The Future of Fiction–From Tiny to Titanic, How to Claim Your Niche

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Last post, I talked about the increasing popularity of series, novellas, shorts and “episodic” writing. Of course, this assertion probably stirred panic in those writers who simply aren’t wired to write series. Personally, I would like to try writing a series, but we’ll see. I might be a stand-alone gal, too.

Let me offer a bit of comfort. The rule that we shouldn’t write to the market still holds true in this case. Just like we shouldn’t decide to write a Vampire-Post-Apacolyptic-Self-Help because those are hot, we shouldn’t take on shorts or series if they aren’t our thing.

Epics, Shorts, and Series are NOT New

What many people might miss is that epics and shorts are not new. With the advent of the nifty thingamajig—the “printing press”—pamphlets were all the rage back in the 1800s. In fact, if we look at early writing, we see two very divergent sizes. On the end of brevity? Ben Franklin Poor Man’s Almanac or even Sir Author Conan Doyle’s short stories. The deep end? The breathtakingly-long-and-detailed-OMG War and Peace by Tolstoy—which demonstrates clearly that, when an author is paid by the word, he will pad that sucker more than a freshman term paper.

Even Charles Dickens danced both sides of the length-spectrum. A Christmas Carol versus A Tale of Two Cities.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

Image via Flickr Creative Commons, courtesy of Mike Licht

In the early 20th century, pulp fiction was extremely popular. People loved short works that fit in a pocket, ergo, the term “pocket books.” But, as the traditional publishing model evolved and books became bigger business, publishers realized they could charge more money for a longer book. This didn’t mean the audience for short stories and novellas suddenly went away. It had more to do with a business model than reader preferences.

We see the same with epic high fantasy and science fiction. When I was a kid, books big enough to brain a burglar were hot. Um, Clan of the Cave Bear? Ah, but the publishers realized that long books presented a couple of problems.

First, if the word count got too big, the font was so small readers needed a microscope to read it. Secondly, a big fat honkin’ book took up a LOT of shelf space. Why would a publisher bank on FIVE 140,000 word books when they could encourage writers to limit word count and be able to shelve and sell TEN 70,000 word books?

But again, shelf space, cost of paper/shipping/shelving, profit-models didn’t mean that readers who loved 140,000 book died off or evaporated.

The Digital Paradigm Revival

When I began as a writer, agents were quick to turn down short stories, novellas, epics, poetry, etc. It wasn’t because there weren’t readers for these types of writing; it was that the profit simply wasn’t there in a paper-based-brick-and-mortar model. And, to be blunt, I can’t blame New York. I remember being a young whipper snapper inhaling Tolkien, but my eyes were better.

By the time I reached my adult years, reading 1200 pages with 9 font was far too grueling.

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Christian Guthier

Image via Flickr Commons, courtesy of Christian Guthier

The e-reader has solved this problem. It’s made short works profitable. For those who are great at writing shorter works or serialized works, you can now access the audience that loves them and in a way that doesn’t automatically land you in the red.

For those who are strong at more epic fiction, now you can either publish one long book or break it into installments. I know I never would have been able to read Game of Thrones in paper without going BLIND. With my Kindle? I can now enjoy those super long adventures I adored in my youth.

Yes, there is a lot of chaos, confusion and growing pains as the publishing world shifts and grows and molts the old skin that no longer fits. In the midst of this, however, there is now room for more writers, more works, and more types of work, which should be very encouraging.

Also, writers can now enjoy far greater flexibility. Sure, if you want to publish traditionally, you can! But if you have the right contract, there is nothing stopping you from writing shorts or novellas or series or testing other genres in between books if you want to. Keep the fan fires burning in between.

There is ALWAYS an Audience

If you want to write stand-alones only? Great. Do it. That is your strength. Don’t feel that because series are hot you need to suddenly retool everything. There is just as much of an audience for the stand-alone as there is for the shorter or way longer stuff. The only difference is that publishing has been feeding your audience for the past couple decades, whereas those who liked super-short or uber-long had to read older books or look to magazines or e-zines.

If you DO, however, want to write a series, there are some fundamentals to ensure that your plot skeleton is strong and compelling. Plot is the delivery mechanism for character. Our characters can only be as strong as the problems they face.

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Last post I talked about loving Battlestar Galactica. I can SEE why this series is so iconic. Hubby and I went back and watched Caprica because we were interested in what happened before the Cylon revolt. How did the Cylons come to be? The first few episodes? LOVED them. Now? I can see why the series wasn’t renewed. The overall plot problem is too small and too weak. There is no impending threat, so the series, for me, is fizzling.

