Coming up with ideas isn’t a challenge for most writers, myself included. The actual challenge is picking a single idea and following through on it. I must have 2 dozen novels started but collecting dust in the cloud because I decided to shift gears to the next great idea.
Deciding what ideas are good enough to pursue as a series is mostly instinct, peppered with a few data points. It can be a tough notion to explain because there is no single item to indicate a great series idea. Almost all of my ideas initially feel like great series concepts. Many of them aren’t.
So how do you validate your idea to see if it’s worthy of planning a series around? In an effort to document how I decided to pursue my Off Earth Industries series, below is is my answer to how I played with the concept to make sure I could develop it into a series.
Start by asking why and what, then become a genre junkie.
I wanted to write about an asteroid miner, so why would a human ever need to land on an asteroid? I knew there were three compelling reasons – power, money, or love – for anyone to do something foolishly risky.
When I played through a few power and love stories they didn’t excite me.
The money angle was different. If the main character was taking this huge risk for money he must have some deeper desire. Any obstacle that would get in the way of him earning the money would also get in the way of him achieving his true goal.
So I played the three why’s game.
Q: Why would this character risk landing on an asteroid?
A: To earn money.
Q: Why did this character need money?
A: To pay off a debt.
Q: Why was it important for this character to pay off a debt?
A: Because he wasn’t allowed on Earth while he carried a debt.
At the start, my main characters driving goal is to be allowed to set foot on Earth. In the beginning, money looks like the primary obstacle to achieving his goal (it’s not).
To see if this idea could stretch beyond one book, I asked what.
Q: What could alter my main characters goal of setting foot on Earth?
A: An alien attack that threatens Earths survival.
So now my main character has to shift his goal from earning money to pay off a debt to some how saving Earth from total destruction. That feels like a pretty momentous change, certainly worthy of more than one or two books.
It also presents a drastic shift in my initial story idea. No longer is this a series about an asteroid miner. To justify my characters goal and struggle there needs to be a complete ecosystem of humans living and working in space. That ecosystem feels strong enough to support a series.
Now that I knew this was turning into an alien invasion series, it was time to head over to Amazon and do some market research. The goal of researching other books in your genre is not to copy them, it’s to understand what readers are enjoying and what concepts they are paying money for. What do the covers look like, how do the blurbs read, what kind of titles do they have? Even if you intend to shock your readers and do something completely different, you need to know how to reach them.
You should try and become a genre-junkie for the sub-genre you are targeting for this series. Whenever you have free time, read reviews, blurbs, list covers you love and generally surf the shelves of this genre.
When researching a sub-genre I like to look at the top twenty paid books and focus on those that are $2.99 or more. These books are popular because of their quality, not due to a price discount or marketing push. In many cases I’ll buy the book and read it, but sometimes if it doesn’t sound appealing I’ll stick to the look inside feature.
It’s important to understand readers expectations and what they’ll be comparing your work to. At some point you’re going to doubt your project and convince yourself it might never sell. Knowing that there are other books in your genre that are doing well can help motivate you to keep going. Your book won’t be the same, but it has the chance to be just as good if you keep writing and working.
In my next post I’m going to talk about how I took this idea and expanded it to come up with the building blocks of a series.
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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