Here’s a great question I got recently from a fan.
If a writer’s first book isn’t the best but is the beginning of a series, should the writer continue with the series? I’ve learned a lot from the reviews of my book. I re-edited once according to these reviews, but I’ve decided to step away from it and not continue with more edits. I can do much better in my next books. I have a handle on the show and not tell problem. I will use fewer characters and give them more depth. Will the first book detract from the future ones in the series? Hard choices for me.
In general each book you write is better than the last one because (A) you’ve learned more and (B) therefore you are a better writer. Seeing problems just means you’ve learned how to spot them. (Learn more about that HERE) However, if you wrote a 3-part series, you may have had to introduce characters and places in book one that you don’t have to re-introduce in books two and three – and maybe that makes book one a little more detail oriented. Or, maybe by the time book three came around, you were just tired of doing it and didn’t maintain the enthusiasm you had in book one. So there could be a lot of factors.
Assuming the good things (increased learning & skill and not lack of enthusiasm) book three would always be the best book, and book two would be better than book one. We writers are a wordy bunch and sometimes it takes us a while to get up and running. But it’s the job of book one to hook readers for the series, right?
Ideally, but not necessarily.
Let’s look at three popular movie series: The Godfather, Mad Max, and Star Wars. These are from the 1970’s and 1980’s so we can have perspective that maybe we wouldn’t have on a current movie franchise.
For me, Star Wars was a great movie; it was cutting edge and was edited in such a way as to have a fast pace that the other two movies in the original series didn’t have. Empire Strikes Back is technically sound in all aspects, but it wasn’t – couldn’t be – as original as the first one. But it is many people’s favorites. By the time Return of the Jedi came around, I didn’t really care what happened. I liked the movies and liked the characters and just wanted to see them all again. (I consider the other movies in the series unwatchable. Sorry, Jar-Jar Binks fans!)
The Road Warrior was the second – wildly successful – of the Mad Max series starring a young, good looking anti-semite named Mel Gibson. The third movie in the series, Beyond Thunderdome, was horrible (if you like that one, we may not be able to stay friends), and the first one was poorly edited and very rough to watch. But The Road Warrior didn’t need the first one to be good on its own. It is a great stand-alone story that spawned a million dystopian copies.
The Godfather is considered a great movie, one of the best of all times, but Godfather II is, too. (Don’t even get me started on the third one; I may puke.) Godfather II had some scores to settle that audiences were eager to see get resolved. The liked this original mafia family and wanted more, and they were not disappointed – like the movie makers learned what audiences wanted in the original Godfather and gave them plenty of it in the second one.
And therein lie the keys for a book series.
Is there enough story for a series?
Can the second book stand alone as a well written book?
Can you figure out what your audience wants and give the more of it?
Can you do all that without becoming fatigued?
Did Francis Ford Coppolla sell out like a whore in Godfather III – Oops did I write that? Whore!! Defiler of my memories! And you took Pacino with you! Aaaauuugh!
If you can say yes to these questions (okay, skip the Coppola one; he’s a winemaker now and his wines are pretty effing good), then each additional story will be better than the prior one, and you should write a series.
If the answer is no, you may have to decide to go a different route. Maybe a novella. Maybe a combination of a big book one with a series of novellas telling what happens to characters in a short form, like a short story. Why not? I’m okay with paying a few bucks and reading short stories about good characters. So are a lot of other people.
There are a lot of ways to go, but don’t let the possibility of book one being “not as good” as the other books in a series stop you from writing the series. If book two catches on, a la The Road Warrior, readers might enjoy book one with different eyes, almost like a prequel.
What did I do?
In my Savvy Stories series, a family humor comedy (60 positive reviews on Amazon and counting, and a bargain at just $2.99), I wrote the first two books at the same time – because I wrote so much. When I sat down to make it a book, there was enough for two books, so I made two! The TERRIBLE Two’s is much better – as in better written, by an author with better skills – than Savvy Stories. The third book in the series, The Long Cutie, took a different approach. The stories about Savvy are much better in The Long Cutie, but we added stories about people who also had her heart condition, to make it a collection of survival stories. It has a completely different tone on those chapters than in the ones about Savvy, but the stories about Savvy in The Long Cutie are the best ones of the series. Each book can stand alone, however. Then I created a series of short stories (novella length) to follow up on America’s favorite three year old. In total there are three books and five short stories in that series, for a total 8 titles. The short stories could obviously be folded into one book and be the fourth of the series, and there is and written but unreleased final book of the series and one more (also written and unreleased) short story.
What should you do?
If you set out to write a series, then you intended to make book one the set-up for books two and three. Give the readers that second book and suddenly book one is totally justified for being the way it is.
You can always add book two into book one and have it be one big epic.
Let’s break down your questions:
- If a writer’s first book isn’t the best but is the beginning of a series, should the writer continue with the series?
- I’ve learned a lot from the reviews of my book.
Good. Then you are doing it right.
- I re-edited once according to these reviews, but I’ve decided to step away from it and not continue with more edits. I can do much better in my next books. I have a handle on the show and not tell problem. I will use fewer characters and give them more depth.
That is what I would do!
- Will the first book detract from the future ones in the series?
It might. So make book two a good stand-alone story and make it the best book you ever wrote.
In the end, your stories start out as your babies and end up as your employees. Treat them as babies while you get them made, then kick them out the door to start earning you money! Don’t love them to death, get on to the next book.
Most writers have a dozen ideas in their heads they’re working on. Continue the series while you work on some of those other ideas, but if your goal was to have a series and you have the story and the energy, don’t you dare give up on it. A funny thing happens when the second book in the series comes out – people have something to compare it to. Some will like book two best, others will like book one. Set up a fan page for them to fight about which is better and why, and laugh all the way to the bank.
Whatever the dream is, pursue it. You don’t owe anybody a series. I had a favorite TV show that got cancelled. They didn’t ask me what I thought about cancelling the show. I never learned what happened to the characters I loved. It happens. I survived.
We don’t want that!
REMEMBER: Your next book is always your best book.
Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Send it as a comment to any post or hit the Contact Me button and, you know, contact me. I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends, too.)
FOLLOW ME! I’m this helpful and funny all the time. Probably. Don’t miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you may actually need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE/FOLLOW TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and if you send me your email through the Contact Me button I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.
If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.