Also, without a BIG and COMPELLING story problem, the individual characters aren’t as strong. The pressure is weak, thus the characters are too. Instead of truly heroic feats, I am seeing more and more melodrama and getting to where I hate almost everyone. Why? Because in Battlestar Galactica characters did awful, bad and stupid things, but we could forgive them. They were running for their lives and staring into the face of extinction. The story PROBLEM permitted us to give them grace.

In Caprica there is no large problem so this makes the characters petty and unlikable. Also, in Battlestar Galactica we knew the log-line. The human race must destroy or evade the Cylons and find Earth before they are rendered extinct by their own creation.

The audience in ONE SENTENCE knows the story, whether it is three episodes or thirty. GOAL: Find Earth. Every setback that keeps Earth out of reach or dashes hope of even finding Earth or any hint Earth might not exist makes us nervous. It is true dramatic tension.

Caprica? Once I got an idea of how the Cylons came to be? I grew bored. There is NO imminent threat, no crucible, no idea of an overall problem in need of solving. Each episode is just “stuff happening.” It is breaking one of the core rules of a good series. Every episode should be able to stand alone. Every episode should have a clear smaller goal that is a step toward reaching the larger goal.

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

Original image courtesy of flowcomm, via Flickr Commons

And, to be blunt, Caprica might simply be facing the problem most prequels have. We already know the end. We already know the Cylons will rebel and wage war and nearly wipe out humans. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy I watched Caprica because now I understand the Cylons more and the humans sorta deserved what they got. But, it is tough to have a ticking clock and a disaster to be averted when the audience already knows the humans will “lose.”

Whether we write short works, long works, in-between works, serialized or unserialized, the same “rules” apply. We’ll talk more later about how to write a strong series, but a great start no matter what kind of story—short, long, in-between, connected, unconnected—is to create a clear, compelling, story-worthy problem.

What are your thoughts? Do you have series that fizzled for you for the same reasons? There wasn’t a strong problem or a clear problem? Can you think of stories you loved versus ones that lost your interest because it devolved into confusion or melodrama? Are you contemplating a series? Why?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of APRIL, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

For a LONG-TERM plan for a fit, healthy platform, please check out my latest book Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World.

 

 

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  1. #1 by Mom on April 7, 2014 - 11:55 am

    You do wonderful work.

  2. #2 by Nicole Grabner on April 7, 2014 - 12:03 pm

    I would LOVE to write a series and have drafted a few outlines, but have not fully written one yet. I love series books (when they are written well and not just for the sake of being a series), because it gives me a chance to see what happens to the characters that I love more than just in one book. (Does that make sense?) At the end of the day though, the thought of writing a series is a little overwhelming. I’d think you’d have to be super organized to have a good plot line that maintains that power throughout that keeps your readers…reading. :)

  3. #3 by annerallen on April 7, 2014 - 12:15 pm

    I wondered why I lost interest in Caprica–but you explained it perfectly, Kristen. The stakes weren’t high enough. And we knew the ending, (although with powerful characters, that doesn’t always matter.)

    But your core message here is so important: books of any length can find an audience these days. We are so lucky to be writing in a time when so many things are possible!

    I just got a scathing email from a reader who’s furious with me for posting a guest piece urging new writers to publish short fiction while they’re in the query process. But fiction of ALL lengths is useful for building a career these days. And as you said last week, novellas in a series may be the sweet spot. It’s certainly ridiculous to say writing shorter fiction isn’t “actually writing” the way composing an epic is.

  4. #4 by Anna Erishkigal on April 7, 2014 - 12:38 pm

    I write epic fantasy / space opera, and my genre readers WILL NOT even pick up a book that is less than 450 pages long (their preference is 1000+ page doorstoppers). If what David Gaughran says is true about the Amazon algorithms favoring writers who can publish every 90 days, the new pressure to publish short stories and serials puts genre writers such as me at a distinct disadvantage. My stories are too long, too complex, too BIG to write in less than a year, and they’re so convoluted that even if you serialize them, the story will suffer because NO epic fantasy writer can simply plot out a skeleton and then expect the story will remain as big and heroic as they envision.

    Epic fantasy is the ‘chess’ of books … you have multiple important pieces you need to move up the board in a series of smaller plays, but in the end, it’s all about capturing the king. That just doesn’t translate all that well into a serial. I can’t tell you how many times I come up with a brilliant idea in chapter 112, and then have to go back to chapter 3 and start weaving in breadcrumbs amongst the huge POV casts and multiple storylines. Serials turn epic fantasy into Caprica.

