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Monday, March 11, 2013

Guest Blog: Jennifer Blake: The Joy of Series Books

I resisted writing a series for years, mainly because I didn’t much care for them. I hated waiting months or years for sequels, or buying a book and then discovering that other stories had come before it. Added to this, connected books were discouraged by editors in the early days of romance; it was felt stand-alone titles were more appealing to readers. It was only after I signed with Mira Books, the mainstream imprint of Harlequin, that I began to explore series ideas.

In thinking about projects, I realized there was only one thing I could not do in a romance series, and that was use a continuing character such as the detective in mysteries. Romance novels require the all-important Happy-Ever-After; a hero or heroine with a different romance in every book would not work. Beyond that, the sky was the limit.

Yet some connection between the stories was necessary. Possibilities included but were not limited to:
Theme: Love at first sight, finding Mr. Right, lost love, atonement, redemption.
Setting: Scotland, England, Paris, small town, ranch, haunted house, knitting shop.
Time Period: Ancient Roman, Egyptian, medieval, Regency, Victorian, Roaring Twenties.
Character Relationships: Brothers, sisters, cousins, twins or triplets, step relatives, in-laws.
Character Archetype, Male: Cowboy, knight, highlander, nobleman, guardian/protector.
Character Archetype, Female: Superwoman, lady of quality, female executive, nanny/nurturer.
Character Goal or Quest: Search for a person, place or thing; for wealth or purpose.
Character Circumstance: Bride, wife in name only, divorcee, confirmed rake, single dad.
Character Appearance: Hair color, height, weight, body shape, age, fitness or lack thereof.
Character Uniqueness: Shape-shifter, vampire, werewolf, fairy, telepath or other sensitive.
Character Occupation: Lawyer, doctor, sports hero, billionaire, navy seal or adventurer.
Object of Desire: Holy Grail, Arc of the Covenant, document, treasure, sword, stone or jewel.

With so much to choose from, where was I to start?

I had actually written two books that were connected, though it was almost an accident. These were the Royal princes of Ruthenia stories, Royal Seduction and Royal Passion. I enjoyed creating the complicated speech patterns for the hero of the first book so used the trait again for his son a fictional generation later. The stories were historical romances, however, and contemporary novels were preferred at Mira Books.

Still, I liked the idea of related male characters. As I was known for Louisiana-set books, I decided to create a small Louisiana town and people it with male cousins, the “Bad Benedicts” who would each be given a family home and background tied to some aspect of the state’s unique culture. I would also explore the Southern Gentleman as an archetype.

The connections worked. The original contract for these Louisiana Gentlemen books called for a trilogy, but that was expanded into a five-part series using the names of the heroes for titles: Kane, Luke, Roan, Clay and Wade. A novella was included as a sixth story titled Adam.

While working on the Louisiana Gentlemen series, I soon recognized the need for organization to keep track of character and story details. Toward that end, I established a master character chart as a Word file. Every time I created a character, that person was immediately added to it, along with their physical description, age, personality, major life events, connection to other characters, and the books in which they appeared. Having all the characters listed in one place also helped prevent the major players from accidentally becoming too much alike.

A master notebook came next, in this case a 3-ring binder loaded with sheet protectors. Into it went clippings of models or actors who represented the main characters, photos and descriptions of the houses used in the books, briefs descriptions of the layout of my fictional town, recipes that would be added to the book text, a printed copy of the master character chart and chapter outline for each book, and working notes of all kinds. Having these details at my fingertips saved time and made the job much easier.

After several years of contemporary stories, I felt a strong need to return to my historical romance roots. A book about the fencing masters of old New Orleans—men so dangerous in this era of dueling they could demand and receive almost anything they wanted but were never introduced into polite society—had been with me for years. What could be better than writing the stories of a half dozen of these fascinating maître d’armes, or Masters at Arms? This series was planned as a six-part venture from the beginning, then. To hold it together, I would use the occupation of the heroes and resulting friendship between them, as well as the antebellum time period and New Orleans setting. A further connection would be book titles using terms associated with dueling: Challenge to Honor, Dawn Encounter, Rogue’s Salute, Guarded Heart, Gallant Match and Triumph in Arms. Mira approved this historical series, though it was not the contemporary type the publishing house felt was more commercial.

When the Masters at Arms series was completed, I wrote a proposal for a trilogy with arranged marriages in Victorian-era Louisiana as their main connection. My editor loved the idea, and we went to contract. Then the sales department at Mira weighed in: Books set in Europe were selling better than those set in the U.S. Could I keep the basic concept, they asked, but change the setting to Europe, preferably England?

Well—not really! The details of Louisiana life in the 1850s were as familiar as my own face by this time, but historical England? Not exactly, in spite of a love for English novels! Almost everything would be different, in fact, from the clothing and food to transportation and forms of address. Yet the project was a fascinating challenge. I set about reading for research and concocting similar yet different Tudor era stories. The result was the Three Graces trilogy, with sisters forced to marry at the command of his majesty, King Henry VII, founder of the Tudor dynasty and father of Henry VIII.

More medieval stories were planned after the Three Graces books were done, as I was now intimately familiar with late medieval England. My editor liked the new concept that I called the Tudor Heiress Brides series, but we were miles apart on contract terms. The traditional book market was in turmoil by this time, too, with print sales declining as ebooks gained traction. More than that, I had grown increasingly weary of the constant deadlines and lack of support in traditional publishing, with authors increasingly expected to self-edit and self-promote their work.

