For Those Who Write Multiple Series

By Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraigIMG_20140105_175505_689

One thing about the holidays is that I’m always around people a lot more than I usually am.  In fact, I really can’t think of a time in the last couple of weeks when I was alone in the house.  I did really well, actually, keeping up with my modest writing goals, but part of me is glad that school is back in session today.

I definitely socialize more during the holidays than I do any other time of the year—and yes, it’s exhausting.  But it’s interesting, too.  I always get a different perspective when I’m talking with people I barely know about my writing.

This party season, I discovered that non-writers think it’s rather unnatural that I write three series.   The writing-related questions I answer at parties are progressing now, since I’ve been outed as a writer for a couple of years. I’ve just given up avoiding talking about writing when I’m at a party. Especially since, several times, I’ve suspected that it was the only reason I was invited to the party to begin with.  So we’ve moved past the why did you choose to be a writer? and how long have you been writing questions to the other stuff.  Now it’s: remind me again—what names do you write under? and how many books again have you written? And did you go to school for that?  And—in evidence this particular holiday season—… Elizabeth, why on earth did you choose to write three series?

Writing three series was something that I just happened into.  A progression of events.  I explain that I didn’t just sit down one day at home and take out three sheets of paper and start penning three different books.  I had a series that was canceled by the publisher that I took up on my own to self-publish (first series).  I had an editor who was interested in the books I was writing for the first publisher, who encouraged me to audition for a series they wanted written for Penguin (second series).  Then my agent heard from an editor who was looking for a Southern writer to create a series involving quilting and mysteries (third series).

The fact that I didn’t turn down either of the series that was offered to me shows that I really am nervous about turning down work.  I think working in publishing can be feast or famine—if you’re offered work, you should go ahead and take it.  So I’ll stay a hybrid writer in at least the short-term, since I’m contracted through 2015.

Now for the juggling.  As I’ve mentioned before, it’s doable—mainly because I’m rarely in the position of needing to draft two books at the same time.  I’m usually editing one and drafting another.  Or working solely on one book at a time, which is what I prefer.

One big thing I’ve noticed is that it can take a while for me to get my head back into a series after working on another one.  So this time, I’ve done something completely different and it worked really well for me.  I outlined the next book in the series after finishing a book in that series.

I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but this has not been my approach in the past.  I’m a victim of Shiny New Idea syndrome, too, you know.  It’s even worse when you write multiple series.  And when you’re a hybrid writer, if you receive a check in the mail to start working on a different book than the self-pubbed one you’re currently writing, then you put down that self-pub book and start working on the other one, even if you’re still getting great ideas for the book you’d been working on.

In late-August, I put down a Myrtle Clover book that I was writing (I was about ¼ of the way through the book) and started writing Southern Quilting mystery #4.  I turned it in by January 1 and my instinct was to immediately go back to the Myrtle Clover I was writing, since Southern Quilting mystery #5 is due in August 2014.  I’d been thinking about the Myrtle Clover book while writing the book for the other series.  Ideas for the book, bits of dialogue, funny twists kept popping up, completely unbidden and usually while I was deep into writing the quilting mystery.  I’d record those on a separate Word doc and keep on working—on deadline, after all.

So you can see how I was totally ready to pick back up with that uncompleted book.  But I thought…yeah.  This is what happens every single time.  And then I complain that it takes me forever to outline the next book for Penguin because I’ve got Myrtle Clover characters populating my brain and not the quilting characters. Or it will be the Memphis Barbeque series characters in my head.  Whichever.

This time I did the smart thing, the responsible thing, and outlined that next Penguin book.  The characters were all fresh in my head.  The characters’ interrupted continuing subplots (because I’ve given up writing standalones—more on that later) were still familiar to me.  I brainstormed a scenario for the murder that would pull my sleuth into the fray, I came up with some likely suspects, I even recognized that the story accidentally (subconsciously?)  had a theme and tweaked the subplots I’d sketched out to better reflect it.  It took me a fraction of the time that it took me to outline the previous book in the series.  I’m really kicking myself for not doing this before.

Honestly…I probably should go ahead and write that first chapter now, too.  I’ll be asked for that teaser chapter and I’ll be neck-deep in the Myrtle book and will need to hustle out the first chapter.  Maybe that will be what I’ll work on for the next few days and then I’ll go back to the Myrtle.  Or at least just get a rough draft done for it.

A bit of a rambling post here from me and I apologize for that…the upshot is that I’ve found it’s a lot easier and quicker to sketch out a draft of the next book in a series when finishing a project in that series. Even if I’d rather be popping back over to write a different series.

If you write multiple series, are you all over the place with it, as I’ve been?  And, if you don’t write multiple series…have you thought about it?  Had any ideas for other books?

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28 thoughts on “For Those Who Write Multiple Series

  1. I wish when I was writing my one series. If I finish the book I’m working on now, I might jot down ideas for another, just in case.
    I probably wouldn’t say no to any offers either.

  2. I’m just starting to write multiple series – for a variety of smart reasons, which I won’t expand on here. But yes, I definitely try to get as much out of where my head is at the time. I wasn’t going to, but I’m first drafting book 2 of one series and then will jump into the first two books of another series while I’m editing the first 2 of the first series. :) I would flip flop back and forth everyother one but I do think it will be worthwhile to write two at a time.

