Writing and Editing a Book Series

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Writing a book series takes a lot of planning, and it takes a little extra effort when it comes to choosing a book editor. Assuming you have one humdinger of a book series, you’ll want an editor who’s familiar with it or who’s able to quickly be brought up to speed. If you haven’t kept in contact with the original editor, or, for whatever reason, you want a different editor than the first, it’s critical he or she be willing to read previous editions. Typically, depending on the word count, this will set you back a few hundred dollars. If this isn’t in the budget, then be able to offer summaries and a few excerpts.

To be clear, there are different types of serialized content. There’s the open, numbered sort, as in, standalone stories of continuing adventure. Readers don’t necessarily need to read books sequentially (think Mary Pope Osbourne’s Magic Tree House books and Janet Evanovich’s character Stephanie Plum). There are also sagas and serialized epics, where the next book in the series picks up where the previous book left off, like one enormous book. Think George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series.

Map Out as Much as You Can

It’s always important for writer and editor to keep in mind that where the first story ends in a book series isn’t actually the end of the story, and that everything usually culminates in the final novel in the series, which may still be a few books away. You need to develop your storyline as you go so readers don’t end up feeling left out and your story doesn’t end up lacking.

Your first step with your editor should be to talk. Your initial chat should be about the next book in your series and may take several hours. (If you’re not able to use the same editor as you did for your previous books, you should still have this dialogue.)

The process should go something like this:

  1. First, identify characters and distinguish when and how they interact with the narrative.
  2. Go beyond your characters’ motivations to articulate how they express themselves, their habits, and what they value.
  3. List main, ongoing plot points, as well as important subplots.
  4. Identify narrative arcs in the first and second books, as standalone efforts, as well as how they will potentially blend from the first and second books to the third (and all the ones that may come after).

Editing a book series is forensic. I tend to keep previous books in a series handy. While I may know the characters from editing previous books in a book series, how they talk and walk and think, it’s my job as an editor to ensure everything adds up from one book to the next. With series, I’ve also found that communication and transparency with the author and the book itself are vitally important. Make it a priority to put your characters and storylines first, rather than, say your ego (as you may inevitably have misinterpreted or forgotten something). With a tag-team approach, you should be able to create something provocative with your editor.

Enlist the Help of Beta Readers

Any time an author mentions beta readers, I get excited. It shows self-awareness, a quality I prize in authors. It’s a welcome level of confidence and professionalism. You may want to have some readers read only the first book; some read only the second; and some read both. This can provide a better view of how the entire series will be received. What readers of your first book say they want from a second can help inform where you take your second book. What readers of your second book say of their reading experience can be purely focused on that one book alone. And feedback from readers of both books will give you a better idea of how the book series as a whole will be received and help drive the potential for yet another book in the series. While authors shouldn’t take everything beta readers offer to heart and should be fluid with what adjustments they make, beta readers are a great place to start.

Book Series Encourage Author Growth

Have you ever noticed that The Philosopher’s Stone was a big, huge book with a tremendous word count, and, as J. K. Rowling made her way, the Harry Potter books kept getting thinner? It’s the editing. Seriously. It’s also that her writing got better.

I love a quick study. I love when a writer sees what he or she could do better and then does it (especially when it comes to sentence structure and using imagery). As you build new worlds for your readers, you grow as a writer. Growth is expected, and as an author, it’s a litmus. With a book series, you may find words come easier than story. Be sure your writing curve bends the way of a learning curve. You’ll learn very quickly that there’s no room for shortcuts when writing a book series.


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Ellie Maas Davis

Ellie Maas Davis owns Pressque, a publishing consultation firm located in downtown Charleston that offers editing and ghostwriting services to authors and publishers.