As a member of the 2009/10 ITW Debut Author class, I've benefitted from the experience and generosity of the writers who belong to this incredible organization, and am honoured to be writing the first guest post of its re-launch.
I have been asked to share my experiences in writing a back-to-back-to-back series. I am currently under contract to write four books for the Kate Lange legal thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED (June 2010) debuted six months ago, in which struggling lawyer Kate Lange unearths a legal conspiracy that rocks the foundations of medical research - and puts her in the path of a dementing killer.
INDEFENSIBLE (January 2011), book #2 of the Kate Lange series, released last week. In INDEFENSIBLE, the managing partner of Kate's firm is accused of domestic homicide. Held in prison for the murder of his ex-wife, Randall Barrett's defence lies in the hands of the one person who knows too well the taint of criminal scandal: Kate Lange.
My third book, TATTOOED, will be released in January 2012, and a fourth book in the Kate Lange series is also scheduled for release in 2012.
I’ve had the luxury of developing my series with two two-book contracts that were back-to-back. I sold DAMAGED in January 2009, in a two-book contract to write INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series. When I submitted INDEFENSIBLE to my editor in December of 2009, I was asked the following week to submit two more story ideas, and was offered a contract immediately after New Year’s in 2010. Having four books under contract has given me the freedom to breathe a little. As I develop the story line for the next two books, I can play with the supporting cast, knowing that I have more books to explore character arcs, bring back favourite characters, and respond to reader feedback. I am experiencing these benefits right now as I write TATTOOED.
However, it was a different story for books #1 and #2. One of the most unnerving elements of writing a multiple-book series back-to-back, is that you can be in the situation of writing the next book in the series without knowing how readers received the previous one. When I wrote INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series, DAMAGED had not yet been released. True to the sophomore book syndrome, I stressed – no, agonized -- over whether my audience would enjoy the development of the characters’ story arcs, and whether the shift to a heavier psychological suspense storyline would be received positively. (My husband now admits he wasn’t sure all of me would survive the process of writing that book.) I’m happy to say that it has, and the feedback about INDEFENSIBLE has been wonderful -- but that is the dice you roll when you write a back-to-back-to-back series. It is a bit like jumping off a cliff. Closing your eyes. And hoping for the best. Fortunately, I have a fabulous editor whose excellent judgment and perceptive suggestions have parachuted me thus far to a relatively soft landing.
For example, in DAMAGED, series lead Kate Lange survives an attack of a serial killer. She is just an ordinary single thirty-something woman, with her share of bills to pay and heartbreak. How, I wondered, would she react to the trauma of her experience? In INDEFENSIBLE, which takes place four months later, Kate is privately dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of this experience – and yet to the world, she is a minor celebrity. Being able to explore the fallout of events from previous books is one of the reasons I enjoy writing back-to-back series.
On a final craft note, I do extensive planning before I write each book. Not only do I conduct detailed research, I write deep back story for my characters. Then I begin working in flowcharts, figuring out how events and motivations intersect. During this process, I chart timelines for plot twists and turns. By the time I reach the climax of the book, I often have the timelines plotted to the minute in terms of logistics for the action scenes.
The planning also helps me brainstorm ideas for the next book in the series. I've learned to have a few ideas up my sleeve because you never know when you might need them. For both my contracts, I was asked to provide further book ideas on very short notice. So, my closing words of advice for writing a back-to-back-to-back-to-back series are borrowed from the motto of the Girl Guides of Canada: Always be prepared.
Pamela Callow is the author of a legal thriller series for MIRA Books. DAMAGED, her debut novel, was a Levy “Need to Read” Pick for June with Top Ten Bestseller display. INDEFENSIBLE, the second book in the series, released on January 1, 2011 to a top rating by RT Book Reviews. She is currently working on the third and fourth book of the series, as well as writing a short story featuring Kate Lange that she was invited to write for ITW’s Thriller 3 Anthology.