Writing an Unconventional Series
or When the Tale is a Saga Interrupted by Many Events
Although I don’t “do” horror/paranormal/fantasy, when I thought about the curious evolution of my on-again, off-again series featuring the Wellingford family, the Lemony Snicket title, “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” came to mind.
Now, series are hardly new. Many authors do them. If they are lucky (or cursed; those who’ve done the on-top-of-each-other releases say the deadlines are insane,) they get release dates for their series that are back-to-back or nearly so, like Louise Allen has had with her “Scandalous Ravenhursts.” (Of course, Louise writes like superwoman, rivaling the Divine Nora in production, so the comment above about going crazy over tight deadlines might not apply.) But all the data say that readers love series and connected books; data further says that the closer together the release dates, the better readers are able to identify the series, become excited about the next book and (this is the really important part) remember to actually BUY it.
Yes, sales for series, reports Sue Grimshaw, Romance Buyer for Borders Group, are definitely higher if the books come out back-to-back, or nearly so.
This seems rather intuitive. So what does it say about an author whose first Wellingford book, THE WEDDING GAMBLE, her debut in June 1999, wasn’t followed by another connected story until THE PROPER WIFE in July 2001, with the third, A MOST UNCONVENTIONAL MATCH, not seeing print until July 2008?
One might think she was, in a bit of Regency-speak, “attics-to-let” or had “more hair than wit.” While that may also be true, the evolution of the Wellingfords wasn’t entirely up to me.
Since Sarah, heroine of that first book, was eldest in a fairly large family of siblings and Nicholas, her hero, had two best friends, all the prospects for a nice long series were in place. However, during the hiatus between July 1996 when GAMBLE, under its pre-pub title “Pressing Obligations,” won the Golden Heart and its eventual purchase and release as a full-fledged novel in June 1999, I wrote most of another, non-connected story, which became my second book, A SCANDALOUS PROPOSAL.
When GAMBLE sold, I was excited about the prospect of doing more Wellingford stories. My editor liked the idea as well, and took on the story of Sarah’s childhood love Sinjin and her best friend Clarissa in THE PROPER WIFE. But although my editor liked the proposal for the next, the senior editor didn’t. And so the story of Nicholas’s best friend Ned didn’t make its way to publication until this October when FROM WAIF TO GENTLEMAN’S WIFE debuts.
Key elements in the plot of Ned’s story hinge upon the Luddite unrest that revived in the English countryside at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. With enclosures robbing villagers and farm workers of the common lands where they could keep a pig or cow or small vegetable garden, the price of wheat dropping and that of bread skyrocketing, and with independent craftsmen in the clothing trades being put out of work by the development of the factory system, the poor grew poorer and more desperate.
The story was too political, the senior editor said.
But Ned and Joanna are helping the distressed small farmers and their children! I said. They solve a mystery! They develop a fabulous, passionate love!
Too political, she repeated.
Fortunately, she liked better some of the other story ideas I’d proposed at the same time as Ned’s book. So the Wellingfords languished at the back of my mind while I moved on to tell the stories of other strong, driven, challenged heroines (incidentally stumbling over what may someday be another interrupted series featuring spymaster Lord Riverton, who appears in MY LADY’S TRUST and MY LADY’S HONOR.)
While I toiled on these other works, I received a number of fan letters asking when I was going to do the story of Hal, Nicholas’s mostly-monosyllabic friend. I’d always planned on telling Hal’s story—and what a challenge to work with a character who has great difficulty expressing himself in words and must therefore let his actions do the talking!
While all this transpired, editors changed (I lost the wonderful Margaret Marbury, who bought my very first book and edited the next eight, when she moved up in the company—she’s now in charge of all single titles for Harlequin.) Lines fluctuated and after a stint with HQN, I went back to Harlequin Historicals, now under the charge of senior editor Linda Fildew and edited out of the London UK office. I was assigned another new editor, who expressed interest in seeing more Wellingford books.
First came the most-reader-requested story, that of Hal and Sarah’s sister Elizabeth (A MOST UNCONVENTIONAL MATCH.) Next was a Christmas anthology featuring the next eldest Wellingford sister, Meredyth, the spinster who’d stayed home to take care of hearth and siblings after Sarah and Elizabeth married(“Christmas Wedding Wish” in ONE CANDLELIT CHRISTMAS.) And finally this fall, the story of Nicky’s second best friend, Ned, FROM WAIF TO GENTLEMAN’S WIFE.
(I hope readers won’t think it’s “too political.”)
So what’s up next for this long-interrupted “series?”
My current editors are big fans of series and are very encouraging that I keep the Wellingford family stories coming. So I’m currently working on the story of Greville Anders, the brother of WAIF’s heroine Joanna, who was fired from his job as estate manager of one of Nicky’s smaller properties. After an involuntary stay on a British man-of-war completely alters his perspective on the world and his place in it, Greville returns to England recovering from wounds, wondering about his future—and very, very happy to reside once more in a world that includes ladies, even if the daughter of his host frowns every time she looks at him. Ah, what’s romance without a challenge?
Also in the “thinking” stage is the story of younger Wellingford daughter Faith, unhappily married wife of a duke, who tangles with a fiery young Parliamentary reformer—the grown-up Davie who first appears in WAIF.
There are several more Wellingford sisters, plus the lone brother Colton, as well as assorted friends and connections, so the possibilities are good to keep the series going—maybe even with closer-together release dates! If readers receive the current books with sufficient enthusiasm.
Writers adore enthusiastic readers, which along with enthusiastic editors, comprise the double-jeweled Crown of Writer Blessings.
With the Wellingfords, I’m hoping for the Crown!