    You can’t simply charge more for them, either, because in this digital e-world, a reader can’t tell when they look at two books online that one is a 15,000 word novella and the other is a 350,000 word epic fantasy novel. All they see is one costs $2.99, the other costs $3.99, and unless they are savvy enough to translate the MB file size into an approximate word and page count, they have no idea until they download it that the cheaper book is only a serial or a novella. Sure … it doesn’t COST me much more to e-publish a doorstopper than a novella, but the genre suffers because of it. And I suffer for it because my readers demand one thing, then get angry because they don’t understand the deck is stacked against me to provide it for them. It’s the same anger fans express at GRRM because his books take several years in between to write and publish. HE has refused to release them as serials for the same reason I do. If you write that way, it will no longer be EPIC fantasy.

    Urf! Just venting, I guess. I’ve already told fans that when I finish this current series, it will be my last one (in that genre). I can’t keep working for free, and I refuse to sacrifice the quality of my story for the ‘live for the moment’ mentality of ‘just give me this next chapter right now.’ I don’t mind so much not being able to charge more just because my book is bigger and took a year to write instead of 60 days, but I -do- mind that the algorithms are so heavily stacked against me that I get PUNISHED for taking my time to write a quality epic fantasy doorstopper instead of just pumping them out as a serial or a series of smaller standalone novels.

    • #5 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 7, 2014 - 2:05 pm

      We can’t please everyone. Just can’t. But the cool thing is that door-stoppers would have NEVER been published five years ago. Now, they can be. And word-of-mouth can certainly work in your favor. Algorithms are losing power so just write what you love and do it with excellence and your readers will find you. And humans ALWAYS complain. We have to learn to be a benevolent dictatorship and say, “I will take that under advisement” and press on. We don’t have to write-by-committee.

    • #6 by Stephanie Scott on April 7, 2014 - 2:36 pm

      Just armchair observations here, but some of these publishing-every-90-days authors, have you read them? Those later books in the series tend to have diminishing quality, repeated themes. If you’re writing say, contemporary romance where a few key elements can be switched up to create a new story, then that probably works for those writers and their fans. I’m happy for writers who found something that works for them and readers who can keep up. But there is absoutely still an audience for longer books, especially genre like you mention. I suppose the popularity of epic fantasy might wane in the face of new trends, but there are people who still want to read those books.

  5. #7 by drshaywest on April 7, 2014 - 12:42 pm

    This is exactly why I loathed the Star Wars prequels. We already KNEW how it was gonna end. We didn’t need the pod race, crazy uber Yoda that could flip and fight like 10 bad guys at once, JarJar, little Anny, none of it. It’s not like Lucas can all of a sudden throw in Anny turning his life around and living to a ripe old age with Amidala.

    • #8 by Stephanie Scott on April 7, 2014 - 2:38 pm

      You’re so right that the Star Wars prequels did not work. However, I think they COULD have. Phantom Menace has a story, it just didn’t know who to focus on for half the movie, so there is no Luke we are with for most of the ride. It’s a lot of characters and stuff is happening. The issue is we aren’t connected to a main character for their journey–at least that’s my take. I do think the Anakin story line could have worked, but we needed to be there with him from the start instead of with Qui-gon and Jar Jar.

    • #9 by Deborah Makarios on April 8, 2014 - 3:48 am

      That’s exactly the example I thought of, too. I knew Anakin was going to turn bad (and frankly he was kinda annoying to begin with) and thus there wasn’t anything to hope or fear. Just a whole lotta special effects, and a whole lotta Temuera Morrison.

  6. #10 by drshaywest on April 7, 2014 - 12:43 pm

    Reblogged this on Dr. Shay West and commented:
    Here’s Kristin Lamb’s take on what it takes to write a compelling series! I gotta agree: make the stakes so high that it seems almost impossible that your characters will ever overcome them!

  7. #11 by swiveltam on April 7, 2014 - 12:50 pm

    Love the reference to Doyle and Franklin! I was thinking about these short books the other day as I finished up my compilation. Not sure if I should try to sell separately as well, but might parse out one or two stories. It’s a weird world to navigate with being able to self-pub parts and whole books. Exciting, but sometimes overwhelming with the choices.

