Monday, May 14, 2018

More on series, and how to talk about them in a query

In your latest blog post "Talking about books within a series" you mention how nothing scares editors more than mentioning series. What about books that are expected to form part of a series, like cozies? Do you mention anything about series potential? My finger is perched on the delete button in anticipation...

No no. Don't delete yet.

Most contracts for traditional mysteries are multiple-book contracts. That is, you submit the first one, editors offer to buy two or more,  most often with the same characters, in the same setting etc.

A good example is Loretta Sue Ross's Auctionblock series.

The first was Death and the Red-Headed Woman, and then three more followed.

When I pitched this I did NOT say "it's a six book, ten book, six hundred book series." This, despite the fact that LSR would have written six hundred books without a single complaint if I'd told her that was the plan.

What I did say is "this is a book that lends itself to a series."

Particularly with traditionals, readers come to hang out with the characters, they don't come for the plot. This is true of most series actually. I don't care what the plot of the next Reacher novel is; I just want Jack. I don't care what Harry Bosch is solving; I just want to hang out with him while he does it.

This was the interesting fresh twist that Dick Wolfe provided in his ground breaking Law & Order series: it wasn't about the characters, it was ALL about what the crime was. We came to watch stories ripped from the headlines, not to see Chris Noth looking ferociously sexy. (oh wait...)

To answer your question: the distinction is specificity. "This book is the first of six" implies all six are needed to complete a narrative arc.  "This book lends itself to a series" suggests it can function as a standalone.


E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thanks to OP for asking and thank you, Janet, for clarifying. That makes a lot of sense and I am sure the same applies to fantasy. It is usually the characters who draw me into a fantasy series.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I know you're not asking but...

The series, 2000 plus years ago, which really grabbed ahold and held me hostage to the characters and WOW story was LaHaye and Jenkins “Left Behind” series. Lines actually formed at the local Christian bookstore.
Okay so the story is based on the big book. The Kahuna of BIG books, the Bible. If you believe then you get it.

First book, amazing. I’m not religious but I loved the writing which made it all so believable. Second through twelve, um, some good, some okay. Actually I don’t think I read them all but while in the midst of the end of days, I was hooked.

Great advice by the shark we all worship. Oh wait, am I being sacrilegious? Who cares? I’m going to hell with a stack of books anyway.

gldlubala said...

Yeah, I've been told at conferences and workshops that if snything needs to be addressed, that it can be somethng along the lines of "This is written as a stand alone book, but may lend itself towards, or support, a series".

Julie Weathers said...

I love reading series books. The Dave Robicheaux series from James Lee Burke, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple by Agatha Christie, The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (my latest obsession a MG series), Harry Potter. If I fall in love with the characters, I'll come back. Usually.

I started one fantasy book that I really liked, but the author really left it on a cliffhanger. Well, of course, everyone anxiously waited for the next book. Now this was not a GRR Martin or Gabaldon tome, this was just a fun little fantasy about 300 pages. It took her five years to write the sequel and then she once again leaves everything up in the air. Nope, not coming back. There has to be some sort of resolution, especially if you're going to take that long between books.

Elissa M said...

It seems to me that fantasy books are expected to be in series so there's not much point in mentioning it. However, I'm like Julie Weathers in that I won't continue reading if a book doesn't give me some sort of resolution in the end. I think Brandon Sanderson is a master at crafting series' where each volume presents a satisfying resolution while still having an over-arcing story through the series.

Craig F said...

I'm with Julie in some ways too. There are several series that I started that didn't pan out. The character was really deep enough for a series.

A couple started strong and then started to leave readers hanging. Waiting two years for a resolution is too much. I can see the reasons why some agents and editors shy from them.

In a lot of ways I like how Baldacci does it. He explores two to four books on a set of characters then starts all over again with new characters.

For every Child, Connelley, or Sanford, there are at least six fails.

Brenda said...

The champ of series writing is Tana French. In her Dublin squad series, each novel features a detective who was a secondary character in the previous book. I devoured them in great gulps and will now have to go back and read them again.

AJ Blythe said...

Thanks so much for the clarification, Janet (I'm OP). It's all in the wording! Will tweak my query to match.