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  1. Allison Brennan's Avatar
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    Default Series, Trilogies, Stand-Alones . . .

    I'm often asked what's the difference in series and trilogies. Here are some quick and easy ways of looking at your work so you know how to pitch it:

    SERIES

    Four or more books with the same main protagonist(s). A series may have a multi-book character arc and continuing secondary story lines that can be related to the suspense (i.e. a secondary suspense/mystery such as a missing child or spouse or unsolved murder) or the character relationships with a partner, relative, spouse, significant other, etc. (Tess Gerritsen, Michael Crais, Karin Slaughter, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Janet Evanovich, Linda Fairstein, J.D. Robb, etc.) While urban fantasy has brought more true series into the romance genre, there are few actually SERIES in romance. Romance readers generally prefer a hero/heroine who have a romance that is satisfying by the end of that novel. JD Robb has done an amazing job of growing Eve/Roarke's relationship over multiple books so it hasn't become old and tiresome (at least not for me!) She's using their very intriguing and tortured characters to give them real conflict that usually relates to the mystery they face in the book.

    My Seven Deadly Sins is a series because it takes the same core group of characters and they are the protagonists through all seven books.

    I'm launching my Lucy Kincaid series. She has a love interest (Sean Rogan) but there's not an HEA at the end of the first book. Instead, the relationship will grow over the course of multiple books. If I ended with two books, it would be a stand-alone and sequel; if I ended with three books it would be a trilogy. Series are particularly popular in mysteries. Some suspense/thriller writers also write series, and urban fantasy has as I said brought the series more boldly into romance (though it has been done before, it's rare.)


    CONNECTING SERIES/TRILOGY

    Many romance writers of all genres write connecting stories. These are books that are written in the same "world" and have recurring characters, but a different hero/heroine in each separate story. While your heroes and heroines and other characters may come back in other books, they will never again take the lead role. They were always be secondary characters before and after "their" book. This is the type of "series" that romance writers in particular have developed because romance readers don't read a traditional "series" (above.) While each of my trilogies have their own theme and recurring characters, all 12 of my romantic thrillers are loosely connected. Readers can read them separately and not be lost (as they might be in a true series.) A connecting series can be 3 or more books.

    Authors who write loosely connected series: myself, Karen Rose, Roxanne St. Claire (the Bullet Catchers--the head of the agency, Lucy Sharpe, is a staple and I think she's in every book, but there's a different Bullet Catcher as the hero in each book), many historical authors use the same "world" and backdrop characters (I don't read a lot of historicals.)

    TRILOGY

    A trilogy MAY have the same primary character(s) as the protagonist through all three books, or they may have the same characters but with a separate h/h in each book. Nora Roberts is the master of the tightly connected trilogy. The Three Sisters Island trilogy, for example, developed the three heroines as friends, and all three were in each book, but each book highlighted one of them. Nora's trilogies "stand alone" in that they do not connect (usually) to other trilogies. Often, however, her trilogies are so interconnected that you really need to read that particular trilogy in order to fully enjoy the stories and character development.

    You can do almost anything in the trilogy, which is why it's a favorite of readers, writers and publishers. If it fails, the publisher and author haven't invested in a series that might have loose ends. If it succeeds, you can build on it or build on something completely different.

    ADVICE: Beginning authors often ask me should they write the entire trilogy before trying to sell it. My advice has always been that the first book SHOULD be able to stand on it's own, but MAY be connected to a trilogy. Unless you're writing an story that specifically needs three books (often in fantasy, ala LORD OF THE RINGS, or some romantic suspense trilogies that are created with an over-arcing mystery) then it's best when starting out to give an agent (and publisher!) the OPTION. Why? Because you're positioning yourself to be able to do A or B. If a publisher loves your book but is over-inventoried in trilogies, they may not want to invest in another trilogy. By giving them the option, it shows that your book CAN stand alone. Publishers love connecting books . . . when they succeed. So introducing the hunky brother as a secondary character is always good! But if you write all three books, then you're tying the hands of the publisher. And if your first book isn't ready for publication, then you've spent a lot of time developing a story that isn't going to go anywhere and will likely change dramatically as you learn.

