Thursday, June 08, 2006

Linked Books -- a Trend? Or Here to Stay?

After many years of writing stand alone books, I decided to write two linked contemporary romantic suspense books. TAKEN is out this week. PLAYED hits the shelves October 2006. Both books are stand alone but there is an intriguing link between them.

I don't know why I resisted the urge to write linked books. A long time ago I had an editor who said she thought it was risky to write stories about three siblings or three friends, because if the reader didn't like the first book, she might not read the rest. Well, I think judging by the extreme popularity of linked books in the past few years that this editor was well ... wrong. But even a few years ago another editor told me she thought the trend of linked books was fading. I, however, have seen no evidence of this. I think readers enjoy getting to know a group of characters or reading about characters who are friends, family, enemies, or related in some interesting way. On the other hand, I'm sure some of us have run into series that just don't hold our interest. And occasionally we might wish there weren't two more books to get through before our favorite writer created a new series.

Certainly one of the challenges in the writing of linked books is to make sure each story is really complete. I dislike it when individual books of a trilogy feel too "thin" as if this were really one story divided into three. I personally love to make my books as complicated as possible, probably one of the reasons I resisted linked books until now. I usually throw everything into one story. But this time around I had so much material and a really interesting villain that it made sense to write two books. Hopefully the readers will agree! Another challenge in writing linked books is to make sure that the front running romantic couple is more interesting than a secondary character waiting to get their book.

So what do you think? Do you loved linked stories? Are you tired of reading trilogies? Are you more likely to buy a book because it's part of a series? Or does it matter?


Allison Brennan said...

Obviously, I love linked books :)

Seriously, I read and devoured Kay Hooper's back-to-back books and Mariah Stewart's back-to-back books before I was ever offered a back-to-back deal. My best friend loves trilogies, though she waits until they are all out before she buys and reads them (she hates to wait).

I completely agree that each book needs to stand alone. I don't mind a sub-plot that runs through all three of them as long as it's not a pivotal part of the stories. Mariah Stewart did this exceptionally well with a sub-plot about her first heroine's daughter who was kidnapped 5( or 7) years ago by the heroine's ex-husband. This was in her DEAD series.

Love your covers!

Barbara Freethy said...

Hi Allison - Thanks, I'm excited about my covers, too. Hoping they jump off the shelves!

The only other pet peeve about linked books is when the second or third book spends way too much time talking about what happened in the other books...

I love your covers, too. They really have a strong look and brand.

Paula said...

My first book is out this month, and the heroine has two sisters who are briefly mentioned in the book. Neither has a prominent role in the story at all. But of the e-mails I've received from readers about the book, easily 90% of them have asked when I'll be writing the sisters' books.

Readers don't just like linked books. They seem to expect them. And I do think they like to see old characters make a cameo in the next book, even if it's brief, just to see what's happening in their lives.

I love linked books, as a reader and a writer.

Allison Brennan said...

Barbara, I completely agree about wasting time talking about the other characters. Since both THE PREY and THE HUNT were written before we decided to do them linked, I just edited and layered in the connecting theme. It fit with the stories, so it wasn't a huge problem. I did rewrite a lot of THE HUNT and put the heroine of book three in a small role that fit her character.

In the trilogy I'm writing now I have an Irish-Cuban family with seven kids. One of the girls is the heroine. I'm only writing three books :) Not everyone is going to get to star. But I think half the fun (for readers) is trying to figure out who is going to star. I also solved the problem (I hope) of spending too much time on past characters by taking them out of town. For example, the hero and heroine in SPEAK NO EVIL are out of town on vacation during SEE NO EVIL. It's mentioned in passing and it's a little bit of conflict for the hero of SEE who relies on his sister for advice (she's very level-headed and he's not), which I alluded to in the first book.

But, the second book isn't done so really I can change anything :)

Nancy Herkness said...

I've been reading these comments with great interest because I've just embarked on Book One of what I plan as a three book series.

Like Paula, I've found that readers often request that I write a book about a secondary character who they love. It's thrilling to know that a lesser character has been interesting enough to them that they want to see him or her again. So I figured this time I would just start out with the idea that secondary characters will indeed get their own books in the future. Of course, that presents its own challenges and I'm having fun solving them.

And I'm hoping more folks will comment on the linked books theme. Great topic, Barbara!

JoAnn Ross said...

Great topic Barbara. Also AMAZINGLY great covers. And hey, I like your title, too. LOL

I've written a bunch of trilogies and connected books for HQ (enough to drive my web people a little nuts trying to figure out how to connect them all on the site) and three single title trilogies, plus two connected single titles, so I get tons of emails from readers asking when I'm going to write more. Of course, I've also gotten email from readers asking when an ecco-terrorist secondary character is going to get his own book because he'd "make the ultimate redemption hero story." Duh, I guess so, because he -- excuse me! -- kills people for a living.

Anyway, I've become convinced over the years that given my very low boredom threshold, I can't write connected stories because of reader, editor, or market concerns.
I've come not to enjoy writing trilogies overly much because of what Allison brought up. (Though my take is exactly opposite hers, which shows again how different we all are as writers.) When paper costs had publishers cutting back on word count a few years ago, there wasn't any room for my other character's real involvement in all three books, so, except for marketing, to me there didn't seem any point trying to connect the stories.

