A Series of Series Considerations

In keeping with the theme of my last post, I’m going to talk about understanding the publication climate around series and an author’s considerations when deciding on writing one.

Writing a successful series is the golden ticket of the publishing world. More books to sell, more faithful consumers to buy them, and more money in the pockets are the obvious benefits. Sequels are pretty much guaranteed money, no matter how bad, if you nail the first book or movie in a series. The most successful (ie, money-making) books and movies out there tend to be sequels or series.

So, naturally, the publishers should want series, and you should therefore write one. Right?

Not so fast. There was a rather important caveat I stated before that you may have picked up on. If not, I’ll restate it:  if you nail the first book.

Publishers and agents are very wary of being pitched series because there’s no guarantee it will get off the ground. They might invest in putting out a series of five books where no one gets past the first book. It’s a practical concern, of course.

So what’s a writer to do then? Well, it’s simpler than you may suppose. All you have to do is change your pitch from “series” to “novel with series potential.” The distinction here is that the book can stand on its own if the publisher decides that a series isn’t in the cards.   It’s a subtle but important distinction, and a very logical route to take.

Based on this, you probably think I agree with this. And the answer is no, I don’t.

I find this trend in the entertainment industry to be alarming. New ideas are considered risky and hardly given a chance. Writing in any medium has become more about what it can guarantee a wallet, rather than our minds. New shows are canceled before they can truly get off the ground, while established shows stagnate long past the point of creative inspiration. New, innovative movies take major losses because viewers and publishers would rather see a franchise’s sixth sequel, no matter how tired and overdone. And refreshingly new books can’t make their way into the publishing world because readers seem to want more of the same.

What does this have to do with writing a series? If series are only given the green-light when they are guaranteed money, we have media born not from creativity or passion but corporate mandate. Given the writer’s skill level, this can still produce something worth-while, but still misses out on the passion and care that goes into writing a series from the start. It’s also far easier to plan a series out fully from the start. While some writers may be able to adapt as they go, most are going to need time to ensure no continuity errors pop and to properly establish series and character arcs, plants, and foreshadowing that will make for a richer experience.

Unfortunately, there is no easy solution or “right” answer. Publishing is a business, and it’s hard to overturn established practices, especially ones that appeal only too well to logic. But writing is and always should be an art. Classics were written and preserved not because the authors wanted to line their wallets, but because they had a story then needed to tell. If a series is what you need to write, then do it. As an author, it’s important to show understanding and flexibility with agents and publishers, but also to know when to draw a line. Whether it’s on the side of gain or principle, only the writer can truly decide.

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