Monday, March 31, 2014


Why turn a book into a series?
a. The first book was a great seller.
b. You fell in love with the characters you created and want to see what happens next to them.
c. You’re lazy and don’t want to create new characters.
For most writers, B is the correct answer. Although A is the one we all wish were true.

Advice for writing a series.
Let characters grow. I loved the first six books in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, but I got tired of Plum’s car blowing up and her inability to decide between two suitors. Evanovich’s books sales prove there are exceptions to this rule.

I had my title character epidemiologist Sara Almquist move from an early, probably premature, retirement (in which she tries to forget her years as a professor) into being an active consultant on public health issues. As she tries to track the spread of a deadly flu epidemic in her community in Coming Flu, she inadvertently identifies a drug lord. She helps her sister Linda identify the killer of a diet doctor in a medical school in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. (Her sister generally doubts the values of Sara’s help.) Based on her recent successes, Sara is asked to be a public health consultant in Bolivia in Ignore the Pain, but individuals from her past follow her.

Establish a brand. A good example of successful branding is Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, beginning with A is for Alibi. James Patterson usually manages to mention Alex Cross on the covers of his books and in ads. I’ve not done a good job here, but I try to have a woman’s face on each cover and medically related topics are featured in each book and in the title – flu, lose weight, pain. Accordingly, the back-story provides scientific information on flu viruses in Coming Flu, on weight loss in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight, and on pain management in Ignore the Pain.

Keep a few conflicts unresolved in each novel. In thrillers and mysteries that means don’t kill your villains too soon. Besides I’ve come to like my villains  - the genius psychopath Dr Abel Raines and the chameleon-like drug lord Jim Mazzone.

Don’t be confined by your original setting. Many of us loved the TV show Murder, She Wrote, but it was hard to believe the rate of murders in Cabot Cove. The writers solved the problem by having Jessica travel a lot after the first couple of seasons. I had an advantage there - my setting is near Albuquerque. According to our local newspapers, the lack of crimes isn’t a problem in Albuquerque. However, I have Sara travel to Bolivia in Ignore the Pain and to Cuba in my next novel (due out in 2014 but still untitled).

Recognize readers have a short attentions span. This is the biggest reason for not trying to do a series. It means there are no long breaks from writing. Readers expect at least one new book a year. The exceptions are many, namely George Martin who writes the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.

What advice would you give on writing a series?