    So if you have a trilogy idea (or a series), my advice is to write the first book and a 1-2 pager for the next two books in the trilogy/series. For published authors, this can be cut to a proposal (three chapters/synopsis) plus one page on future books; or even a synopsis for the first book and a paragraph for future books. Most unpublished writers they want the complete manuscript.


    STAND-ALONE

    This is a novel that stands by itself--it does not have a major character who recurs in each book (series) nor a trilogy with recurring characters. Each book is a complete story that is done when you're finished. Thrillers and suspense novels and the "big" books are often stand-alones. Though Lisa Gardner has recurring characters, her books are more stand alone than a loosely connected series. Nora Roberts big hardcover that comes out every July is usually a stand alone. Many of the big romance writers (Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nora Roberts) write stand alones; you'll often hear about a "stand-alone" written by an author who also has a series (Lisa Scottoline's LOOK AGAIN or Michael Connelly's THE LINCOLN LAWYER--even though he brought Mickey Haller back in a subsequent Harry Bosch book).

    I wrote THE PREY as a stand-alone; my publisher when they bought it asked me to connect it into a trilogy. Stand-alones are usually hardcover, which is why you find more of them in thrillers/suspense than in romance. Romance novels are predominately published in mass market (and now trade.) There are many reasons for this, but the primary reason is that romance readers read ALOT more than other genre readers (and they read across genre more than other genre readers) and they can't afford to buy hardcovers en masse. Where the big thriller readers will read a couple books a year, and thus happy to buy 4-6 hardcovers because they only read that many books a year, romance readers read 4-6 books A MONTH.

    Okay, any questions on this? Anything else?

    I'll stick around for the rest of the week since last week got away from me and I didn't post when I wanted to!

    Allison
    Allison Brennan
    CARNAL SIN 6.22.10
    www.allisonbrennan.com
  2. Miss Mae's Avatar
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    Hi Allison,

    It's very nice to meet you, and thank you for this wonderful explanation. It helps A LOT as I've been asked by my current publisher (Whimsical Publications) to make my "It's Elementary, My Dear Winifred" as a series, and I was wondering, "how many books make a series?"

    So now I learn I need at least FOUR??? LOL *gulp* Hope I can come up with three more adventures for my hero, Remington Hawthorne, and heroine, Winifred Merryweather to find themselves in!


    "When the Bough Breaks", "See No Evil, My Pretty Lady", "Catch Me If You Can", "It's Extraordinary, My Dear Winifred", "Said the Spider to the Fly", available at both Smashwords and Amazon

    Visit me online at: http://themissmaesite.com



  3. Allison Brennan's Avatar
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    Hi Miss Mae:

    You can have a "series" as a "trilogy" if it ends after three books. What you call it has as much to do with marketing as anything else. However, a series definitely means a series of stories featuring one or more of the same character, so what your publisher wants is more books with your same characters, probably for as long as you want to write them provided that you're making your publisher money! Yeah!
    Allison Brennan
    CARNAL SIN 6.22.10
    www.allisonbrennan.com
  4. Miss Mae's Avatar
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    I hope it does make moola for her, and also some for me! LOL


    I may have missed it somewhere in this forum, but how long were you writing and submitting before you became published? Do you have an agent? Do you feel one is necessary? And what about marketing/promoting? Is the bulk of that left up to you?

    (Sorry. I'm nosy!)


    "When the Bough Breaks", "See No Evil, My Pretty Lady", "Catch Me If You Can", "It's Extraordinary, My Dear Winifred", "Said the Spider to the Fly", available at both Smashwords and Amazon

    Visit me online at: http://themissmaesite.com



  5. Allison Brennan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Miss Mae View Post

    I may have missed it somewhere in this forum, but how long were you writing and submitting before you became published? Do you have an agent? Do you feel one is necessary? And what about marketing/promoting? Is the bulk of that left up to you?

