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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Writing a series for fun and profit!

The story that started it all.
Writing a series for fun and profit
By Gerald Costlow

The three scorpions smiled, but Jack wasn’t fooled. Scorpions always smile before they strike. They want you to watch the smile instead of the stinger. He felt up to the challenge. Jack would be Snake tonight and strike first.
And thus we are introduced to the character Crazy Jack in the novel by the same name.  The adventure is off and running and by the end of the story--if I have done my job--Crazy Jack is a dear friend.  You’ve laughed and cried and struggled along with him.  But alas, the story has ended, the book is closed, and that’s the last you will ever hear of Crazy Jack and the cast of characters and interesting world he lives in.
But wait, this is one book in the Appalachia series by the same author!  If other stories have already been written, you run to the computer and download those off the internet.  If the writer has promised future installments, you wait impatiently for what is sure to be an enjoyable read and wonder if your old friend Crazy Jack is going to crop up again.
When I talk about a story that spans multiple books, I’m not talking about a trilogy.  I love a good series with the same passion I loathe a bad trilogy.  Don’t get me started on the dreaded trilogy.  I don’t know how many times I’ve scoped out the new book section of the local library and found “Volume Two of the new, exciting trilogy The Something of Something by a previously unpublished writer sure to be famous!”  Volume One is nowhere to be found in the library and Volume Three hasn’t been published yet.  Each volume is a hefty nine hundred or so bloated pages of world building complete with its own tongue-twisting foreign language and a cast of hundreds to keep track of between battles.  The plot is, invariably, somebody going on a quest with a band of misfit friends to save the land from something.
Does the inexperienced writer have the skills to pull this massive project off?  Probably not.  Am I going to hunt down Volume One and invest in reading this book?  Of course not.  This obsession on the sprawling, three-volume storytelling format is, unfortunately, a bad habit of the large publishing houses anymore.  I’m not saying that’s the only reason the traditional publishing houses are fighting for survival, but I’m just saying…
There, didn’t I warn you not to get me started on the dreaded trilogy?  Now where were we?  Oh, we’re talking about a series.  Entirely different.  The advantages of a writer investing the time and energy into creating a series are obvious, as are the advantages for a reader.   As the writer, you get to revisit beloved characters and explore the world and people you created in new and unexpected directions.  You can put all your creative effort into crafting compelling plots and characters instead of reinventing the wheel with each new book.  And you can have fun.  Some little dropped remark or event or detail or minor character in one story can turn out to be pivotal in the next plot and this keeps the reader engaged and provides continuity. 
As a writer you do have to keep in mind that you have two different types of reader.  Assume the reader is not familiar with the earlier books, but don’t bore the ones who have followed the series by repeating everything that has gone before.  It’s a fine line. 
If you manage to pull it off, the reader likes this book and buys the other ones in the series.  You might even acquire the illusive fanbase before you’re done.  For instance, I’m a big fan of Terry Pratchett.  I’ve bought every one of the books that make up his Discworld series and he has a sure sell on every new book for as long as he hangs in there.
My Appalachia series with the adventures of the Sherritt witch clan, past and present, is just getting started.  The second book is being written now with ideas for many more.   Oh, and if you have not checked it out yet, learn about my new series by clicking on my name on the left hand side of the page here.
 So what’s your favorite series?                     


  1. Interesting blog, Gerald. I have written my first historical sequel and I'm working on making the books a trilogy now. You made excellent points both for and against the idea of a series. I personally feel that a trilogy is far enough to go with one story and set of characters but others will feel differently.

  2. That's marvelous. The thing about extended series is, the best ones stay fresh by telling different stories using multiple generations and characters. I have stories set in modern times that feature the descendents of my 1920s characters.

  3. Great topic for a post! I have decided to write a series and have Book One done of my Amish romance series. Crazy Jack sounds like an awesome and fun character. I bet you enjoyed developing his character.

  4. I'm always intrigued by misfits. They're a heck of a lot more fun than those who "fit in". I have Crazy Jack's story and I already know it's going to be an adventure reading it.
    I think it's best not to tell how many books are going to be in a series in advance. If it's a lot, it might overwhelm readers and they might shy away from buying the first book. Better to get their attention with the first book and slide in a new one from time to time. I love a series. I can get to know the characters and all the intricacies of their lives--especially characters that are unique. I hate to leave them.
    Wonderful post, Gerry. I wish you every success with this series.

  5. Thanks and I agree a series goes on as long as the writer has something in the extended story they want to write about, I suppose. I do have other worlds and stories in my head I want to also get out there.

  6. I am really enjoying this series. I think it's because my grandmother on my father's side came from the NC mountains (part of the Blue Ridge). She was such a special person, but filled with superstitions and what she called "boogers." It's odd how many of her old sayings and ways are brought back to me when I read these books and stories. Please keep writing, Gerry, and wishing you many sales.


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