To Series or Not to Series?

I had possibly the worst case of writers’ block I’d ever experienced last week. I started the first draft of Broken Down, the book that’ll be released next spring. I had my characters. I had my plot. I had at least one external conflict.

I could not get the story started to save my life.

I wrote the first chapter twice. I started the second chapter three times before settling on the third version and finishing – and it ended up being 400 words short of my goal. By the time I moved on to chapter three, I had to wonder if I was even going in the right direction. But it took me far less time to finish it, and I regained some of my confidence along the way, so…maybe.

The upside to having no contractual obligations or an agent patiently waiting for your next book means you can work on whatever catches your fancy. While I was waiting for Fracture to come back from the copy editor, I started two different stories, wished for more time to start a third (and ultimately decided it would be my second release of 2016, circumstances allowing), and found a new plot bunny while watching Tom and Liz’s relationship take a rather…interesting turn a couple of weeks ago on The Blacklist.

But Fracture came back, and I started copy edits like a dutiful author, and stopped procrastinating and started Broken Down. Because I’d made a promise to readers that it would release next spring, and it would be book two in the Hidden Scars series. The title was already listed in the backmatter for Rehab, and it’s in the backmatter of the ARC for Fracture. I’d backed myself into a corner on this one, and if I was going to fulfill my promise, I had to get moving.

Genre fiction readers, particularly romance and fantasy readers, love series. They might love them for different reasons, but they do love them. I love series. I love the anticipation of finally getting a particular character’s story, and the frustration when the author makes you wait even longer for it. One of the best examples I can think of is Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series. Readers waited for years for Hawke and Siena’s story. She built them up as secondary characters over nine books, finally giving in on book ten – and it was worth the wait.

Or think about Harry Potter, and how we waited seven books for Harry to take charge of his own life, and powers, and stand up to Voldemort. If he’d done that in the first book, it might have been a good book, but it wouldn’t have been the amazing story we know today.

So yeah. I love series.

I just can’t write them.

That statement should have an asterisk next to it. I feel like there’s two different ways to construct a series in Romancelandia: the series with an overarcing storyline that ties the books together (this is most common in paranormal romance and romantically-inclined urban fantasy) or the series that uses characters introduced in a previous book but can be read as a standalone. Kind of like The Bachelor: each new Bachelor is a contestant from a previous season of The Bachelorette – viewers have gotten to know him and want him to have his happily ever after.

I’ve written an urban fantasy trilogy before, and I’ve hit pause on my New Adult trilogy. In both instances it follows a single heroine through a storyline I felt was too big to winnow down to one book. While not exactly easy, it’s definitely easier, because at the end of the first and second books, there’s more story to tell.

My problem is the standalone series. Or rather, the obligation that comes with it. With a standalone series, there’s no dangling plot threads still waiting for me to tie up in a neat little bow. The book is done, the hero and heroine have their happy ever after, I can move on to the next bunny burrowing into my brain. But I set up a secondary character to get his or her shot at the fairy tale, and readers will be expecting it. I don’t want to make them wait, so I make a vague promise on a delivery date. Then before I know it, I’m stuck with it. I have to deliver. I can’t goof off and play around with dragons, or figure out a way for my newest hero and heroine to love/hate each other so much it causes them both physical pain.

Editors love series. They want to give the author a chance to build their reader base, so I can understand it from a business perspective. And while there are some genres where we’ve been conditioned to look for the next book in a series, the only one where it seems to be a requirement is urban fantasy (there are probably some standalone urban fantasies out there, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head).

So as a romance author, I feel there’s a certain expectation to deliver a series, even when I’m not feeling it. Some authors have managed to succeed without it, but the wildly popular ones? They all have at least one series or trilogy to their names.

I think part of the issue is most times, when I’m starting a book, I’m not looking at series potential. I see the beginning, middle, and end of the story. On occasion, that story will be too long for a single book, and I might break it up (see Game of Shadows). But nine times out of ten, I’ve got that one book, and then I can move on to something completely different. Ten Years, the book I’m hoping to release next fall? It’s pretty different from Hidden Scars. Most of my books share some similarities: snark (duh), smexy times (again with the duh), and a sweetness that always manages to surprise me. But the subject matter will be wildly different from one book to the next. Fracture is an anomaly in more ways than one: less snark, less sweetness, a lot more intensity. Hidden Scars is a perfect example of what I mean when I say my books are snarky, sexy, and sweet. The relationship between Sara and Taylor is full of huge emotions and the struggle to understand them. Broken Down is the same way. Ten Years is about a man convicted of armed robbery. It’s emotional, sure, but the biggest emotion is the fear and excitement of getting caught.

Not falling in love.

So what’s a girl to do? For the time being, I’m buckling down and working on Broken Down. Depending on how sales go for Hidden Scars and Broken Down, I may continue with the series. I do have a plot for a third book, so I’m not flailing around for ideas. Or I may just say fuck it and write whatever the hell I want. Who knows?

Tell me, do you series or do you not series?

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