making thousands of dollars a month, but I wouldn't know about that."

"That is me. I am slightly OCD about reading in order, even if something is barely connected. When authors come up with prequels later on in the series, it's an absolute nightmare for me. When an author writes a series, but the chronological order is different than the published order, it might make my head explode. Joanna Bourne, I am looking at you. Some of us readers are like this, others don't care. But if I read a book and didn't know it was part of a series until after, and it was not the first book in such series, I would be beyond annoyed. I wouldn't go and read the rest. I just don't like to go back and read stuff I already know more about from later books. That is like watching season 2 of a TV series before watching season 1. Every little thing can annoy me if it's spoiled. When I see books on sale that are #2, or #4 in the series and its an author I know I will like, I have to first check and see if book 1 is decently priced, at the library. etc. If I buy a later book, chances are I like the author enough to go ahead and then head for the first one. I would not do that with anyone unknown to me or a new author. There is a reason I have to frequent sites like goodreads, fantasticfiction, fictiondb, fictfact to figure out series order. Sometimes when there are in between novellas and such with half numbers, I might not even bother anymore. I started reading Sherrilyn Kenyon for example and just gave up now because I can't figure out anymore whats what. There are intertwining series withing the original series, or something like that. I am so overwhelmed trying to figure it out and just stopped reading the series. And not because I didn't like it. I wonder how many readers are like me."

"I think most successful series can't be read in any order because the thing that makes them successful is the thing that compels the reader forward. Obvious case in point: What will happen when Harry Potter at last faces Voldemort head-on? What makes a series compelling (for me) is the little parts along the way revealing more and more parts of a greater puzzle that I have to solve or a final confrontation that I have to know who lives, who dies, who loves, and who loses. You get the idea."

"As I see it, there are two separate questions here; one for the writer, and one for the publisher. (Remember, we're all wearing two hats.) If you still have stories in your universe that you want to write, do so. That decision is not based on sales or number of fans. If sales of that series are not enough to pay the bills, then you have two choices; make up the difference through another source of income or write something else, something that you believe will provide a greater revenue stream. That may be a different genre, or the same genre in a different story-verse, or even a different set of characters in the same story-verse. (Heck, it can be a different genre in the same story-verse!) Either choice of revenue stream would likely reduce the amount of time you can devote to your current series, but that's life. We've all got to pay the bills. And I agree with the others in that 100 readers are worth writing for. They just may not be financially worth being the ONLY thing you write, in which case those 100 readers might have to wait a bit longer for the next one in the series. Good readers will understand."

"Developing the back story of your main character(s) is a good idea.  George Lucas did this with the young Indiana Jones.  He built two franchises: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.  S. Stallone did the same with Rocky and Rambo.  Really tough to do, producing two cultural icons, but worth a thought.  On the other hand, Norman Mailer talked volubly about a 5-part series about an Irish character.  It was useful to him to fantasize about.  He was too much of an episodic author to sustain such an endeavor lasting for years, picking up, as he did well,  on the contemporary vibe. Know yourself as a writer.  Are you more of a sprinter or a long distance runner?"

"This is not going to be a popular opinion, but here I go. Series: I'm getting tired of them. And I see a lot of other readers are getting tired of them, too. I long for the days when an author released a stand alone book, then dusted their hands off and moved on. I'm also tired that I have to keep track of the gazillionth series in existence. The Love Me Series, The Kick-Butt Series, The Shoot-Em-Up Series, The OMG-YET-ANOTHER-SERIES! Series. I especially dislike a trend I'm seeing where authors are willfully ending their books at a point where the story feels incomplete so they can capitalise on me buying the continuation. I never do. When I see a book that mentions it's in a series, I first check how many books are in it. <= 3 books? I'll probably give it a shot if when I read the reviews, I don't hear the 3 / 2 / 1 stars complaining about a sense of incompleteness. > 3 books? Pass."

"As an author with two relatively successful series, I would say that if series #1 ain't doing it for you, proceed to series #2. That's if you're worried about increasing your commercial success. If you haven't seen the kind of sales you want with four books in the same series, it's doubtful that the fifth is the one that's going to break it wide open for that series, so pay attention to the result you're getting and move to something else that you feel could do better. I launched my Assassin series a year and a half ago. Built it till it had 4 books, which still sell well. Then launched my JET series, also with 4 books. I then did book 5 of the Assassin, followed by book 5 of JET. My plan is now to release one installment per year for each series, unless one goes all Wool on me, in which case, that's what I'll write. I'm about to release a third series, BLACK, which is a noir Hollywood PI series with a vicious sense of humor set against the entertainment industry. Mockery of everything is sort of the undercurrent. I have completed book 1 and am working on book 2 as I plot book 3. Plan there is to have 3 or 4 published by year end. So far having a new, robust series offering each holiday period has resulted in a tripling of overall sales every year. Obviously it's hard for that to continue past a certain point, but my philosophy is that if one series is selling well, two can sell even better, and three, better still. And it increases my odds of having one of them hit big. I don't think anyone knows exactly whether what they write will hit or not, so the more lines in the water, the greater the chance of catching fish."

"Whenever I hear the words 'stand alone' series I automatically think of the McNally series by Lawrence Sanders. I read those books close to twenty years ago. They're all about the same characters and in every one of them Archie McNally has a mystery to solve. It is a 'series' but there is no order to the books. You can read them in the order that they were released, or not. Even though there might be some slight chronology to them, if I recall, nothing in normal his life ever changes so much that it would affect future books. For example, he always drives a red Mazda Miata (remember, this is 20 years ago). If the car was to get totaled in book 3, then that would impact book 4 and he wouldn't be driving a Miata and it would be weird if you read book 4, then read book 1. The consistency, and permanence of those types of details are what make the books truly stand alone. So my question to you is, are your books truly stand alone or are there events that permanently change the landscape of future books? Can they really be read in any order? If they can, then I suggest you market them as the McNally series is marketed. There's the title: 'McNally's xxxxxxx' then the parenthetical (The Archy McNally Series) and then virtually no mention of any order of the books in the blurb (strangely, the new digital cover images have book numbers on them, the original books didn't.) other than the first book blurb saying 'Lawrence Sanders introduces...' and one of the blurbs states 'Book six...' So, Title, (Series Name) then no mention of Book #X. that's what I would suggest. Maybe even change the subtitle to (A Targon Tales Adventure)"


  1. I would lean toward trying something else. A stand-alone book or short story that is similar in style to the series will give readers a taste of your writing without the commitment of reading a series. If they like what they read, they will know what to expect and be more willing to pick up the series. Then you can promote it and other sales will hopefully follow.

    1. Hello Rachel!

      What I'm doing now is digitizing pieces of that novel I typed up back in 1984 as well as working on another prequel short story and a spin-off to Betrovia.

      It's easier right now to create a docfile from a bunch of type-written pages than to re-visit the Betrovia universe ... even though Wifey prefers that I focus more on the latter :)