    1. Laura—It seems to be a real time-saver. Although it’s really nice to jump into a different series…it gets dull writing the same characters all the time. But it sure is quicker to keep writing about them instead of trying to pick up my train of thought later on.

  3. I tend to live and breathe my characters, so I can understand how multiple series would be a juggle. You have to really focus and make sure they were all very different.

  4. Elizabeth – I haven’t (yet) written multiple series. But I can understand exactly what you mean about having to juggle your time and so on. And I understand exactly what you mean about having your head in one or another series. I face the same sorts of challenges as I juggle writing the non-fiction stuff I do with writing fiction. When you write different things, whether it’s different series or something else, you do need to be thinking in different ways. And that takes planning and the ability to ‘switch gears.’ I give you a lot of credit.

  5. I’ve only written standalone books so far. I’m amazed at series writers.

    This is another thing I love about writing. Even seasoned pros, like you, are constantly learning and adjusting your way of doing things. It keeps us fresh!

  6. I’m not sure I have the personality traits necessary for what you describe here. I get rattled if I’m working on one thing and a minor interruption happens. So if I were working on one series and other characters bubbled into my consciousness, I’d probably get mad at them, LOL. As for nonfiction, I’d still run out and purchase any book on writing you might publish. Your writing tips have helped me so so much.

    1. Karen–Ha! You know, I think I do get a little rattled, too. Sometimes I’m so taken with an idea I’ll try to adapt it into the story I’m working on, instead of the story it was intended for (rarely works!) And thanks for saying that! I’ll get to non-fic one day, I hope. I wanted to in 2013, but ran out of time.

  7. I’ve got 3 series and I should be taking your advice and mapping out (outline scares me) where the next one will go in that series. I’m trying to write books in rotation in all three, just to offer readers who enjoy any one of my series something new.

    1. Terry–I know what you mean and that’s one of the reasons I like writing three series–keeps things fresh. But the mapping-out, as you put it, really can be a time-saver. I can’t believe how little time it took me to outline this next book.

  8. Elizabeth–
    I think you must be one of those good-at-many-things people: wife, mother, neighbor, crafts, church. Attributing this quality to you is the only way I can understand how you’re able to juggle so many storylines and characters. In comparison, I’m pretty much a one-trick pony kind of writer. Changing gears the way you do would be out of the question. If I were foolish enough to try it, very soon the neighbors would be peering out their front windows, watching as the EMS gurney was rolled down the drive, yours truly strapped in place for his own good.

    1. Barry–I totally understand where you’re coming from and it’s not out of the question that my neighbors won’t witness a similar scene at some point. :) It’s a lot easier than it sounds, though, although I never thought at the start that I’d be pulled into this many series.

  9. Wow. Huge advice. I can’t thank you enough.

    I’m in the middle of segregating some of those “jumbled ideas” that roll around into various book projects. Too many characters, too many leads, too many twisted plots and the act of putting down the ideas in “piles” really helps as I line up the Next Big Project for April.

    Hearing how you refine the work effort is super helpful – and very generous. Thanks.

  10. I’ve written multiple standalones. But my next project is a trilogy. I have more of the overall trilogy outlined than I do details. I plan to write the three books one after another so I can keep going with the same characters and pacing. I hope that plan is a good one. And that it works.

  11. Great advice! I’m currently working on 2 series (none quite ready to be out and about yet) with 2 or 3 books in each. I like having the different views but you’re right it does require that brain switch. This is a great plan!

  12. Fantastic, Elizabeth. I’m working on a series and am not sure how long it will go (more of a serial story than novels) and was wondering how I would handle breaking away to write some of the other stories on my back burner.

    Nice to know that others out there are juggling multiple stories and finding ways to make it work.

  13. Hi Elizabeth
    Happy New Year! I’m glad the socialising wasn’t too stressful :) We managed a few days at my folks before running home.
    I’ve got one trilogy completed, in first draft, with the second one currently mid-edit, and my ongoing novella series, for which I write three new parts every few months.
    I started another ongoing series last year and have written two in that one so far. Although I’m not much of a planner, I think your idea is excellent. With the most recent series, I finished it with a teaser for what came next, so at least I had a jumping off point when I got back to writing it. But, I think mapping the next stages in terms of emotional journeys and subplots is a great idea, well worth doing.
    As a genre author, I think series’ are key to keeping readers happy, so anything that supports that has to be a good thing.

    1. Happy New Year to you, Mike! And thanks for coming by. Good points you’ve raised here…the most important is keeping readers happy. I know that one way we keep them happy is by increasing our production of (well-written) books. To do this, I’ve been looking for ways to improve my own productivity…where am I spinning my wheels? Found that I was spending too much time trying to re-familiarize myself with each series, so hope this will do the trick to make things go quicker! Seems to work, so far.

  14. I have a few series as well. And some that aren’t a series, but are part of the same ‘world’. My series’ aren’t always chronological or focused on the same character. I like hearing back from my beta readers “What about this character?” “Is there more about them in the next book?” “What happened to so-and-so?” “Are you writing more about this one?” If I haven’t written more about a character, reader questions might just prompt me to!

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