Now that I've been assured I can write the books as long as I want (and wow, they should've known better than to tell me that!) I'm working on a series I intend to keep open ended so connected character arcs can continue over several books. So far everyone seems very excited about this idea but I'm still waiting to be asked if I coudn't write it as a trilogy.

Uh, No. :)

JoAnn Ross said...

Obviously Friday's catching up with me because I just realized that I didn't answer the reading question.

I enjoy reading trilogies, love series, and, love, love, love series that follow one character over a period of books --John Sandford's Lucas, James Lee Burke's Robicheaux, Dennis Lehane's marvelous Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro books, which he (sob) isn't writing anymore. Unfortunately, editors of books marketed more toward women seem to be leary of doing that. Which doesn't make sense to me, but then again, not much about publishing has ever made sense to me. In fact, there are times I believe "publishing business" is a major oxymoron. :)

Barbara Freethy said...

JoAnn - I do think linked books that come organically out of a plot or a story work the best. And secondary characters that suddenly demand their own book can be fun, too. I'm afraid I've left a lot of readers hanging over the years waiting for another character's story, but part of my problem was that I'd usually already contracted for two more books, different books, etc. or I changed publishers and you know the new publisher never wants to do a secondary character from another publisher's book.

I love your story about someone wanting the villain to be redeemed... that would be a tough proposition.

I wonder if any of the writers here would even admit to occasionally "killing" off a character that was starting to annoy you ...

JoAnn Ross said...

Barbara --

I had one situation -- my Callahan Brothers -- where I'd agreed to do connected books, then midway through the first one I realized this one character might as well be a brother, because he was going to be in all the books and he was really interacting well with the first brother. I called up my editor -- Caroline Tolley -- and suggested it and she loved it. (This was when there weren't a lot of contemporary trilogies out there.) The funny thing was, no one at Pocket remembered to write a contract on that third book. I waited until the other two were done and the excerpt was in the back of #2 before my agent and I reminded them. By then we had a bit of an advantage on negotiations. LOL

I did take two books of one trilogy from Mira to Pocket. I did wait until after I'd done two books for them, which I'm not sure was wise, but then Mira reprinted the first, and they're all still in print and seem to be selling.

As for you leaving people wanting characters' stories, that's because all your characters are so rich, readers can easily imagine them having a life after the book and undoubtedly want to see what and how they're doing.

LaraRios said...

Interesting topic! I've ended up with two linked books. BECOMING AMERICANA will be a spin off of BECOMING LATINA. They share the same characters, but I didn't originally start of intending to write linked books.

Personally, as a reader, I prefer not to read linked books. Isn't that interesting? I'll read them if I REALLY liked the author's writing or the characters, but they are not my first choice in books. And yes, they have to stand alone -- I don't like recaps.

So I'm not sure I'd ever write linked books again. That said, I've had lots of reader comments that they can't wait to read more about the characters in BL . . . so if that is what readers what, that is what they should get.

JoAnn Ross said...

I think it's a good idea to listen to readers. Somewhat. (Unless they're suggesting a stone cold killer as your next hero!)

But I also remember what the brilliant Jasmine Cresswell once said. That if she listened to HER readers, all her books would be time travels set in the court of some king whose name and number I don't remember. Apparently she'd written one book there, which didn't sell nearly as well as her RS, but that continued to be the one she got letters on, years later.

Her point to me, and I think it's a good one, is that if you compare the number of readers who care enough to write, with your print run and royalty statement, the vocal ones are a tiny drop in the bucket. So, in the end, while it's always lovely to hear someone liked one of my stories, I'm not about to let them help plan my career. (I already have agents and editors to do that, and half the time I'm second guessing them! LOL)

Candice Gilmer said...

As a reader, I love to read connected books. When I was a teen, Christopher Pike wrote a lot of teen thriller/paranormal books, and many of the books had cross-references in them, but they weren't always linked. One, for example, talked about a boy who'd died, and had written a story about a teen who got the next day's news on her VCR every nigh, and another book was that very story. A similar thing he did was reference a movie that two characters went to see, and the movie was the title of one of his other books.

As a reader, this subtle stuff just made me giggle, and I loved it.

But that's not what you mean -- you refer more or less to books about the same family or group of some kind, and yes, I do enjoy them. JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood comes to mind. (Paranormal romance, for anyone who's interested).

As a writer, I've penned a few books (that are still waiting for those acceptance letters) that have connected characters. One trilogy is set in a group of friends, or rather, women, who are connected by their hairdresser.

It's harder than I would have thought to write such books, but I do manage to work on them. They are fun, though to see what happens to the characters beyond the HEA> :)

Colleen Thompson said...

If I really like an author/book (or the characters have really captured my imagination), I'll go back and read the preceding book or look for future books in the series. But I do get burned out on series as a reader. There aren't many that can sustain my interest long-term (exceptions: JD Robb series, Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books - and I haven't read all of either series), partly because there are so many great books/authors I *haven't* tried, and I feel as if I'm missing something by devoting too much time to one. This is the reason I was a liberal arts major. :)

As a writer, I have done two pairs of connected books and have just proposed a trilogy that I'm very excited about. But I purposely made the middle story different in setting and tone (while still hooking into the metastory, albeit more loosely than the anchor books) to make it feel fresh and give myself a break from the claustrophobic feeling of being "stuck" in the same world too long.