After writing and publishing two series with 6 books in each I decided to look at the process and see if there were steps I could take to improve my odds of creating something successful.
One of my biggest issues has been reader engagement while I’m working on a new story. When I’m writing my head is down and I don’t have time to come up with ideas to share with my readers. Traditionally I have not shared anything with my readers until I have a book complete and ready for them to buy. Recent research has shown that readers want 2 main things from authors they like – more content and a peek behind the scenes. I was looking for a way to deliver those two things while I was working on a story. They had to be part of the plan.
In April 2017 I came up with a seed of an idea I thought could be a great series. I was working on finishing another project at the time and resisted the urge to jump in and start writing. In September I was wrapping up my other projects and started to formulate my plan for attacking the new series. Below are the 15 steps I came up with.
- Vet or validate your idea – This is a big step and deserves a significant time commitment. Not only do you want to find other books in your space, you want to mentally see if you are passionate about this idea. If you can’t research it for 3 or 4 days it might not be ready for a series level investment.
- Explode your idea – Free write. Create pages and pages of stream of conscious writing on this idea. This document will become your series bible. There’s no holds barred, no structure, just let the ideas pour out. Back story, characters, plot concepts, setting ideas, all of it needs to come out and get recorded.
- Series outline – This is different than outlining a book, it’s higher level meta type stuff. What change happens in the world and what change happens for your character? What are the changes that will be shown in each of the books? At the beginning of the series your character is working towards X and the world around them is focused on A. By the end of your series your character has achieved Z and the world is now focused on C. Play with how you are going to break up the series – 3 books, 6 books, 8 books – and how many stages are needed to achieve the change.
- Book plans for books 1-3 – I encourage using beats and doing detailed plots. Your mind is focused on the entire series right now and this is a good chance to build continuity through each of the books. If you are a pantser, that’s cool, but make sure you have some idea of what each book is going to cover and document it. Even if you wind up with a paragraph or a few short sentences to keep you focused, it will help.
- Write short stories – Write stories in the world of your series. I recommend 13 – 26 stories. Give some depth to side characters and setting that may not have a fit in the novels. This is a good step for many reasons. First it helps build your writing habit. Second it helps you plan a daily word count goal so you can get an idea for how long it will take to write your books. Third it creates content for you to share with readers while you’re working on the novels.
- Create a release plan – Now you know how many words you can average a day or week, have an outline for the books and know how any books you are going to write. Create a timeline and set your deadlines. don’t forget to include beta readers, editing and formatting in your release date planning. Wether you write part time or full time this is a critical step for being able to engage readers and have them prepared to snatch up your book on release day.
- Communicate with your readers – Tell them about your new series and why you are excited. Tell them your release plans and to keep checking back for updates. This is a blog post on your platform and great content for a news letter. You’ve done a lot of back ground work and if you’re going to be successful you need to trust yourself.
- Write your face off – This is where the rubber hits the road. Focus on getting your stories written and adhering to your release plan. Hit your word count goal everyday and try to do a little extra. Your goal will depend on your situation, but I would encourage you to shoot for 1000 words a day minimum. That pace allows you to write one book a quarter and complete your first three books in a year.
- Share your progress – Every Monday do a quick post to your readers about how many words you wrote last week and how many you are targeting this week. This gives you a place to keep track of the progress and another bit of content to roll up and share in your monthly news letter.
- Covers and graphics – If you need to order covers you should start that process around the time you start writing. If you can get some imagery and have the budget, creating book marks and other giveaway materials is a good way to keep readers engaged while you’re writing.
- Share your shorts – Every Friday or every other Friday depending on how many shorts you wrote post a short story to your blog. This becomes another piece of content to include in a monthly news letter. It also gives new readers insight to your writing and allows them to get excited about your world before the first book is released.
- Monthly news letter – If you already have a regular news letter schedule, stick with that. If not, once a month send a news letter update with your word count status, and the short stories from that month. Remind your readers of the release dates and encourage feedback and engagement on your blog or social media accounts.
- Release your books – When each book is published send the news letter thanking your readers for coming on the journey with you and asking them to buy the book. Don’t be shy about asking them to buy, you’ve been giving for months, the occasional ask is okay. If there is more than a month between book releases, loop back to step 8 and repeat.
- Compile a box set – Once all the books are released, compile them into a box set.
- Compile your short stories into a collection – Once the series is done being written you can offer the short stories in ebook format as a lead magnet for people interested in your writing. This helps you avoid giving away a novel but still creates a relevant giveaway to get new readers interested.
There is definitely some side work and background tasks that go along with this. I glossed over the beta reading and editing component but those can be a lot of work and should not be short changed.
I started work at the top of this list in October 2017. With my commitment to full time writing I expect to be working on the first three books in this series for 9 months. I hit step 6 in December and will complete step 7 in early January. If you want to see how I’m communicating with readers, hop over to the For Readers section of my site.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll share with you my thoughts, notes and tips for each step. You can easily follow along by joining my mailing list. In return I’ll send you a copy of my Successful Series Writer Manifesto and a weekly digest of posts.
If you want to follow along from a readers perspective, you can jump over to that section of my blog, or sign up for my Sci-Fi mailing list.
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