Happy Sunday, friends. Today, I’m thrilled to welcome fellow Blue Ridge Literary Agency Ellen Butler (cue the Muppet cheer)!
Ellen writes contemporary romance and dropped by to talk about the draw of writing a series, something all of you North Star Trilogy fans know, I’m partial to. Take it away, Ellen!
Series vs. Single Title
When I wrote my first novel I sketched an outline, identifying the build-up, climax and ending. Then after nine months of pounding away on my laptop and 80K words later, the story was complete and with great relief I tapped out the words, “The End.” That’s exactly what it was—the end. The story had no cliffhangers, my characters successfully navigated the mortal danger of the climax, and the love story ended with a happily ever after. I even provided a nice—three months later—epilogue for the reader. After many rounds of edits, the novel was finally published and I washed my hands of the characters and storyline, my thoughts already leading on to the next plot. However, during my time hammering out two more single title books, I watched best-seller lists, as well as box office trends and came to the conclusion that series is all the rage.
At the box office dystopian series are currently trending, Hunger Games, Divergent, and Maze Runner to name a few novel-turned-movie series. Further back than that, at the turn of the millennium we were entranced by a boy wizard and his magical universe provided by the imaginative JK Rowling. Even a series written in 1954 about a mythical land full of hobbits and immortal elves had us turning up at the box office in droves and created resurgence in sales for The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
When I began looking further into the series trend, it occurred to me that they were nothing new. As a child, I was an avid reader of Nancy Drew. Having left Nancy behind when I grew into my teenage years, it took me until my thirties to find another female character who I wanted to follow as enthusiastically the intrepid young sleuth. A neighbor introduced me to Stephanie Plum, and I’ve been an active follower of Janet Evanovich’s NJ bounty hunter’s escapades ever since. However, series reach back much further than Stephanie Plum. In the 20s and 30s Agatha Christie gave us the clever Miss Marple and mustachioed Hercule Poirot. In the 80s and 90s Tom Clancy and James Patterson gave us exciting heroes such as Jack Ryan and Alex Cross who have made it to the big screen.
What’s the draw to a series as opposed to single titles? I discussed this with my agent at length. She admitted that stand-alone novels would never go out of style, but that publishers were always searching for the next big series. For obvious reasons, a series is a draw to publishers and Hollywood alike. Readers get invested in a character’s life, and if the stories should become a hit, there are endless possibilities. Beyond international book sales and movie rights, there are toys, games and if you’re lucky an entire theme park wrapped around a series. As a writer your characters grow and develop over time, providing a depth to them that you’ll never achieve in a single title. Feeling that I needed prove myself a worthy series writer, I wracked my brain for an idea. What storyline or character was hiding back in the grey depths of my noggin?
In the end, my own series actually grew out of what I thought was another single title novel. After wrapping up Ian and Sophie’s story in Heart of Design instead of arm-stretching relief, I felt … disappointed. For the first time, it troubled me to let go—not only of my main characters, but the side characters I’d created. So, after conversations with beta readers and my agent, I decided not to let go of my successful LA entrepreneurs, and taking a page out of Nora Robert’s handbook, I created my Love, California Style trilogy based on the characters I’d created in Heart of Design.
With the final installment of the trilogy in my editor’s hot little hands, and a release date in August, I’ve come to a few conclusions. First, though I enjoyed writing the trilogy, at times it was difficult for me to stay focused in order to meet the deadline. You see, there are other novels knocking on my creative door and while I wasn’t ready to leave after Heart of Design it will be a relief to close the door on my LA ladies after the release of Art of Affection. Second, it’s much easier to write a series if you already know it’s going to be one. Although unknowingly, I’d already set up my romantic storylines for books 2 and 3 in Heart of Design, a difficulty I ran into with the trilogy is the fact it didn’t start that way. Of course, by the time I wrote the third novel, I’d locked myself into certain character traits, looks, and history that I longed to change. Finally, the best advice I can give a writer interested in setting out on the series road, in order to keep from tearing your hair out on book 3 or 8, create a character list. List your characters’ careers, relationships to others, part in the story, looks and traits, e.g. eye color, height, hair color, etc. This becomes most important for side characters that may have smaller roles in earlier books, but grow to become central characters further down the line. I also recommend creating a timeline for consistency.
Though Love, California Style isn’t hitting the best-seller lists (yet) and Hollywood isn’t knocking on my door (yet) I’m glad I got in on the series action. Critics seem to enjoy the trilogy, and if I bring a smile to a reader’s face, I’m satisfied. I proved I could meet the pressure of a deadline and best-seller or not, I’m proud of the little happily-ever-after world I created. What’s next, you ask? Believe it or not, a single title WWII novel that I’ve been researching over the past two years is itching to get out of my head and on to paper. But don’t fret my series fanatics, there’s another romance trilogy forming on the back burner of my medulla oblongata and it promises to provide fun-loving characters with laugh out loud antics and suspenseful plotlines.
Ellen Butler received her bachelor’s in Political Science and Master’s in Public Administration and Policy from Virginia Tech. A mother of two, she currently lives in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. After spending years working for a medical association writing dry but illuminating policy papers, articles and promotional materials, Butler made the leap to novel writing to release her creative side.
~Love, California Style Series ~
Heart of Design (Book 1)
His thumb gently stroked the soft flesh. I swallowed. “I would say you’re making a valiant effort to get me into your bed.”
“Maybe.” His eyes smoldered. “Is it working?”
Can Interior Designer Sophie Hartland ignore her traitorous libido and hold her sexy Irish client, Ian O’Connor, at arm’s length until the renovations are finished? Or will she cave in to his pull on her heartstrings, and end up doing the knicky-knacky on the new velvet sofa?
Planning for Love (Book 2)
So, my latest computer date was supposed to be a successful marketer. He instead decided to visit an Ashram last week, and while there, apparently found the meaning of life through yoga and wacky tobacky.
After walking in on her boyfriend in flagrante dilecto, Poppy Reagan decides to take her dating life as seriously as she does her party planning business. As she works her way through a string of hilariously bad dates, she wonders if her soulmate actually lives in California. Her foolish emotional spirit secretly yearns for the handsome Ohio doctor she met last year. Can Adam convince this California girl to test the relationship waters in the mid-West?
Art of Affection (Book 3) – Arriving August 24, 2015
“By the way, those were some sexy thigh highs you were wearing.” He winked.
Mortification burned through me as the door shut with a thump.
Can Holly let go of her abusive past and put her trust in the enigmatic cop who arrested her husband?
Pretty cool, huh! I want to thank Ellen for stopping by and sharing her thoughts, and book covers, with us! If you want to find more about Ellen and her writing, you can find her here:
Thanks for coming by, and until next time, tailwinds!