For Sale: Author’s Voice

If you have the guts to write a novel series, I tip my hat to you. Consider yourself sincerely respected by me. I haven’t written a series. Let me explain why.

If readers love a book, they take the shortest path, wallet in hand, to the author’s other work. Savvy authors are hip to this. That’s a big reason the most entrepreneurial authors (those that don’t write strictly for the love of it) write so many books. It makes good business sense. Satisfied readers are approximately one zillion times more likely to not only buy your entire backlist, but they’ll also shove your books into the hands of their family and friends.

I get that writing a series can be profitable. What I don’t get is why so many new authors are trying to write a book series right out of the gate. Browsing Amazon’s Kindle store, I see gobs of Indie authors with one book, recently published, fewer than 10 reviews, promising the next in a series “soon”. I want to know why. Is a series that much more successful?

Don’t get me wrong, I’d never engage J.K. Rowling in a debate about the wisdom of avoiding a series. But I wonder if new authors realize that writing great unrelated stories can generate backlist sales and a strong following as quickly.

I read a story about Tabitha King doing a reading of one of her books at a local bookstore near Bangor, Maine. Her husband, Stephen, (like I had to tell you) slipped into the back of the room and sat to listen. After her reading, the audience noticed who had been listening with them. A few of the most star-struck approached him and complimented his wife, saying that they were fans of his, but loved her books, too. To paraphrase his response, he said, “I’m not surprised you like her books. Readers enjoy a great story, but they fall in love with a voice.”
If that is true, and if you write good books, then you will do fine, without writing a series.

Here are five of my gut-reasons why a new writer might want to forgo or delay writing a series:

It’s too soon in your career. It can require writing two or three books to identify that special thing about your voice that resonates with your readers. Why not wait for your first strong-seller and begin a series with it? I don’t think I could take the emotional trauma of pouring everything I’ve got into a second book only to find that the first has become obscure because of my failure to recognize its extreme sucktivity.*

If a reader doesn’t like book 1, selling them book 2 is virtually impossible. Talk about a backlist zapper! Your only hope with a reader who didn’t like book 1 is that they are not too annoyed with your style to try the closely-related book 2. They’ll probably need some stellar book 2 reviews and a miracle to convince them they won’t get more of what stank about book 1.

The comparison between series books is more direct and, therefore, potentially brutal. Comparing series books is comparing apples to apples. If they liked book 1 they want to like similar things about book 2. That’s serious pressure on an author. Readers will inevitably enjoy one more than the other. Whichever book they enjoy less gets the nickname: “The other one’s better.”

It’s just more difficult. I love the blank slate of freedom that a completely new story brings. It’s easier to write a good story than to write a good story that must be logically consistent with another book. For me, it’s hard enough to close plot holes and avoid inconsistencies within one book. The thought of keeping facts straight throughout a series gets my palms to sweating.

Books by the same author are a virtual series anyway. Some of my favorite authors have never written a series, but I’ve purchased their new books as quickly as I could finish their previous ones. Even with no common characters or setting, there’s still a clear thread of similarity between the books. I recognize the structure, the style and the voice. A new book feels like a very satisfying continuation of my previous experiences with the author.

I better throw some fine print into this blog post in case I get lucky. If I were to somehow write a book that became stratospherically popular, you can bet I’ll be holed away, drafting sequels in earnest. I’d have a 20-book boxed set series in no time! Then I’ll delete this blog post and deny ever having written it.

My first two novels are different stories, but do contain one common character. See how I cheated? Sort of a series, but not really? I’m not suggesting you try this, but so far, the dash of character familiarity spanning two books has pleased some of my readers. I’m on my third novel, an all-new story. Readers of my first books will recognize the style, the structure, the pacing and I hope they’ll recognize the voice.

*Suck-ti-vi-ty: noun – A state or condition of extraordinarily poor quality. See synonyms at Atrociousness

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