‘Promotable Books’ in a series

by | May 4, 2022

It’s kind of impossible for me to think about writing books in a series without my mind tripping over to our current Golden Age of Television, now entering its third decade. Which is a pretty long run for a “golden age” of any kind. If you count the modern TV Era from the first year when half of American homes owned a TV set, more than a third of its history comes after the Sopranos premiered in 1999. 

DC in Asheville, Fall 2021.

Why does TV relate to writing a fantasy series? Because novels don’t equate to feature films, the medium that was long considered the prestige format for any sort of moving picture presentation. Short stories equate to feature-length films, which is why Francis Ford Coppola started Zoetrope: All Story in 1997. If you’re in the movie-making business, getting the first-look at some of the best new English language short-fiction is smart business. 

No, novels generally equate better to TV, because serialization allows the screenwriter to develop the story in a format that roughly mirrors a standard chapter structure. For whatever reason (I’m no expert) there seems to be a tradition of a season of a TV series totalling about 13 episodes. By comparison, Chene has 14, Gwynyr has 12, and Ta Nupa has 15 chapters (Llyr is the outlier with 18). Anyway, they’re all generally the same length, and it’s not hard to imagine each being translated to a pretty standard season of streaming television. 

But I digress. 

The point is that TV before the current Golden Age of Television was typically episodic, not serialized. You could watch I Love Lucy in random order and not be too confused (except where did that baby come from?). The same is mostly true of another Desilu hit: Star Trek (now Star Trek TOS, because who knew?). Since the dawn of the current Golden Age, however, episodic  TV series (the equivalent of a themed short-story anthology) has surrendered ground to serialized TV (the equivalent of reading a novel).

Like I Love Lucy, you could start watching Mad Men or Breaking Bad with any random episode of any random season. But that would be like starting Ta Nupa in Chapter 5. There’s a story going on, but you’ve wandered into the middle of it, and you’re going to be… confused. If you liked what you saw, maybe you’ll check for a streaming option and start over from the beginning. But that’s a best-case scenario, and if I’ve learned anything from selling eBooks, is that you never, ever count on a best-case scenario. 

By analogy, The Darbas Cycle is a limited-series serial TV show that knows how it’s going to end. The question is, how many places can a brand-new reader enter it and not feel like they’ve walked into the middle of a movie? 

My current answer? Five places. And that’s a lot

The first, obviously, is Chene, the first book of the first trilogy. But because The Goddess Daughter was written as a prequel, set roughly 20 years before the main story begins in Season of Spies, Entry Point No. 2 is more-or-less obviously Ta Nupa, the first book in Trilogy Two. 

When I originally imagined that second trilogy, that was it. You could start with Chene, or you could start with Ta Nupa

But then I learned something from experience. Ads are one thing, but the best tools I have for attracting new readers to the full series is promoting individual novels via short-term discounts and give-aways. The more I studied the results from my Chene promotions, the more value I placed on any book that could serve as a viable entry point to the larger series. 

So I reconsidered Season of Spies, and recognized an opportunity. Because I’d planned for the three novels to overlap in time and place, and because each story is told by a different POV character, I could actually present them in any order. Which meant that if I approached each book carefully, I could make all three of them viable entry points. 

So there’s four entry points: Chene, Ta Nupa, City of the Dead, Book Five and Book Six. 

Where do I find that fifth one? 

Book Seven, the first book in Trilogy Three. Here’s how it goes: 

Chene, the first book in the series’ prequel trilogy, is an obvious entry point. So is Ta Nupa, which begins the main series storyline in 1100 p.e. The next two books in Season of Spies overlap to tell a single trilogy-arc story, so I add them to the list. And Season of Spies tells the story of how imperial warfare inevitably comes to Darbas in 1101 p.e., as previously foreshadowed.

In Book Seven, that war begins, with the protagonists from Season of Spies right where we left them. And with the POV character changing with each chapter of each book in trilogies Three and Four, there’s no turning back after Book Seven. I just have to make sure that when I write Book Seven I’m careful to give readers just enough background and character development to enjoy the ride. 

Will a reader who starts with Book Seven get as much meaning out of knowing that Niall Dannan is Chene Viqar’s son? Or why Rialta, Lady Rowene’s third daughter, has such a complicated relationship with her mother? Nope. But if you read Book Seven when it comes out and you love it, you’ll have six books to read while you wait for me to finish Book Eight. And so on. 

I’ve planned 15 books for The Darbas Cycle, which means a third of them are viable entry points I can use in promotions. That’s more than most series can manage. 

And I know what you’re thinking: If this guy was really a serious writer, he wouldn’t think about anything except the story. Feel free to keep thinking that, too. 

But I don’t want to write a pointless, episodic series that doesn’t know where it’s going. I’m writing this series the way I’m writing it because I want the challenge of writing fantasy novels that have an individual book arc, a trilogy arc and a series arc. And if I want to complete this series, eventually these books have to pay for themselves. We’re investing our time and money up front, but I can’t afford to keep writing them unless more people start reading them. 

Which means I’m not just the author, I’m the marketing director. I’m the sales department and the guy who buys the ads and writes the ad copy and… well, you get the gist. 

And here’s the tricky part: I know a lot more about writing fiction than I do about any of those jobs.