    (Sorry. I'm nosy!)

    Be nosy! That's how we all learn about the business.

    WRITING

    I've always been a writer. Even in my former career in the California State Legislature, I was a writer. But I never got serious about writing fiction for publication until my son was born (Brennan #3) and I was 30 and thinking wait, where's my life going? I didn't love my job anymore, I missed writing (I was so busy with three kids and a career and a husband and friends that writing came in last.) I re-prioritized my life and decided that if I wanted to be published, I had to put writing first behind family. I stopped bringing work home. I wrote every night--EVERY night--after the kids went to bed. I gave up virtually all television for three years. (Going from 2-3 hours a night to 2-3 hours a week--usually a movie with my husband on the weekend.) When I was at that point, it was March of 2002. I got an agent in February of 2004 and we sold three weeks later, exactly two years from my commitment to writing. In those two years, I wrote five manuscripts--and started at least 15 others.

    AGENTS

    As far as getting an agent: I never submitted directly to publishers. I wanted to sell to a major house, and I felt that if my work didn't appeal to agents, then I would keep writing until I caught an agent's eye. Many people sell without an agent, though it's harder now than before because the market is tight and so many people are trying to break in. Few editors will read unagented material (in a major NY house.) I was rejected over 100 times with my first four manuscripts (I didn't query my third manuscript--I only finished it because I didn't want to get into the rut of not finishing but when I was halfway done, I realized that it was crap.) My fifth manuscript I had a critique group who loved it, I knew it was strong, and I only queried 12 agents--seven requested partials or fulls. On the day I got a rejection from one agent, I had a request of representation from another.

    I recently left my agent of six years and am currently interviewing others. The difference is night and day. When you're published (especially with a major house), you don't have to query. You can simply call or email an agent directly. They don't sign you immediately (nor do you want them to--you want them to love your work as much as your original agent) but you have a big foot in the door. So I have three agents reading, and one agent told me she couldn't take me on because of time, but referred me to another agent in the same agency.

    I absolutely feel that having an agent is necessary--a good agent. Publishers prefer agented authors as well because a good agent will know what to ask for and when; they focus on the negotiations. Editors can be more blunt with an agent than an author. There isn't drama. Agents will almost always be able to get you more money and better terms. The boilerplate contract from publishers always benefits them; you need an agent who has their own boilerplate changes with their agency, and then modify the contract for your special needs and concerns. This is not typical contract negotiation. Your agent is your buffer when you get a bad cover; when the cover copy is wrong but they claim they can't change it; they are your buffer when you have a disagreement with your editor that can't easily be resolved. They exploit all your other rights--foreign, audio, film, subsidiary--whatever rights you retained. They earn their 15%--and if you don't think they are earning it, then you need to find a new agent. My agent absolutely earned her 15% and then some. I would never swim in these waters without an agent--and I'm pretty business savvy.

    Your agent is your partner and your business manager; they should be as invested in your career as you are. But they are still your agent--and though not an employee (I like the term "team" when talking about my agent, editor, and me) they still do work for you. You hire them because of their experience and because you trust their advice. In exchange, they help implement your goals through all the things they do, and receive 15% compensation.

    Some successful authors have not had good experiences with agents and don't have one and are doing fine. But the authors I'm thinking of have a long history in publishing and understand the business. It's not something that I would ever recommend, however, especially for new or emerging or unpublished authors. And even though I have 13 books on the NYT list, I would not go into my next contract without an agent.

    MARKETING/PROMOTION

    Too many authors spend too much time and money on marketing and promotion. Yes, we need to do the basics. Have a website, for example. But if you're spending far more on marketing and promotion than you received in an advance, then you're spending too much.

    There is a big difference between small press, e-press, and major houses. It's my understanding that small and e-press don't have much promotional dollars and it's really largely up to you to drive your own sales. Major houses would love for authors to spend their own money, but they will do the basics for your books--and if they're not, you have bigger problems.

    AT A MINIMUM: YOU, the author, should have a website. A place where people can learn more about you and your books. You should have that URL in your book jacket somewhere.

