Writing Books in a Series

Many authors consider writing a series. Some writers shy away from the idea because the task can seem daunting—which is true. When I began writing the Liberty Series I had to think about how to approach the series. How would I continue the story in book after book? Should I have a cast of characters that would re-emerge in various situations at different times? Or should each book feature entirely new characters?

As I pondered the task ahead, I knew the hard work would be worth it. There are many benefits to writing a series including higher book sales, the chance to establish a loyal fan base, and being viewed as “established” in the industry.

The five-book Liberty Series went on to garner awards and a devoted fan base. In 2017, I launched my next series, The Sweet Lake Series, under the Lake Union imprint. Although my approach was a bit different than with the Liberty books, the task was manageable.

As I have completed the third installment in the Sweet Lake Series, it started me thinking about the key components of a successful series—and the fact that most, if not all, fall into one of two categories:

A story in stages. Think of The Crazy Rich Asians or The Hunger Games trilogies. Through successive books, we’re immersed in an expanding plot leading to a satisfying conclusion. One hero—or in the case of my examples, two distinctive and strong heroines—carry the action. Pick up the books out of order and your enjoyment is diminished.

Same characters, different problems. Think of the episodic works The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency or Sherlock Holmes. The same cast of characters encounters new problems in each book. No matter the order in which you read the novels you won’t risk losing the story thread, which is sure to resolve by the closing pages.

In which camp does the Liberty series fall? Both, actually. You’ll find stories in stages like the bad blood between Theodora and Ethel Lynn, a bit of foreshadowing harking back to family feuds from the 1800s. Liberty, Ohio’s secrets are tied to events in U.S. history as varied and priceless as the Civil War gems Birdie Kaminski hunts for in Treasure Me. One of the town’s characters is the descendant of a spy who ran interference for George Washington during The Revolutionary War.  Yet, even as these secrets unfold, you’ll discover the same supporting cast in each book. New characters will often carry the show, but not always. The skillet-wielding cook, Finney? In the third book, her romance is sure to make you laugh one minute and cry the next.

With the Sweet Lake series, it is a story in stages as readers are first introduced to the town of Sweet Lake and the Wayfair Inn which is central to each book. Although each book focuses on one of the women involved in managing the Inn—Linnie, Cat, and Jada—time progresses and readers enjoy seeing the relationships of the women evolve, even as they encounter mysterious circumstances. As a trilogy, the three novels are clearly connected and at the conclusion of The Season of Silver Linings, the reader is not left with any loose strings. The story has concluded.

Writing a book series is a challenging way to write, but is also quite rewarding. Over time, I feel that the characters in my series have become members of my family. I have traveled with them, experienced heartbreak for their problems, and have cheered when they found what they were looking for. So don’t shy away from this challenge—but embrace it!  You won’t be sorry!

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