  8. #12 by Ron Estrada on April 7, 2014 - 1:10 pm

    I had the same issue with Bate’s Motel. Once I learned how Norman became Norman, it kind of fizzled for me. That, and they killed off the totally hot English teacher (really, it was my ultimate high school fantasy…dead). I really am intrigued with writing a series made up of short novellas. It’s easy enough with digital. The hard part, like you say, is keeping that goal in sight. Once you start to meander, it’s all over.

  9. #13 by Michelle Proulx on April 7, 2014 - 1:50 pm

    Well, just speaking from personal experience, I had that problem while working on my sequel to my YA sci-fi novel. Thing is, I had all the fun stuff — lots of action and bickering and romantic entanglements and whatnot. But as for the actual plot … they mostly just flew around space and had little mini-adventures. There was no coherent over-arching plot … meaning that by the time it got to the end, I was left with the feeling of “Okay … but what was the point?” I’ve since re-worked the sequel so that it actually has a point, but it definitely wasn’t easy!!!

  10. #14 by sharonhughson on April 7, 2014 - 1:57 pm

    Ah yes, stakes and character. How to keep them front and center but offer enough “feel good” to keep readers coming back for more. It’s easier to see what works in other books than for me to make my own series ratchet up the tension.

  11. #15 by mentzer2150 on April 7, 2014 - 2:14 pm

    Great article Kristen! I would love nothing more than to write a stand alone novel, but as I get rolling on the story, my brain has already thought up ideas for the next four books. Not that it’s a bad idea, guess I like my characters to much to stop at one.

  12. #16 by Heather on April 7, 2014 - 2:23 pm

    My latest work was actually supposed to be stand-alone, but I’m thinking of making it a 3-novel series. I wrote the first draft, and then a few months later, reread it, realizing that there was more that could be written (and I loved writing the character that much!) But I had to make sure there was enough growth for the main character to make it a series. And I think there is. The plots aren’t solidified yet, but I know her growth for each book, which I think is important.

    As for series I lost interest in? Lost was one, after they killed off my favorite character in season 3. If I can predict the ending, or the way it’s headed, I don’t like it, and will stop watching. Maybe I’m fickle, but I guess I like to be kept on my toes.

  13. #17 by sknicholls on April 7, 2014 - 2:25 pm

    I suppose it all depends on what you want to write. I don’t write genre fiction. I find airport novels petty. That may come across as snooty, but every novella I have read left me feeling like something was lacking. Not everything in literature is supposed to be clear and concise. I do understand having a main plot and subplots. The subplots can be accomplished along the way perhaps better in a series than a stand alone, but their purposes may be different. There may be an overall goal that can only be achieved through a stand alone.

    I love Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens. I could not imagine their work being any shorter and having the same effect. I suppose you could take Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and break it down to before the war, during the war, and after the war…but I doubt it would have been the masterpiece of achievement that it was…even though it might have come across as melodramatic.

    My apologies to genre fiction writers. As a reader, I have issue with much contemporary literature being edited down to nuts and bolts. I actually enjoy high minded ideals dissecting the human condition or creating timeless portraits of complex and interesting characters — in other words, I’m talking about going out and committing “literature,” whatever that might be.

    I wrote a story and had editorial reviews done. One said there was entirely too much information for one book and suggested rewriting as a trilogy. (And offered their editing services for a fee.)They loved the story, and it pained them to say, but they felt the average reader would find the layered story lines too complicated. That’s not saying much for the intellect of the average reader IMHO. It was a lot of info covering prejudice, abortion, sexism…but it was a fictionalized true story of something that actually happened to real people. There was a great plot and a satisfying ending.

    Kirkus found stellar things to say about it and did not recommend any rewriting. They also pointed out a nearly fatal flaw…which I knew existed. It was also referred to as a melodrama, which I did not like at first, but I lost the bitter taste after I read up on some examples of melodrama in literature.

    Again, I have to say that it all depends on what you hope to achieve with your writing. I am writing a novel now. I have had ambivalence regarding whether to do a series or a stand alone. It is complex subject matter. Do I try to appeal to the contemporary reader/market as defined by that first editorial review, or do I proceed with another stand alone book that might be termed a melodrama, because sometimes literary fiction is?

  14. #18 by sknicholls on April 7, 2014 - 2:36 pm

    add not: Kirkus DID say, An “enjoyable” melodrama. ;)

  15. #19 by Miriam Joy on April 7, 2014 - 2:36 pm

    I’m working on a series of eight books, but that was actually an accident. I wrote a book that turned into a trilogy, figured out that my characters were mostly immortal or long-lived so they had a lot of stories to tell, wrote a prequel, and then realised that was a better place to start the story. So I sat and did some planning and ended up needing four books to link the prequel to what was originally ‘book one’, and found myself with a series.

