Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Series or Stand-Alone?

I feel like books series are reaching epidemic proportions. It's hard to find a book that's NOT part of a series.

From a marketing standpoint, I can clearly see the advantages. Hook the reader and sell three books instead of one. More book sales equals more money. The author creates a name and a brand for themselves, and everyone's happy.

Or are they?

From a reader's standpoint, I'm not sure I'm sold on the series approach. Don't get me wrong, some series are amazing.

But in writing a series there are some inherent problems, and unless the writer is unusually skilled, these problems can lead to very disappointing books.

Here are the two issues that concern me the most:

Problem 1- Once the first book is complete, if the author has done their job well, so is the character arc. The character arc is one of the main story elements that keeps a reader hooked and reading to the end. Consequently, the next few books in the series often fall flat. How many times have you LOVED the first book in a series and the rest were only okay?

Problem 2- The first book leaves you hanging because the character arc is incomplete and the conclusion unsatisfying. This is a very popular writing trick to get readers to buy the next book. But whenever I read a story like this, I have to ask myself if the author considers me a reader or a number. Are they writing to perfect the craft or to make a sale.

This is where the tricky part comes in, because perfecting the craft and selling books are both important. It's a fine and difficult line to walk. As an author, I can relate. We all want to write the best story we can, but unless that story sells, we're just people sitting in our sweatpants at a computer all day.

Do authors who write series sell more books? It's very possible that they do.

Do authors who write stand-alone books win more awards? It seems to me they do--although I haven't done official research.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer a series or stand-alone?

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Secret to Getting Published

I just finished up three days at the Storymakers 2013 conference! It was a great event with some wonderful agents and editors, and lots of amazing authors and aspiring authors. I attended some very helpful classes--some of them taught by agents and editors.

When the agents/editors open the floor to questions, inevitably the writers start asking things like:

"What are the upcoming trends in the market?"
"What should I put in my query letter to make it stand out?"
"What genres are you looking for?"
"When is the best time of year to query?"

The agents and editors do their best to answer these questions, but they struggle. Sometimes the writers get bugged. "Why can't they just tell us what they're looking for."  Even though these are all different questions, they all boil down to the same thing:

"What is that one magical thing I need to do to get published?"

The bottom line is that there is no one secret, magical, just-out-of-reach trick. They can guide you and offer suggestions on what NOT to do, but none of this is a shoo in.

The only trick that really works is to write a great story. I think is was Victoria Curran who said, after everyone kept asking for the magical secret, "Write what's in your heart, and write to the heart."

A good query is important. Not writing to the trends is important. Choosing the right agent for your genre is important. But the only sure thing that can sell your story is your story.

Write what's in your heart.
Create something that speaks to the heart of the reader.
Write it well.
When the time is right, your story will find a home. No magical tricks involved.