4.14.2020

Thinking Ahead

If you are interested in writing a series, you should be aware of how a publisher thinks. A publishing house is a business first and foremost, and one of their traditional terms is “building an author’s platform.” What does that mean?

If a publisher buys your first novel, they already have a pretty good idea of how many copies of that book they want to distribute nationwide. So that initial distribution is your initial platform: X number of copies sold. For a second book, the publisher assumes that a percentage of the readers who bought the first book will buy the second. On top of that, you will gain additional readers. That’s because you now have two books on the bookshelf. As a former manager of a bookstore, I can assure you that the presence of more than one novel by the same author strongly encourages sales. In other words, your platform will expand with the second book, with the third book, and so on.

That is why so many books by an author feature the same protagonist. Readers want to read the next Jack Reacher book by Lee Childs, just for one example. His latest book is building on the platform started back with the first Jack Reacher book. If your creative well is deep enough that you can produce multiple original  books with the same hero, at some point a publisher may decide to make the big plunge. A huge publicity campaign is started with the aim of putting you on the New York Times best-seller list. Now you’re gold, even if the later books in the series are not so hot. As readers, we know all too well about clunkers like that.

When writing one book, an author usually has at least a hazy notion of other books she’d like to write. She may have sketched out the plot, or the main characters she’d like to feature. Before that process goes too far, she should ask herself: would I be interested in converting this idea so that it features the heroine of my present manuscript? If the novel is strongly plot-driven, you need to consider why you need to switch the driver of that plot. You may not be writing a mystery or a sci fi series. Yet if you like your main character now, why shouldn’t you stick with him?

Exercise: This post in no way is suggesting that books in a series be linked plot-wise. Book 1 should have a beginning, middle, and a definite end, even if the story is part of a trilogy. If a reader starts reading Book 2 and it feels like the same-same with Book 1, that book is going back up on the shelf. The challenge of writing a series is creating distinctive plots for each book. What remains the same, luckily, is the core cast of characters that you’ve grown to know so well.

“The original Hobbit was never intended to have a sequel—Bilbo ‘remained very happy to the end of his days and those were extraordinarily long’: a sentence I find an almost insuperable obstacle to a satisfactory link.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.