    I’ve been super attached to these characters for about four years now, so I’m very excited about following their stories over a larger number of books than originally planned. And there are a lot of them, so not all the books focus on the same people in the same way, although there is one character who links it. But basically i got too attached to let them go after just three books. (I think they turned out better when I focused on them younger, too.)

  16. #20 by Stephanie Scott on April 7, 2014 - 2:42 pm

    I just watched the movie Austenland which I felt little connection with as far as plot and stakes. The movie was based on a book, which I haven’t read, so I don’t know what the movie picked and chose from. The premise was fun–a Pride & Prejudice fangirl sets off to England for an immersive Jane Austen theme park experience. Fun idea! Then what? Like the blog said, it was just kind of Things Happening (not to mention the movie didn’t seem to understand the inherent satire Austen writes in her own books, instead showing bumbling Americans lusting after strip-teasing Regency-era wannabes. It was supposed to be funny but left me scratching my head). I would have loved to see more of a story set in this setting, but the setting itself wasn’t enough to sustain it.

  17. #21 by Kelly Byrne on April 7, 2014 - 2:45 pm

    Those are the same reasons I left Caprica behind. I just didn’t care – AND – the characters were really really annoying. We can forgive characters almost anything when we like them (Adama) but when we don’t? Nope. We turn the channel.

    Great reminders for any story or series – long, short, or in between. Make it matter. Thanks, Kristen.

  18. #22 by Charlayne Charlie Denney on April 7, 2014 - 2:47 pm

    Oh boy, that was so relevant to me right now. Last year I was working on my first novel, supposed to be a simple vampire/angel romance one-off. But the characters had other ideas and by the time I finished, on a cliff hanger no less, I had committed to a series of at least 3, probably 5 books. It’s grown into some serious war stuff along with the overarching romance.

    A prostitute who is religious, a horny angel-turned-vampire with rage issues, and a vampire cat. That’s the one line description of Lilly’s Angel.

    I am now on the second, Marcus’ Vampire, and it’s already 50k and I’m still needing to write another 14 chapters. I’m looking to the 140,000 word count, then hopefully editing will tighten it down to a cozy 100k or so.

    I’ve been panicking in the background as the numbers grow and I see the rest of the series. My husband, who loves epic-sized books keeps telling me it’s okay, but I also am self-publishing and have paperback copies of “Lilly” and want to do that with “Marcus”.

    You gave me hope on it. Thanks!

  19. #23 by Sarah Magnolia on April 7, 2014 - 4:07 pm

    Thanks for this post! I really enjoyed it – right now I’m working on short stories (based of YA bestsellers for my friends) and this hit home with me!! I’m going to apply what you talked about in regards to “Caprica” to my short stories – make them strong enough to stand alone, make the characters believable, change the story up, make the ending varied etc.
    Thank you for your tips!! They’re so insightful for me!

  20. #24 by Liz Crowe on April 7, 2014 - 4:28 pm

    I like to read AND write series. I have one stand alone that is one of my best sellers, hands down BUT the Stewart Realty series outsells everything in aggregate. Of course, when I ended it “full stop” as it were last November I made some people very very (very) angry. But I’m working on another series now and it has a cool, pro-soccer team based side series, so…there you go. Thanks once again for your insightful post Kristen

  21. #25 by Aul on April 7, 2014 - 4:42 pm

    I gotta say, your posts are long! Can blogging be your living somehow?
    Aul

    • #26 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 7, 2014 - 5:51 pm

      I’ve done blog-to-book, so yes. I try to break them up with lots of pictures :D .

      • #27 by Aul on April 7, 2014 - 6:59 pm

        Wow who knew? That sounds like a fun job :)
        LoL, your pictures are fantastic. My favorite one so far has been the Kristen temper-tantrum with the bomb exploding :D
        Aul

  22. #28 by lisarosewrites on April 7, 2014 - 4:53 pm

    I like short works. I like the instant pay-off. I’m impatient. This is probably why I taught first grade for so many years. Short books. But now as a busy mom of a special needs child, I simply don’t have the time (before I drop) to read long books. Short fits my lifestyle. I think short fits many people’s life style. This is why it is successful.
    Also, I think it is harder to write short. M*A*S*H in 23 minutes often made you laugh, cry, and a comment about society —I have read 600 pages books that couldn’t accomplish this.