While this was going on, I was also in the process of regaining rights to my backlist titles. The intention was to establish my own independent web imprint for putting these online, and researching book sales on Amazon was a part of this process. It soon became clear that I could be just as well off publishing my new, original work there as well as my backlist. Added to that, it seemed lighter contemporary romances with shorter story lines were preferred online. I’d just returned from a trip to Italy that was my reward for completing three big, complicated, exhausting historical romances in 18 months. What could be more relaxing, at this point in my career, than writing shorter books set in such a beautiful place?

I refused the terms Mira was offering, withdrew the Tudor Heiress Brides trilogy, and began writing a light contemporary romance.

The Italian Billionaires series made its debut from my own Steel Magnolia Press in October, 2012, with The Tuscan’s Revenge Wedding. It reached #1 on Hot New Releases list, #1 on the Top 100 Free Books, and #1 on the Top Paid Romance Books lists at Amazon. I was so jazzed! Now I’m working on Book 2, The Venetian’s Daring Seduction, with a projected publication date of late April, and another book, set on the Amalfi coast, is planned for this winter. The connection between these stories is their Italian settings and billionaire heroes. Well, and my deep appreciation for La Dolce Vita.

I should say here that boxed sets have recently been created for my backlist books being brought out by Steel Magnolia Press. With the exception of the Royal Princes of Ruthenia books, however, these are not true series. They are stand-alone books which share common settings or genres. Titles are boxed together for reader convenience rather than because of internal story connection, but represent a good value regardless.

So that’s my experience with writing romance series. I’ve now grown fond of connected books, in part because of the chance they give to create a story world and remain in it for some time, but also because of positive feedback from readers who join me there.

What will come after the Italian books, I’m not sure. Readers have requested more Louisiana Gentlemen stories, and I have a couple in the back of my mind. I still have that proposal for books about arranged marriages in 1850s New Orleans, also the Tudor Heiress Brides stories with more marriages decreed by King Henry VII. But there’s no deadline, so no hurry to decide. I expect I’ll wait until it’s time to start writing, and then see what moves me.

But one thing I do know. Independently published series have a huge advantage over those released by traditional publishers. Whatever I decide to write can be online within days after I complete the final draft instead of months or even years later. What’s more, it will never go out of print. That instant gratification and eternal availability are wonderful pluses for an author, but even better for readers like me who hate to wait!

Find out more about Jennifer Blake and her books at her author page at http://www.romancebooks4us.com




BIO:
Jennifer Blake has been labeled a “Pioneer of the Romance Genre” an “Icon of the Romance Industry,” and a “Legend of Romance.” A New York Times and international best selling author since 1977, she is a charter member of Romance Writers of America, member of the RWA and Affaire de Coeur Halls of Fame, and recipient of the RWA Lifetime Achievement Rita.

She holds numerous other honors, including two “Maggies”; two Holt Medallions; multiple Reviewer’s Choice awards; the Career Achievement Award from RT Book Reviews Magazine, and the Frank Waters Award for literary excellence. She has written more than 65 books with translations in 20 languages and an estimated 32 million copies in print worldwide. Jennifer and her husband live on a lake in northern Louisiana.

BLURB:
Revenge can indeed be sweet...

When her brother's car plunges off a cliff with him and his fiancee in it, Amanda Davies gets the news personally from the fiancee's brother. The devastatingly handsome Italian businessman appears in Atlanta and whisks Amanda off to Italy to be with the hospitalized couple. But could his motive be more sinister?

Nicholas de Frenza never approved of his sister's choice in husband to begin with, and now that Carita is in a coma due to her fiance's reckless driving, it seems the perfect time to resurrect an ancient Italian custom of revenge: the seduction calls for a similar seduction in return, a sister for a sister. But Nico is too civilized for such vengeance -- or is he?

Even as Amanda falls for the Tuscan's charms, she knows his code and his family would never approve of her as more than a simple dalliance. But then the secret about the car wreck comes out -- and that's when everything changes...

 http://www.jenniferblake.com
 http://www.jenniferblake.com/blogs

7 comments:

kittyb78 said...

Awesome post! Thanks for sharing it. I'm working on my first series now, so it really put things into perspective for me. :)
bidelia78@yahoo.com

Janice Seagraves said...

Hi Jennifer,

I personally love series stories and have bought my share.

I'm working on a science Fiction romance series and already have a contract for it.

Good luck with your self-publishing efforts.

Janice~

Melissa Keir said...

Thank you for a wonderful post and a picture into the changes wrought in our industry. I'm so pleased that many of my favorite authors are now finding ways to put their backlists into ebook formats!

Sincerely,
Melissa

Kenzie Michaels said...

LOL:) I began writing my own series nearly 30 years ago, and soon discovered the need for a 'bible', to keep the details straight about each character:)

Excellent post, and I'll be checking out your books:) The Tudor Heiress trilogy sounds very intriguing!

Nicole Morgan said...

The series sounds great! Sometimes we have to put off perfection until we can get it just right. ;)

jean hart stewart said...

Extremey interesting to me since I've always written series. It doesn't take too long until you know you need a bible, although it took me longer than it should. Thanks for you post.

Polly McCrillis said...

Jennifer, I love the titles of your series - Masters at Arms and Italian Billionaires in particular. Precise, substantial, no frills titles. I look forward to reading your latest, Jennifer. Congratulations!

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