The Dangers of Writing a Series

Anyone who has been reading Rosanne Bittner for the past 30 (+) years knows how much I like to write series-type stories … family sagas that take you through 30-45 years with the same hero and heroine and their family. My first series was SAVAGE DESTINY, seven books about the settling of Colorado and how white settlement affected the Southern Cheyenne. Through writing those books I fell in love with the hero, Zeke Monroe, and he has lived in my heart ever since.

I went on to write several trilogies – my Blue Hawk trilogy, my Wilderness trilogy, a Bride trilogy and my Mystic Indian trilogy. The last four years I have worked on my Outlaw series, the fourth book coming in September and a fifth book planned. And I have many single titles for which I wrote a sequel because I just couldn’t get away from the characters. I end up wanting to continue their story, and whenever the publisher says yes, that’s what I do.

However, there are some drawbacks for the writer when writing a series. For me, the NUMBER ONE PROBLEM is that I get so involved with the characters that it is very, very hard for me to go on to something entirely new. Often, the series continues because I simply cannot bring myself to think about new characters. I am too much in love with the ones I have “lived with” for months or even years.

Zeke Monroe was one of those characters. I was totally, hopelessly in love with the man, and it took me a long, long time to truly “care” about new characters once I knew I could go no farther with SAVAGE DESTINY. The characters become so very real to me that leaving them is like burying a loved one. I actually cry when I finish that “last book,” and I think about those characters for weeks and even months and years afterward.

I realize how dangerous this problem can be as a writer when (lately) I’ve told myself I MUST take a break from my “Outlaw” books. After years of loving and mourning Zeke Monroe, I went on to totally love Caleb Sax in my Blue Hawk books and again mourned leaving him – then Rising Eagle in my Mystic Indian trilogy. I managed to write new books after that, but almost always (and it will happen to you, too, as a writer) a special, special character comes to mind that consumes your thoughts, dreams, emotions, energy, and your heart. After 30 years I still am not over Zeke Monroe – but then along came Jake Harkner from my Outlaw books.

OMG, I am so madly in love with this man. He came to me in an idea a good 25 years ago while I was curling my hair. I quickly wrote the idea down with an eyebrow pencil on the back of a check book because that’s all I had at the moment. That first book, OUTLAW HEARTS, was published in 1993 by Bantam Books, and I NEVER FORGOT JAKE. I tried for years to sell a publisher on a sequel, but for some reason I didn’t get anywhere.

Then along came Sourcebooks, and an editor who’d read OUTLAW HEARTS and loved the idea of a sequel. I literally cried when I learned I could finally write that book, which I titled DO NOT FORSAKE ME, a title I’d had in mind all those years. I immediately started the book and the story just poured out of me almost faster than my fingers could keep up. No outline. I knew every single thing that would happen. Once I finished, Jake had me completely hooked and I went on to LOVE’S SWEET REVENGE and (coming in September) THE LAST OUTLAW. A short Christmas story about the Harkner family follows in October (A CHICK-A-DEE CHRISTMAS) in an anthology titled CHRISTMAS IN A COWBOY’S ARMS. 

Sourcebooks wants me to stop here and go on to other things. In fact, they even suggested a topic they’d like me to write about. I intend to write the story they suggested, and I am actually getting excited about the idea. But the thought of leaving Jake, even if just for a little while, breaks my heart. I promise readers that there WILL BE a fifth book. If not through my publisher, I will write it on my own through Amazon, and I won’t make readers wait too awfully long. However, Sourcebooks is, after all, my publisher, and they have helped me realize it’s time to try something different. I was tempted to start that fifth Outlaw book right away, whether my publisher wanted it or not; but now I realize I have to set it aside and get my thoughts on this new story, which will be fun to write. It’s about a high-born English woman who ends up kidnapped and stranded in the wilds of Wyoming and is rescued by a rough-and-tumble, rather uncouth bounty hunter. These two will both be strong-willed and opinionated and won’t get along at all, but of course they begin to see each other through the eyes of desire and the princess and the cowboy will realize they had better learn to overcome their differences because try as the might, the can’t ignore the feelings they begin to have for each other. I just know my readers will love the story.

The other danger of writing series-type books is the affect on your sales. Too many times a reader who has never heard of me will pick up Book #4 to a series and think, “I don’t want to buy this if I can’t find #1, 2, and 3,” or – “I don’t want to spend the money on #1, 2 and 3. What if I don’t like the story?” Almost always the second book in a series will sell a little fewer copies than #1. Then #3 sells even fewer and #4 even less … because no one wants to get #4 if they can’t find the first 3. This problem is even worse if you don’t have an established name. Even when you do have a name most readers recognize, you can still fall into that trap of writing #4 and #5 and so on and finding out they didn’t do well.

Part of the problem is that you might win over a certain number of readers with Book #1, and those readers will go on to #2 and #3 and more because they already read the first book and want more. You end up with the same readers buying the continued series books, but it’s hard to find new readers who will go back and start with #1.

So … I am going to try hard to get my heart and mind on Logan Best and Elizabeth Bennett in THE BOUNTY HUNTER’S PRINCESS. The title might change, but I need a working title in order to write the book. It’s just a “me” thing. It’s going to be a great story filled with adventure and romance, and a heavy sprinkling of humor because of how these two will clash while at the same time fighting their feelings for each other. Once they give in to those feelings the sex will be “HOT!”

Overall, I will always, always love series writing and sequels … but sometimes as a writer you have to get away from all of that and learn to say good-bye to your favorite, favorite characters … not always forever … but just for a while. I will write that fifth Outlaw book, and I even have ideas for an eighth SAVAGE DESTINY book, after over 30 years of being away from them! The story would be about one of Zeke’s descendants and the family history would come into the story when something very unusual is discovered that teaches the hero about his famous ancestor, Zeke Monroe.

If you want to write a series or one or two sequels to your story, remember that you can’t stay with the characters forever, and that, if you are new, you could be hurting your ability to build your numbers. I think it’s best to never start your career with a series. It’s best to have an established name first. Then you have a better chance of selling a decent number of copies of the succeeding books.

Good luck with your writing, and as always, number one on my list for becoming a successful writer is to ALWAYS FOLLOW YOUR HEART. I think you will discover that there is always that inner instinct that speaks to you as a writer and says, “This is what you should write next.”


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