First published in the Romance Writers Report (2/15)

Why Series are Sexy

I write a Sexy SEAL series that I love, not only because it means I get to spend a lot of time writing about hard bodied military heroes, but also because it’s been one of the biggest boosts to my career since my first sale. Having written nine full-length books in this series so far (three of which are out in 2015) I’ve learned a lot about writing, readers and promotion over the course of these books. So much so that I’m now addicted to the idea of series in general, and to writing my SEALs in particular.

Why? Because series are sexy. Really!

When we think of sexy, we think of a lot of things. But probably not a series. But think about it. Sexy evokes a reaction, usually want and need.   Sexy is something that gets our attention, something that hooks us in and makes us want more.   Sexy can be addicting as well. Not only are all of these terms we as authors often use in describe the attraction between our characters but they are also terms I’ve heard readers use quite often as the explain why they love reading various authors’ series.

For authors, having readers think this way about our books is a solid goal. Not only is it gratifying to have books that connect with readers in such a strong way, it can also be quite lucrative in terms of ongoing book sales, contracts and building a strong readership. When a reader discovers a new series they enjoy, they quite often will go back and buy all of the previous connected books.   A series is also a great hook to get readers to join your mailing list because once they’re hooked, they want to be kept up-to-date on when the next story is out.

Hmmm, something readers can’t get enough of, that has them hooked enough that they’ll read everything they can get their hands on and then will wait anxiously for their next chance to grab a copy as soon as it’s released, cozy up and dive in? Yep. I’d definitely call that sexy.

 

What Is Series

So what is a series?

J.D. Robb’s In Death, Sylvia Day’s Crossfire, Susan Mallory’s Fool’s Gold, Jill Shavis’ Lucky Harbor, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum are all examples of successful series with strong reader followings.

A series is usually made up of multiple, connected books, most often all written by the same author.   Unlike a trilogy that has a set story arc that usually begins in the first book, builds in the second and resolves in the third, or a serial which is often a single story that has been broken into parts, each book in a series is generally a stand-alone, so it doesn’t require reading the book before or after to reach that particular story’s conclusion. So rather than plot tying the stories together it’s hooks.

When it comes to hooks in series books, they can be as varied as the stories we write. The hook could come from characters; a handful of sexy siblings or an intriguing family. Setting is another popular hook, with a number of series being set in quaint small towns, exotic resorts or rustic ranches.   Or, as is the case with my Sexy SEALs, the hook could come from the characters’ occupation, group or club. Like any hook, a sexy series hook makes the reader want more. A hot, handsome and clever hero who happens to be a dentist could make for a great story, but even if his dental practice includes three more hunky dentists, sassy hygienists and a slew of sexual tension, a dental practice really doesn’t have the same sexy energy as a group of hard-bodied firefighters who put their lives on the line.

From the authors’ perspective, a sexy hook is one that has enough stamina to keep us excited, book after book. Like our heroes, we want the series to last until we’re satisfied.

 

Why readers love series

Readers want to be invested in a story. They want to feel like they are a part of it, experiencing the journey from first meet to falling in love to happy ever after. I’m sure we’ve all felt that bittersweet letdown as we finish a book, knowing the reading journey is over with that particular couple.   But for series readers, the chances are high that they’ll see that couple again in a later book, get a peek at how their relationship and lives are progressing. Whether it’s a few chapters or a few pages, readers love revisiting characters and seeing their story continue to move forward. As one reader told me, the characters become like family and she has an almost obsessive need to know what happens to them and their offspring. That makes sense since romance novels tend to wrap up around happy ever after, whether that means ‘I love you’ or a wedding, but the couples’ lives go on

Secondary characters hold more appeal for series readers as well. We’ve all found ourselves intrigued by a secondary character from time to time, but series readers have high expectations that those intriguing characters will soon get their own story. Not only does this give the reader a stronger investment in the books, but it also builds anticipation and often presale buzz for those characters’ stories.

I’d definitely say that building anticipation is sexy, too.

 

Branding, baby

We all know that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but just like a designer suit has a different vibe than a beat-up leather jacket, what we wrap around our series sends a message.

There are a number of authors who bring a fabulous authenticity to their series. They might write a military series and have served themselves, or life on a ranch and write about a family of charismatic cowboys. For readers attracted to those series, those genuine insights are a major hook. But we all know that we don’t have to have lived something in order to write about it. All it takes is research, consistency and spark.

The level of research necessary to write a series is about the same as it would be for writing any standalone book. It just depends on the series hook. For myself, I have never served in the military but my husband has. He wasn’t Navy, though, so while I had a pretty solid handle on many elements, but still needed to do quite a bit of research to make sure I not only kept the books as authentic as possible, but that I had enough material for multiple stories.