  23. #29 by ugiridharaprasad on April 7, 2014 - 6:10 pm

    Reblogged this on ugiridharaprasad.

  24. #30 by glenperk on April 7, 2014 - 6:17 pm

    I haven’t thought much about a series interconnected by anything but the main character. Most projects have fizzled out as I’m still learning how to write.

    At the moment writing anything over 2,000 words is a big task; too many flash fiction stories have squeezed me into a corner with tight word counts, and I haven’t found a way out yet.

  25. #31 by symplysilent on April 7, 2014 - 6:38 pm

    I can hardly wait to hear what you have to say about a series. In my critique group on Scribophile, while working a logline (funny you should bring that up) I discovered I didn’t understand my story, that I was thinking far too small. With the help of two people, I think I have the possibility of a series, or at least a trilogy.

    Everything I felt about my story as I wrote it rings true to the problem with a series. I think I was writing the middle book of the trilogy. Not only that, I think I was writing just Parts 2 and 3. I took to heart starting in the middle, and that’s just what I did. Of course, I now have 15,000 words that are in for the mother of revisions, when I finally get back to them.

    Thank you,

    Silent

  26. #32 by Daven Anderson on April 7, 2014 - 7:05 pm

    One of the best things about the digital revolution is bypassing the old print-based gatekeeper limitations. Entire genres such as poetry and novellas have been resurrected.

    Also, I must admit to a certain perverse amusement when the big guys publish something like the Fifty Shades trilogy, which would not have passed any of their gatekeeping rules, AND their signing is an obvious quick cash grab (following the coattails of something that became a success on its own).

    All this sets up for the best rejection letter comeback ever: “You published Fifty Shades, but not me?” :twisted:

  27. #33 by Daven Anderson on April 7, 2014 - 7:14 pm

    Reblogged this on Daven Anderson's Blog.

  28. #34 by Kelly Roberts on April 7, 2014 - 7:22 pm

    I think about what I like to read. When it comes down to it, if the story and characters suck me in, then I’ll read whatever else the author has written—series or stand-alone. I’m guessing there are readers out there like me who may like my novels well enough to read each successive book, even if they are stand-alones.

  29. #35 by Stacey Haggard Brewer on April 7, 2014 - 7:34 pm

    My mother chooses a book by walking into a bookstore, picking up a book and looking at it end-on. The thicker the better. And if it’s part of a series of equally brick-like books? So much the better.

    I have some story ideas that I think will lend themselves to series, but my active projects right now will, I think, remain stand-alones.

  30. #36 by cfjeanjean on April 7, 2014 - 11:47 pm

    This is so serendipitous – I have been working on a book which is to be the first in a series, and whilst writing out the plot realised that the first act of book 1 as big enough to be a novella in itself. So rather than try to write a monstrous behemoth of a book, I’m going to make it as a series of novellas which I think will work much better – and clearly is the right way to go in the current market!

    Thanks for a great post!

  31. #37 by Devika Fernando on April 8, 2014 - 12:05 am

    Great article and initiative! I recently debuted with my first self-published novella and now I’m writing on a novel for a series and another stand-alone novel. What I don’t like about some books that are part of a series is when they end with a cliff hanger and you can’t be sure whether you’ll ever get to read the sequel or how long you’ll have to wait. That’s why I prefer series with stand-alone books.

  32. #38 by Gry Ranfelt on April 8, 2014 - 4:45 am

    I heard that in the new paradigm mostly there’s just being more of the popular stuff spewed out (mystery and romance) while the other genres still publish the same amounts of books. (I think they meant percentages)
    Anyway, just something I heard.
    Personally I’ve started reading more genres with the e-book. More flash fiction, more short stories.

    I just think it’s hard to FIND. I’m looking for a good new fantasy book (adult) to dive into. That genre drowns in YA. How do we navigate the fiction waters to find what we like?

  33. #39 by Willow Wood on April 8, 2014 - 6:04 am

    This was really interesting to read and very well put across as I co-write serialised fiction. This part resonated with me the most: ‘Every episode should have a clear smaller goal that is a step toward reaching the larger goal.’

    That’s exactly our intent with every episode, we have two goals per episode; we think of it as “main plot and sub-plot goals”. Something has to happen that furthers the main plot or lays the ground work/is relevant to future events, and something has to happen that is relevant to that episode only. Planning is absolutely critical, especially if it has multiple seasons, as the end of each season must feel like an achievement but also a doorway to a new horizon. I love episodic writing for this reason – the planning and payoffs are so worth the work.

    Really enjoyed this post!

