Archive for November 12, 2021


The Process: The Idea

I’m in development mode for a new series, and I said I’d share some of my process for this, so here we go, starting with where the initial idea came from. I’m not going to get really specific about the content of what I’m working on. I’m just talking about the process. After all, I don’t want to spoil the books for readers, and I don’t even know what will end up in the books.

This idea, like most of my better ideas, came from wanting a particular type of book, with no idea about things like plot or character. With Enchanted, Inc., I wanted a chick-lit type book with magic in it, or else something like the Harry Potter books, but about adult things rather than about school. With Rebel Mechanics, I wanted a steampunk book in a Gilded Age kind of setting, with adventure and airships. In both those cases, it started with something I wanted to read, and then when I couldn’t find it, I decided to write it. It took me a while to figure out the specific stories I was going to tell with that kind of book.

In this case, the initial idea was perhaps a bit more mercenary. As you might recall, I had a bit of a meltdown early in 2019 in which I was prepared to give up writing entirely. I was frustrated with the fact that my books just weren’t selling and my income was steadily decreasing. After giving myself permission to quit, I realized that there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do, and the idea of getting a real job that would require going to an office was so horrifying that I figured I’d be willing to tolerate not making much money and dealing with the business side of writing that I hate. But if I was going to make a go at this, I needed to do much better financially.

The trouble I have is that in my most popular series, the Enchanted, Inc. books and the Rebels books, the publisher controls the first books, which limits what I can do for promotion. Almost all promo revolves around getting people to try the first book, and then pick up the rest of the series. With these books, I can’t control the price of the first books, which limits what I can do for promotion, and I can’t do anything to drive people from those books to the rest of the series. I can’t get the publishers to add the other books to the list of books by me in those books or get them to put links for subscribing to a newsletter. I just have to hope that people who read those books go looking for more. If they buy them on Amazon, Amazon might recommend the rest, but I have zero control over this. By the way, this is why I’ve been holding off on doing a fourth Rebels book. I’m close to getting the rights to that first book back, but if I put out a new books, that will increase sales, not enough to make me any more money, but enough to delay me getting the rights reverted.

So, I was thinking that what I need is a new series I control from the start. I was looking at what seems to be successful, and romance is the big seller in the independent publishing world, perhaps because the kind of series they can do there.

There are several different kinds of series. There’s the saga, which is one long story chopped up into book-sized chunks, with each chunk possibly ending in a cliffhanger. You see a lot of this in fantasy, like with the Song of Ice and Fire series. You have to read this kind of series in order, starting with book one. Otherwise, it would be like opening a book to chapter 10 and beginning to read there. It would make no sense.

Then there’s the episodic series, which follows the same cast of characters, but with a new story in each book. There might be subplots that span from book to book, generally focused on the characters and their relationships, so the series will make more sense if you start at the beginning and read them in order, but you could probably follow the plot of an individual book if you happened to pick up a later one in the series first. You see this kind of series in mystery, where the mystery plots are self-contained, but you may also be following the development of the main character’s personal life.

You may also see a hybrid of this, where there’s a big-picture overarching plot for the series, but each individual book tells a complete “episode” of the story. You still probably need to start with book 1 and read them in order, but each book has its own beginning, middle, and end. I’d put the Harry Potter series in this category. There’s the big-picture plot of the fight against Voldemort and Harry figuring out his destiny, but each book is a complete story of Harry dealing with an aspect of this fight, often defeating a minion of Voldemort. I’d put most of my books in this category, as well.

What romances tend to do is a “world”-based series. There’s some kind of setting or situation that involves a group of people, and each book is about a different person within that setting or situation. The main characters from one book may go on to be supporting characters in later books, and the supporting characters from other books may take their turns to step up and have their own books. If you read the whole series in order, starting with book one, you might get a better picture of things and get all the references, but you can jump into the series at any point. Any book could be a first book, and then you might want to go back and read the rest. This kind of series is sort of a best of both worlds situation. There’s enough continuity to keep you wanting to read more of the series — will that character you like ever get his own story? — but not so much that you have to start at the beginning or read all the books.

This kind of series is ideally suited to romance, since the happily ever after ending means there isn’t much story left for the characters after they get together. This way, you can shift the story to another couple while still showing what’s next for the previous couple. You don’t see a lot of this sort of thing in other genres. Mercedes Lackey has done a couple of fantasy series that are kind of like it, where there’s an established world and organization within that world, but each book is about a different main character dealing with that world or organization. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books are sort of a hybrid of the episode and the world series. The series is about the world, but each book may deal with a different aspect of that world. There are the books about the city watch, the books about the wizards at the university, the books about the witches in the mountains, the books about Death, and various one-offs about other things. Over time, this built out into multiple miniseries within the series. You could jump into that world at just about any point, but it helps to start with the first book in a particular miniseries. Sometimes the different miniseries cross over, so that the main characters from one series will appear as secondary characters in another series. The more books you’ve read in the overall series, the more details you catch, so it rewards rereading. The first book you read will take on new meaning after you’ve read more books.

I thought it might be fun to do a fantasy series like that — create a world, then have a bunch of mostly self-contained stories within it. I have a lot of story ideas I haven’t managed to fit into any of my other series, and this could be a place where I could use them all. That was what kicked all this off. I came up with the mystery series idea around the same time and started writing that one first because this requires so much more research and development. I’ve spent the last couple of years doing research and the occasional bit of brainstorming. I’m not sure how well that totally self-contained stories thing is going to hold up because there may be a framing story to set everything up and provide some link between stories. I’ll know better how it will go once I get into more details.

In a future post, I’ll look at how I go from wanting to write a type of book to figuring out what the story will actually be.