Which is where consistency comes in. Readers love series because they want to revisit the characters they fell for in previous stories. And readers have incredible memories. They don’t only remember a characters name and eye color from the first story they were introduced, they remember their personality and their conflicts. They are sticklers for details, too. If a bank is on the east side of town in the first story in the series and on the west side later, someone had better mention moving it or the readers will notice. Military rank, the spelling of names and the often convoluted twists of family trees not only add depth to your story, but are all noted by many readers and watched over the course of the series. The flipside of that is that readers often want to see the characters they’ve come to know grow and evolve.

Consistency is also a writers’ boon in a series because it often means that the world building is done in the first book. It’s layered and expanded in each successive book, of course, but the first book tends to establish the story parameters. For a plotter like me, who likes to know what’s ahead, that’s tremendously helpful because those elements are consistent in each book—meaning I don’t have to reestablish my world with each new story. I can hear a lot of my fellow authors groaning at the idea of being locked into a story before page one, but its really not that constrictive. In my Sexy SEAL books, the series hook is the heroes’ career as a Navy SEAL. That’s the only element that has to be in each book (although I often bring back other characters, settings and situations). Because so many of the other elements—heroine, conflicts, setting, etc—are still wide open I have no worries about feeling hemmed in.

Consistency is just as important in branding the series itself. From the images and fonts on the cover to the colors and tone of your website, social media content and promotional swag, the stronger you tie it all together to your series the better it will connect in readers’ minds. Content marketing can also be branded. Blogs, Facebook posts or even Twitter topics can all tie into elements of your series.

I’d warn against putting all of your branding eggs in the same series basket, though. Its important to create a connection in the readers’ mind between you and your series so that as soon as they think of cowboys or futuristic cops or small towns by the water, your name comes to mind. But its never a bad idea to have a few other projects available for readers to check out. If a reader is hooked on your voice or style, there is a good chance they’ll give the other books a shot. Which means one of those projects could become it’s own series, widening your reach and chances of success.

 

The downside of series

Even sexy has a downside. In the case of writing a fictional series, there are a few that writers might face. As reader expectations are is honed and solidified with each new book in the series, the authors’ window for experimentation narrows. The more readers invest in a series, the more they tend to feel a sense of ownership of it.   Once the series’ world is created, readers expect it to be honored and they not only keep track, they are quite vocal if they feel one of their beloved reading worlds jumps the shark.   For some authors writing within the same confines book after book, that could lead to boredom or burnout after a while.

Another concern? Like actors who become famous for playing a certain role year after year so well that viewers can’t see them as anyone but that character, authors, too face the possibility of stereotyping.   When an author has a strong platform built around a successful series, readers, editors and publishers quite often want more of the same, and will quite often show reluctance to consider anything else. This can make it difficult for an author to branch out in a different direction if they are going the traditional route. And even indie publishing the new stories carries a risk of alienating or upsetting a certain segment of readers.

A traditionally published series, even a successful one, carries publishing risks as well. Editorial changes, trends shift, numbers slip. We’ve all heard these or a myriad of other excuses for contracts not being renewed or even contracted books not being published. Once upon a time, this would be the end of what had been a successful series for many authors. Of course, this particular downside isn’t as challenging in today’s publishing climate as it was in the past. If a publisher decides to discontinue a series but the author and readers are still invested, indie publishing is often a viable solution that often works quite well as long as the author’s contract terms don’t stand in the way.   So it goes without saying to check those contracts. Being tied up is only sexy if it’s consensual.

 

Sexy Series Words of Wisdom

  • Find a sexy hook.
  • Make it your own.
  • Play to your brand.
  • Consistency is Key.
  • Watch those contract terms very carefully.

 

One of the biggest benefits I’ve found in writing my Sexy SEAL series is my own pleasure in revisiting the world I’ve created and the characters I love.   Like those relationships we write about, the initial spark of attraction hooked me in the first couple of books, built over time and while it’s not always easy, its definitely always worthwhile.

 

Bio:

New York Times and USA TODAY Bestselling author of thirty books and counting, Tawny Weber has been writing sassy, sexy romances since her first one hit the shelves in 2007. A fan of Johnny Depp, cupcakes and color coordination, she spends a lot of her time shopping for cute shoes, scrapbooking and hanging out on Facebook.

Readers can check out Tawny’s Sexy SEAL series, as well as her other books on her website, www.tawnyweber.com, or join her Red Hot Readers Club for goodies like free reads, complete first chapter excerpts, recipes, insider story info and much more.