I’m working on extending my Big City Billionaire Series next year so I thought I’d check in with someone whose series keeps going from strength to strength.
This week we chat with USA Today and award winning writer Tracey Alvarez about her tips on writing a successful series.
xx Michele and the Yours Ever After team.
1. A series needs a story idea that spans over many books. How do you check in with your original idea to make sure it is big enough? When do you know when you’ve got just the right idea?
I hadn’t originally intended my book 1 in either series to bea series, but I got lucky having seeded in some secondary characters that ended up as future H/h. Now each book features a different H/h, who are in some way connected to either the place (Stewart Island or Bounty Bay – the two places which form my series names) or to other characters in previous books.
2. I can’t even imagine pantsing through a series. How detailed is your planning? Do you have a series bible and what are the most important elements you make sure you have nailed?
Because my series are a collection of standalones, I only do light planning for future books in the series. For example, if a previous heroine is expecting a baby, I might decide to include a baby shower/delivery/christening etc in a current book if it’s relevant – and readers love seeing what previous H/h are up to in future stories.
3. How do you keep a hold of everything (characters, story lines, locations) so you can keep thing consistent?
Top tip – start your series bible from book 1! The reason I suggest this is, I didn’t. And it’s a pain trying to stay on top of character ages/physical characteristics/siblings/when they got married or had a baby etc without one. Some series you might be able to get away without one – like if your series is connected by something like ‘billionaires’ and none of the H/h have any connection to each other. But if you’re writing standalone books within a series or the same characters in a series, get yourself a bible. I have started to piece together a series bible, but I still find myself using the search function in my manuscripts at other times.
4. How often do you write a book in your series? Do you keep rigorously to a timeline?
With only 2 series I’ve been kinda doing one in each. However, after some advice from the Queen of Series (Bella Andre!!) I’m going to concentrate on getting more books out in my smaller series, with only a new release in my longer series once a year.
5. How do you keep momentum? When do you release each book? Have you played with releasing dates and worked out what works best for you?
I don’t have a special way of working out the best release dates – just whenever the book is going to be ready. I try not to release books in December which isn’t a great month for new releases according to everything I’ve read.
6. Endings? We all want a satisfying Happy Ever After, but we want to be drawn into the world of a series and keep on reading. How do you balance the need to tie things up satisfyingly with keeping readers hooked and itching to buy the next book?
I will quite often give more page-time to a secondary character/s whose book is coming up next/soon. Readers seem to enjoy guessing which couple will get a book next. So I put some effort into making even my secondary characters shine so that readers will be dying to find out their story.
7. How do you keep things fresh? Your Stewart Island series is running over eleven books at the moment, how do you keep it exciting to come back to for yourself and your readers.
For me, I just love the world I’ve created and I enjoy spending time there. I think that’s something really important when you’re planning a new series – are you really in love with the idea/concept/setting etc of that series? Because you will be spending a lot of time there, and if you’re not all in, your readers are going to pick up on that. How do I keep it exciting for my readers? I’m not sure! They all seem to tell me that the current book is the best I’ve written – so that’s my goal: Deliver the best possible book I can write filled with everything that readers love about my stories thus far!
8. Is it possible to see an end in sight – do you think there is a point where there are just too many books in a series and it’s time to move on?
I know a lot of readers won’t start a long series, but then there are readers who adore them. So I think it’s up to the individual author, though once you’ve lost your passion for that series, it’ll show… I’ll keep writing in my 2 series until readers stop buying them.
9. How many series is a good number? I’ve been to seminars where I’ve been told to have at least three going at one time, but some of the biggest names in romance have one core series that they just keep adding and adding to. You have your Stewart Island series and Bounty Bay series as well as stand alones. What is your view on where to put your writing focus?
Again, this is a very individual choice. Some authors are prolific and therefore can spread themselves over multiple series. Some authors have done very well writing trilogies or multiple short series (I think short is around 4-6 books). Slower writers (like myself) are in my opinion, better to stick to one series and publish a decent amount of titles in it before switching to something else. I’m the first to admit I made some big whoopsies by trying to populate 2 series with books at the same time. There was almost a 1.5 year gap between releasing book 2 and 3 in my Bounty Bay series – which didn’t help momentum at all. I have one standalone currently for sale (a romantic suspense), but I don’t have any plans to write any more standalones – except this year I wrote a standalone holiday novella for a boxed set. But spoiler: I’m already thinking it could be made into a series! It’s all about the series.
10. Personal top tip for people wanting to write romance series?
Make a series bible from Book 1. Include as much information about your characters/setting etc that you can, because it’ll save you loads of time trying to find that information later on!
Since I’ve already mentioned that tip before, I’ll also add: Put some thought into secondary characters that you might want to turn into a H/h in a later book (if this is the type of series you’re wanting to write) and weave in little hints that’ll make them irresistible to readers. Also readers love meeting their favourite characters in subsequent books, don’t be afraid to make those earlier H/h’s do more work for you!
You can grab a free title from Michele’s Hot Tide series here