    MOST authors will chose a type of marketing/promotion that works well for them. Some people are comfortable blogging. Some people love Facebook. Some people hate all of that, but slowly build a mailing/email list. Some people will buy ads (though I don't believe that ads work unless well-targetted.) But here's the catch: if you're with a major publisher and your books are available in print at bookstores, if your publisher isn't distributing them well, nothing you do is going to drive sales high enough to make it work your time and money.

    Your time is best spent writing; your money is best spent promoting your website and you for the long-term, not book by book.

    Your publisher, at a minimum, should send out ARCs or galleys or finished copies (many publishers are no longer printing ARCs for mass market. They'll send the finished copies when the book is printed, about 3 weeks before the on-sale date.) They should put your book in their catalogue or e-mail list; they may do a group ad in RT or another venue. They should do a press release or something with the galleys, and obviously have you in the sales kit. If you have ideas, share with your publisher--for example, I did a book trailer with my first book. I sent it to my editor, and the sales team sent the link to their accounts. This helped generate some buzz. The thing is, I spent my own money on the trailer, but I didn't have the time or money to get it out there. If they didn't do it, it would have simply been a nice lead-in to my site. But because I hired a professional, the quality was excellent; it was 2005 and there weren't many trailers out there. I capitalized on that.

    Come up with ideas to promote yourself that you're comfortable with. Share with your publisher. You might be surprised at what they'll do.

    Here is also where an agent will come in handy. They'll help come up with ideas and help get the publisher to do them.

    But also consider this: there are so many books out there today, and so many promotions by so many authors, what will make you stand out? And do you have the money to do it? James Patterson spent a million dollars to do television ads on his first book, but he was in the advertising business and knew how to get those ads for pennies on the dollar (there's a term, like residual ads or something, but he still spent a million dollars.) I don't have a million dollars. Nor do I have the marketing talent to create the campaign myself. Most of us can't do that to be an overnight success. And if your books are not widely distributed, nothing you do is going to truly help.

    What you want is to write more books--your backlist sells your current title. And find a promotional tool that you enjoy, and that doesn't break the bank.

    Many small press publishers will tell you you have to do A, B, C. I know an author who has two small press books out and she has spent far more money promoting them than she'll ever make selling them. Thousands and thousands of dollars with ads and gimmicks and everything you can think of.

    I believe that books sell books--so I have invested in buying a bunch of my books at cost and giving them away. I've given away over 2,000 books over the last five years. Conferences, raffles, donations, the guy who came to install our phone, my trainer's best friend's wife. It breeds good will and if they like it, they'll buy your next. And if they like it and like you, they'll talk about it with their friends. Word of mouth sells books better than anything else.

    Hmm, probably not exactly what you're looking for! If you have more questions, shoot them my way, though I won't be back at the computer until later-- another volleyball tournament this afternoon!
    Allison Brennan
    CARNAL SIN 6.22.10
    www.allisonbrennan.com
  6. Miss Mae's Avatar
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    Thank you for the wealth of information.

    I've queried a few agents, but it takes forever and a day to hear back from them, they are as slow as the NY houses to return any answers.

    So I've either gone with small presses, and am now trying my hand at self-publishing. What I need now is a marketing person!


    "When the Bough Breaks", "See No Evil, My Pretty Lady", "Catch Me If You Can", "It's Extraordinary, My Dear Winifred", "Said the Spider to the Fly", available at both Smashwords and Amazon

    Visit me online at: http://themissmaesite.com



  7. Dawn Chartier's Avatar
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    Allison,

    I think you are right about that. "Word of mouth" sells better. Unless you have millions to promote.

    You said you are agent hunting again. Now that you know the business side you know what to look for, but for those like me who are on the hunt for the first time - what kind of questions do you think we should ask an agent?

    I'm meeting with my dream agent at Nationals for a chat, but I'm not sure what exactly I should be asking her. Its not a pitch session, its more of a "meet" session...she told me to catch up with her after her presentation. How would you handle that?

    Dawn

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