Executive Editor at Jossey-Bass, blogger and publishing market guru, Alan Rinzler, posted a very interesting installment for Forbes.com newsletter on what publishers are looking for writers to create today. If they want to capture some attention; series are the pot at the end of the rainbow.
Rinzler explains that "For a publisher, producing a successful book series is like winning the lottery. The rewards can be enormous and ongoing" and that makes me contemplate the fact that most writers are focused on their precious first novel and thinking about creating a whole series on the same plot might feel overwhelming. But if a writer cares about the market and the profits, Mr. Rinzler´s post is a piece of information one can not pass unnoticed.
I believe that we all have the dream of finishing our first novel, our first book. We all dream about the reviews, the lenient gasp of air out of nervousness when knowing that our names are out there, somewhere, printed and held by someone who was captured by those worlds we created for them.
I know now that all I want to achieve is to finish my first book. Feel comfortable with the plot and close my eyes and live the life of my main character. But, I haven´t thought of a series on this one plot that I have in my hands and I´m sure, I don´t want to make a series out of it. As if it wasn’t enough with all the work that finishing one book demands. Must of us want one book at a time, one plot at a time. But, I have a confession to make, now that I consider this new fact in the industry, producing a series from ONE plot, is actually a very attractive idea.
I can picture my self getting comfortable with the characters in my mind if I spend a larger amount of time of my life with them. Letting them take a room in my everyday montage for a long period is a doable thing, if I center my mind in the fact that I won´t have to be creating new plots every time the industry demands me to write a new book -when that happens of course-.
For me, what Mr. Rinzler states is a simple real commitment to my characters and could be the path for a good comfort zone in my life. I could really get into the characters´ skin. Into their minds and I will for sure be able to cross their limitations and bend their minds and psyches. I can play with their souls; mold them to the point of maturity that a reader always wants. I can have them grow as my heart and mind get older and wiser. I can even improve my self as a writer while writing a series that can be satisfying.
Mr. Rinzler continues his installment with a list of book series and writers and the number of copies they´ve accomplished to sell. I have to say that those numbers sound like a sweet lullaby that gives me peace and hope.
This well known editor starts with Harry Potter which, according to him, has sold about 400 million copies of the series worldwide. I did some research and the plot created by J.K. also reaches the Lego Industry (the toys industry). Lego presented the numbers for their latest acquisition with Potter´s franchise and revealed that Potter: Years 1-4 has sold 2.7 million copies around the world. And as if this was not enough the young wizard also has a theme park, a fan club that also produces money and all the list of things coming from the magic hat are just mind-blowing. You get the picture, right?
There is another series, which I never heard of before and also holds big figures; Nancy Drew; this, 175 installments of the well known mystery series sold more than 200 million copies around the globe and keep on counting by the second.
Twilight’s four books released from 2003, have already sold a total of more than 100 million. Mr. Rinzler continues with his presentation of the tops, and he keeps introducing me to writers I have never heard of, for instance, Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy´s writer, who has sold more than 45 million copies and he keeps licking the finger and counting the bills. On Larsson, Mr. Rinzler has something very interesting to say: "His publisher Alfred A. Knopf estimates that by year’s end they will have sold a phenomenal 15 million copies in 2010" a foresight most writers would appreciate to get, I have to say.
According to a piece published in Los Angeles Times this story has already three movies out in Larsson´s native Sweden and one is already in the making in U.S. This plot was reviewed by O´s (Oprah Winfrey´s magazine) book editor Sara Nelson, who says "the heroine's not terribly well defined. Is she lovable? Yes, but she's not necessarily likable. Lisbeth is a hybrid, but the books are hybrids too — a chronicle of the media business, a comment on society.... It's not a standard police procedural." This kind of publicity can not get any better.
The post continues disserting the publishing market and presenting really interesting facts; it says that publishers always aim their radars to find a plot that can be worked from a series angle and if they smell a potential series in a promising new submission, they surely will try to nail it down with a multiple book contract. These are the current numbers in the following genres:
Top genres for multi-book deals in 2010
Romance – 108 deals
Mystery & Crime – 73
Young Adult – 56
Middle Grade – 53
Science Fiction – 31
Thrillers – 29
Paranormal – 27
AND IT GETS BETTER!
Rinzler gives away a great pointer on what is it that writers need to focus on: How to keep a character alive. He says that the writer should create a characters based on an ambitious kind of fictional autobiography, not a true-to-life memoir, but a romantic idealization of the author´s own life. As a develpmental editor, he invites writers to view their plots with the series potential angle and apply these simple advises:
1. Let the main and supportive characters age
2. Keep them close to your heart
3. Give them an interesting day job
4. Make every new crisis relate to their inner development
5. Surprise the readers. Twist the hero/heroine faith.
And he ends the post saying to the reader, who is also a writer, that if he or she is developing a serial character he´d “be very interested to hear how you’ve tackled the challenge of sustaining interest from one story to the next”.
With these ideas and pointers in the table I sat in fron of the computer and started thinking about what the market has become and what kind of challenges writers have to face now. It is not an easy task to come up with a plot and a subtantial main character. It is breathtaking sometimes. But what I now figure from reading this post is that ED I TORS have become even more difficult, more demanding. For them right now, ONE book is not enough. So, we, writers, need to convince ourselves that our hearts are going to meet the heartlessness of a market that only sees you if you hold a seven figure number in your portfolio. What to do then? Measure our selves to the challenge? Oh yes. That is what we need to do. Write our asses off. Life´s short. Series are not. Get to work now!
By Mauricio Betancourt©