  34. #40 by Jane Sadek on April 8, 2014 - 8:05 am

    Rethinking Earlywood again. Is self-publishing finally making sense for that 300K word monster I wrote when I didn’t know what I was doing?

  35. #41 by A.R. Román on April 8, 2014 - 8:54 am

    The same thing happen to me with Caprica. BG was well written and had compelling characters. Caprica lacked the strong storyline if its counter part and that is something that has been happening with spinoffs. For example, Once Uoon a Time and OUAT Wonderland. I did not care for the second, but still love the original. Great article! Thanks!

  36. #42 by bardotbarbiturate on April 8, 2014 - 9:54 am

    I tend to measure TV and and books by different standards. I give television a lot more leeway because whilst some shows start off well and manage to sustain it, others may take a couple of seasons to settle in before they really get into their stride. Sometimes watching a new series is like watching Bambi trying to walk on ice, it’s a all over the place. I usually stick it out for a few years to see if it grows into its potential (or gains any). Unlike a book, there are many fingers and toes stuck in the TV pie which contribute to its success or failure. I spent four years trying to figure out whether or not I liked Fringe. By the fifth season I decided I did. I would have liked to have seen more of Caprica. There were a few themes that could have been picked up and developed, season one was more introducing a lot of things without knowing where they were going with any of them. Would have loved more of FlashForward and I think that Fox are the only people on the planet who didn’t want Firefly to continue. I am considering giving Believe a miss. I’ve only seen the first two episodes but a child with special abilities being pursued by evil people wanting to use their powers for no good? AGAIN? Maybe there will be something that sets Believe apart from others who have used the premise, I just don’t see it yet.

    I am concerned about writing a prequel for the very reason you brought up, the ending is already known. The trick is going to be making the journey in the prequel compelling enough in its own right that knowing the final outcome makes no difference. No pressure at all!

  37. #43 by Sarah Brentyn on April 8, 2014 - 10:05 am

    I read a lot of YA and there seems to always be tons of books involved. Trilogies. Series. Even prequels, sequels, and the ever-popular #1.5 or #2.5 written after the trilogy which took place between books 1 and 2 or books 2 and 3. I like them but am also constantly looking for any YA that is a stand-alone because I binge-read trilogies/series.

    There are some cool books that have the same characters, set in the same worlds, that aren’t technically “series”. Those are great if you can’t get your hands on a stand-alone.

  38. #44 by frugalistagiftguide on April 8, 2014 - 11:22 am

    Kristen, nicely articulated! I disliked Caprica, esp since it I watched in the non-streaming, DVD by mail days. I think series books are great as long as they are written well and are consistent in the theme and story line. And I love Jean Auel – her books will never go to Half-Priced Books for resale; keeping to re-read every couple of years. Thanks for the insights.

  39. #45 by ontyrepassages on April 8, 2014 - 12:40 pm

    If ever there was an “Age of the Niche” this is it…tight genres, mixed genres, epic novels, serials. The list goes on and on. The real challenge is prettying-up your niche store so the right customers want to enter and browse. Ah, sounds like a book I read…something about rising machines… :)

  40. #46 by Denise D. Young on April 8, 2014 - 12:56 pm

    I enjoy series, but sometimes I just want to read a stand-alone book. I don’t have enough time/energy/money to commit to a lot of series in the genres I read in. I hate not finishing something, so once I start reading a series, I want to see how it ends. I end up reading a mix of series along with stand-alone works.

    As far as my own writing, I’m aiming for a mix of short and longer workers–novellas and novelettes mixed with full-length novels. I’m so glad that the novella is back in fashion thanks to the e-book and the digital revolution. I love reading and writing novellas, but they were hard to come by and almost impossible to write a decade ago. Now I can read and write them to my heart’s content. :)

    I’m curious to hear how others feel about serialized novels, though. I still want each book I read to have a complete plot arc, even if there are some parts that are to-be-continued. I wonder how others feel about that aspect of serialized works. Shouldn’t there be at least some plot points that are resolved at the end so the book stands on it own, even if the series continues?

  41. #47 by gingerlovinmind on April 8, 2014 - 12:57 pm

    I happen to love short stories, but I might be in the minority. With one of my short stories, I kept getting people asking for more of the story, so I am seeing if it might have a novel in there wanting to come out.

  42. #48 by Hoarder Comes Clean on April 8, 2014 - 1:09 pm

    Great to hear from a fellow BSG fan. I tried Caprica too, but found no likeable characters to root for, and the answer to the mystique of Cylon religion was disappointing too.

