Bringing a Story to Life: Single Title V Series

book_series-300x200As an author, I think one of my favorite stories comes from Dianna Gabaldon and since I heard it second hand I won’t quote her.

The story was related several years ago during an Oakland, CA RWA Chapter meeting – told by a NY Times Best Selling author who was trying to make a point as she shared nuggets of wisdom with us.  This author was (and is) the epitome of grace with a no-nonsense down to earth style.

Apparently, Diana was surprised – perhaps flummoxed – to find her Outlander novel filed under Romance.

It was fiction in her eyes.

The lesson that came out of it from the wonderful author talking to our group that Saturday morning was, “To sell your work to a publisher, they have to know where to put it on the shelf.”

In other words, you have to do most of the work for them before you even get a contract.

The story reminded me of when Bill Gates tried to sell the PC to Hewlett and Packard, who apparently asked, “…but what is it good for?”

In other words, how do we sell it – and to who?

The other two take-aways from that session were:

  • Get control of your covers. No bodice rippers as it makes us all seem like air-heads

I was always fascinated by the disgust the female authors had over how they were stereotyped and perhaps lessened by the marketing done to get their stuff off the shelf.

  • If you love something, you’ll find the time to do it

 One of the participants went off on how “it must be nice to be married to a rich doctor so you have time to be a novelist” to which the author smiled and replied, “I got up at 4am every morning to put in two hours of writing time before going to work so I could put my husband through Med School and now he is a surgeon and I’m a writer whose hard work paid off.”

So, where to put something on a shelf – how do you describe your work – that’s a big part of selling it.

I always tell people I do paranormal fiction and I will occasionally mention “romantic elements” but I don’t say “I write romance” because I don’t.  Nothing against romance but my stuff is spy or action adventure or sci-fi but always time travel, ghosts, parallel universes – with people who have sex – yeah – but that isn’t romance – that’s … being an adult? 

Another consideration is whether the story is a single title or part of a series.

This is a hell of a lot harder than one might think.

First of all, there is no wrong way with this.  Whatever the story is – it is.  But it can be easy to get sucked into a series if you aren’t careful.

This is especially true when you start falling in love with characters other than your main characters.

Sometimes, it’s a no-brainer.

I always knew the Kerry’s Game Series was going to be a series.  Each of the characters who work for the paranormal investigation company HQ’d in San Francisco were going to have their own stories.

Metatron’s Army was also a no-brainer though I did spend almost a year deciding on the format for that one.  I realized that having each book being like a chapter in the main character’s life was the best way to go.  To try to short cut the back story would not serve the reader and it would not serve me as the writer.

Other books started as a single title and became part of a series.

Ocracoke.

And I also have Port Gallatan.

This one is different.  The “series” which I’m not sure I’m even going to do because it was never intended to be one – is around a small town rather than a group of characters.

Interestingly, this conundrum is part of an author’s identity.

Something I’m just coming to understand.

I had two different male colleagues misinterpret the scope of books I’d written.

  • In one case, he thought Kerry’s Game was going to be a series about Kerry rather than one for each investigator.
  • In the Port Gallatan situation, he thought everything would be about Clint.

Neither was the case, nor was it ever meant to be the case.

This would be another consideration for a traditional contract – how do we position the author – series or single title?

Where’d They GOOOOOOoooo?  I have a couple of authors I love to read who started a series and then, for whatever reason, quit before it made sense.

Talk about leaving people hanging.

I keep checking back on Amazon to see if they have released anything and to my continued disappointment, no.

In one instance, the author’s adult daughter posted an explanation – her mom took time off to be a mom and though she is still around, she isn’t writing so no – don’t look for any more in her wonderful historical romance series.

Which was actually paranormal fiction but again – it’s about where a publisher thinks they can sell it. 

The attitude.  I have been lucky enough to attend two different RWA conferences.  One when I was a fledgling fiction writer and another later when I was the veteran indie writer.

In the earlier one – 2003 – I had just earned my doctorate – my company was going through merger hell – I walked.

Did the Titanic.  Not interested in the sequel.  Btw:  I’m not kidding.  We had a sandwich board at that company that said, “The difference between us and the Titanic – at least the Titanic had a band.”

A newbie, I sat at tables and watched and listened.  What I saw was an industry – if not a nation – in transition.

  • New York Times Best Selling Writers who’d never been employed out of the home and had no college education versus Harvard graduate authors who were employed full-time and also NY Best Selling Writers.
  • Older authors who referred to their male agents and editors as their spouses – when they weren’t – and younger authors who basically said “Screw that”
  • Older authors who talked about completing a manuscript as being as difficult as birthing a baby (um – no) and younger authors who looked at them like “Seriously?”  I plead the fifth but vomit comes to mind.  Especially with the whole agent/editor as a spouse thing.  Do their spouses know this?  Do the spouses of the agents/editors?!
  • Older authors who said “Chocolate and hugs and crying with your editor solves everything” and younger authors who said “When the going gets tough the tough get going.”

I literally sat there and listened to the fireworks.

Fascinating.

Honestly, each side had a lot of wisdom and a lot of right but they were too busy being threatened by each other I guess.  Or rather not understanding that it was a Brave New World for authors – just as it is now because – for better or for worse – Smashwords brought the Publishing world to its knees.

So a lot of burden goes on an indie writer.

Even one with a lot of corporate experience.

And at the end of the day I find one of my biggest struggles isn’t marketing or what search words to use but whether or not to make a story part of a series.

Each author needs to do what works for them for each project.

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