Saturday, June 24, 2006

2 B Read

2 B Read
Series, Sequels, and Stand-Alones
My publisher, Kensington/Zebra, has asked me to do several linked series. Because it's to the author's advantage to have as many books come out as often as possible to build name recognition, I was quick to agree. According to just about any publisher you talk to, it's commercially attractive to have series books.

My author friends have been getting a lot of two and three-book contracts where the publishers specify that the books be linked to one another.

I understand this. For most of us, when we finish a book we really, really loved, we go hunting for that author's backlist.

I get a lot of fan mail. For the past six months my fans have been clammoring for information on my sequels. "When is Rebecca Peabody (a minor character in both my Counterfeit Countess and One Golden Ring) going to have her own story?" they want to know. Or, "Will you give the Birmingham brothers their own stories?" Obviously, most readers want sequels.

(As for sequels to my CC and One Golden Ring, they are in the works, but I'm in the process of changing publishers, so they'll be delayed.)

That brings up one of the reasons I'm changing publishers. Some publishers are better at marketing sequels than others. Zebra is not very good at this, IMO. For example, in 2002 I had a three-book series titled the Brides of Bath. Book 2 came out in April and promptly sold out. When Book 3 came out in August, quite naturally the readers who liked it and who hadn't read the first two wanted to purchase the April book. (Let's face it, that's why publishers like to publish these puppies.) However, my April book was completely out of print and even though it sold extremely well, my publisher chose not to reprint. This is not good business, IMO. (By the way, that April mass market paperback that sold out so quickly is often offered for sale on the internet for about $18!)

Other publishers excel at pushing authors' connected books. Hands down, the hottest selling Regency-set historical writer in the world is Stephanie Laurens, who's written like a dozen of her Cynster series, and booksellers tell me readers wait in line for her next -- even if they have to buy it in costly hardback.

But why does it have to be a linked book? If I like an author, I like everything she writes. I'd still be eager for her newest whether or not it was linked to the previous one. I don't even know if I want to see the previous heroine and hero now that they're in to potty training and mundaneness.

As a pure reader, I prefer books that are NOT linked. Oftentimes I feel cheated when a subplot romance is not developed because I know the author is saving that story for her next book. My very favorite books (and my readers' favorites of mine) are those in which there's a very satisfying subplot romance (sometimes much lighter than the angst of the hero and heroine). The more that can be layered into a book, the better I like it. I hate it when I feel the author's saving some good stuff for the next book.

And I'd love to know what the rest of you think about this.


Gloria Harchar said...

I heard from my editor that book sellers don't like to stock their shelves with books that are part of trilogies or series, not unless the author is very well known, like someone on the NYT. The marketing people wanted to hide the fact that my first book was the first in a series because I was a new author. Now that I see so many books that are in series, and from all kinds of new authors, I don't think this is true. It must be profitable. Otherwise, why would other publishers be doing this?

Joan Swan said...

As a reader, I won't pick up the second or third of a series on book store shelves if I haven't read the one before. For me, it's a "have to read them in order" kind of thing. And it sounds like I'm not the only one, given Gloria's post above.

As a writer, I'm not opposed to writing series, and in fact every ST I've written has one or more strong secondary characters that I could easily develop into another ST and would like to...eventually, but haven't.

And I also see many of my peers selling in 2-3 book deals with sequels, which only makes me worry more about my own marketability.

2006 RWA Golden Heart Finalist/Romantic Suspense

Nancy Herkness said...

I think you have to be very skillful to write a series of books well. I completely agree with Joan that I hate reading the books out of order if the plot makes it obvious I'm doing so. The really good series writers (Loretta Chase comes to mind) write series that don't have to be read in order; they're just more fun that way.

What I enjoy most is seeing a character whom I've loved in one book make a cameo appearance in a different book (but definitely not in a potty training scene, Cheryl! LOL). I've done that with the lead couple from my first book A BRIDGE TO LOVE. They appear in every other book I've written, mostly because I personally liked them so much that I didn't want to let them go entirely. Now it's become a fun sort of challenge: to see how I can work them in smoothly.

Right now publishers seem to feel that trilogies can really help an author's career take off, especially if the books are published very close together, a daunting prospect for a writer unless she has three years before publication to actually do the writing!

JoAnn Ross said...

I've been writing connected books off and on for several different publishers since 1983 and believe it all depends on the characters and the stories. Some secondary characters can carry their own books; others can't. I've also continued family members from HQ Temptations to Pocket Books, and even to one of my Brava Bad Boys novellas, which long time readers seem to enjoy. I do think, especially in single title, that it may help keep the books in print. (Mira, for example, reissued the first of my Irish trilogy, partly, I'd guess, because Pocket's kept books two and three in print and they continue to sell well.) I also suspect it helps keep the entire series in bookstores. At least that's been my experience. But your mileage may vary. :)

JoAnn Ross said...

Forgot to mention that as a reader, I feel the same way about this as I do as a writer. So long as characters can sustain their own books, I love reading connected stories because it allows for much longer character arcs. I suspect my enjoyment of following characters' lives over several storylines may stem from years of coming home from school and watching soaps with my mom every afternoon.