  43. #49 by Linda Sharon Connelly on April 8, 2014 - 2:35 pm

    Good article. I’ve thought about serializing and how that could work for my manuscript. Food for thought. Good point about Caprica, well written and acted series but none of the tension like kept me watching BSG. Good stuff!

  44. #50 by M T McGuire on April 8, 2014 - 3:44 pm

    I have written a series, sort of by mistake. The fact it’s called a trilogy and there turned out to be four books kind of bears testament to that. Although in my defence, it turned into a series because the plot became too complicated to jemmy into one book…. And it went down hill from there. Phnark.

    Cheers

    MTM

  45. #51 by sstamm625 on April 8, 2014 - 7:49 pm

    I’m working on the second book in a trilogy now–and finding it much harder to write than the first was. I hear that’s true of seconds. Thanks for this post. Good food for thought as I whip book 2 into shape.

  46. #53 by Raani York on April 9, 2014 - 5:58 am

    When I wrote my first books they were “just books” to me and I knew I wanted to tell a story that ended after a certain amount of pages.
    It was different when I wrote my “Masterpiece” and when I was done I realized there’s much more to tell. It ended up becoming a Triolgy.
    What I started now with the New Projects I decided to write a Series right away since I know there’s so much to tell. We’ll see how extended it will be.

  47. #54 by Liza Perrat on April 9, 2014 - 8:42 am

    Thanks for a very interesting post, Kristen. I started writing an HF trilogy, based on the one character. At the end of the book I realised the character herself was less interesting than the farmhouse, and village, where she lived, so these inanimate things ended up being the series’ link, instead of a character.

  48. #55 by shelleyhazen83 on April 9, 2014 - 3:53 pm

    Encouraging. I’m not a novel gal, but more in the line of serials, short stories and novellas. I read often that short fiction is a hard sell, and glad to see I need a second opinion.

  49. #56 by Doré Bak on April 9, 2014 - 3:59 pm

    Thank you, Kristen. You have articulated precisely and clearly what have been mere inklings of my own. My writing of stories about unrequited love tends to naturally fall into the length of a long story or novella. But lately, I notice that when writing about family sagas, it feels more like a full-blown novel in progress. Yes, the story itself should determine the length of the book, if the author allows it.

  50. #57 by shad0wrav3n2014 on April 9, 2014 - 10:16 pm

    I myself am working on a sci fi series. Its an industrious endeavor but a loving labor all the same. I find that writing a series becomes a lot like trying to lose weight, get into a work out routine, or anything else that requires constant time and effort. Once you get into the swing of it you can make an amazing story so long as you don’t fall the way of so many TV series that seem to just follow the same old Cliche’ story arcs. However there are some days its just hard to continue the series when i have so many fresh new ideas.

    Sit down at the computer to write only to realize this part of the novel series STILL needs work? *Face Desk* But i wouldnt’ give up my series for the world.

  51. #58 by shad0wrav3n2014 on April 9, 2014 - 10:17 pm

    Reblogged this on remnantscc.

  52. #59 by Mark Fine on April 10, 2014 - 3:05 pm

    What I have found most enriching is the “generosity of spirit” I’ve discovered when reading the best blogs. Your blog reflects this culture of “sharing”, a culture which seems to lacking in the “real world” but is so present on the internet by those who understand this is a “karmic” two-way exchange of ideas, interests, passions, and support–for this Kristen I thank you.

  53. #60 by Icy Sedgwick on April 11, 2014 - 10:27 am

    When I first wrote my latest novella (and I’m a BIG advocate of the format because if I’m honest, my style just don’t suit epic tomes) I had no intention to write it as a series, but reviewers have started asking me to write another one. Based on their feedback, I’m not sure they necessarily want the same characters, they just want more of the world – and that’s fine. It frees me up to write new stories with new characters, but in a familiar setting!

  54. #61 by donnajeanmcdunn on April 11, 2014 - 12:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Donna Jean McDunn and commented:
    Since I’m in the process of writing a series, Book Two of the Nightmares Series will be released soon, I felt Kristen Lamb’s blog post fit right in. What do you think?

  55. #62 by donnajeanmcdunn on April 11, 2014 - 12:38 pm

    Hi Kristen, I reblogged your post on my blog. Hope that’s okay. I’m writing The Nightmares Series and hope to have the second book published soon.

    • #63 by Author Kristen Lamb on April 14, 2014 - 8:04 am

      You are always welcome to use any of my content ((HUGS)). And THANK YOU!

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