Crossroads / Man vs Nature / Rowe-Delamagente / Survival of the Fittest / writers tips

Series or Not a Series–How do You know?

book seriesWhen I think of a series, my mind envisions…

a cast of characters thrown into different situations over a discrete period of time

My Rowe-Delamagente series is exactly this. My main characters (Kali, Zeke, Otto, and a few others) follow the timeline of their life while fighting bad guys.

Then, a couple of months ago, it struck me that my new prehistoric fiction series, Man vs. Nature, ISN’T this at all. The cast of characters changes with each novel as does the setting and time.  I consider it a series because the theme is consistent through all the books–how man survives the challenges of nature to become who we are. This fits Wikipedia’s definition of ‘series’:

“A book series is a sequence of books having certain characteristics in common that are formally identified together as a group.” 

Besides my definition problem, I had a second problem with my WIP, supposedly Book 2 in the Man vs. Nature series: Book 2 is too long for one book so I need to break it into two books. Now I have a two-book diptych (duology? what’s a two-volume book called?) within a series. Really my head started to spin.

Enter the experts. I happen to be friends with Janet Reid, a thriller agent who has a Q&A column on her blog. Just to be clear, ‘friends’ may not be the right word. She did turn down both of my thrillers but that does make her familiar with me and my writing. Anyway, I sent this confusing question to her—

I am writing a historical fiction series that will be about six books. It’s a saga chronicling events surrounding significant points in the evolution of early man, each book separated by thousands of years. The second book in the series is overly long and I must separate it into two books. The second book (of the two) will immediately follow the first with no ‘thousands of years’ separation.

Here’s my question: How do I describe the two books within the series? Are they a diptych? And would I then describe them as a diptych within a series?

I guess I piqued her interest because she selected my question to be posted on her blog. Not only did I get her answer but lots of input from her amazing community of highly-qualified writers. Here’s a snippet of her answer and then click through for the rest of her sensible thoughts and the collection of community comments. Thanks to this, I’ve completely changed my thinking about Man vs. Nature as a series, which you’ll hear more about in future updates.

Talking about books within a series

It may come as a surprise to you that editors might not want a book that happens several thousand years later as a sequel. For starters, all those characters we loved in Book One are dead. Long dead.

Read on…

More on Man vs. Nature

Born in a Treacherous Time Receives an Award

Book Launch–Born in a Treacherous Time

Prehistoric Fiction Authors: Great Books For You

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy, the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers, and the upcoming Born in a Treacherous Timefirst in the Man vs. Nature collection. She is also the author/editor of over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, adjunct professor of technology in education, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer,  a columnist for TeachHUB, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her books at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning.

96 thoughts on “Series or Not a Series–How do You know?

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  5. An interesting dilemma, though when I think of a series the characters are driving the story and are consistent throughout, whether a trilogy or longer. Thank you for finding out! Makes sense 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was actually helpful for me, Jacqui. I’ve become entranced with the thought of writing fiction centered around mental illness. However, I didn’t want to even think of such stories as a series. You’ve eased my mind.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I saw a link to this post on a friend’s blog a couple days ago but got distracted. I told myself i’d read it later and only remembered when i read it again now.
    It’s an interesting question, especially when there’s a book after this second one – and a long gap in time. i’m heading off to Janet to read what she suggested.

    Liked by 2 people

      • i read it. there were some blank spots i imagine are some sort of images, but i’m curious what you’ll ddo (if there was an answer in Janet’s page, i’m not sure i got it) or Are you going to go ahead with book 1, book 2, book 3 and so on?

        Liked by 1 person

        • The second in the series will be 2-3 books long because the story is too long. Each will be free-standing and deal with the same time frame. The next time frame will probably be Cro Magnin, Neanderthals–somewhere around there. I’ll definitely have at least one out next Spring, maybe two!


    • We do what we must, don’t we? Janet is so darn down-to-earth, I often nod along with her answers. And what a great group she has on her blog. Very supportive while offering well-reasoned advice. Happy happy.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Jacqui,

    How impressive your question prompted a blog entry and oh, my what good source insightfulness by so many others. I would not know where to begin on the query but it sounds like you’re getting some wonderful input from those who know what they’re talking about. Best of luck to ya! I know you’re going to do quite well. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Hi Jacqui, I think a big part of describing books in a series is whether or not it can be read as a standalone book. People get really irritated if they get invested in a book only to find out they HAVE to buy more to have a satisfactory ending (or to understand what happened because you need info from an earlier book). Most people enjoy a series, but they want to be fully informed.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Oh my gosh, Jacqui, are you a Reider too? Are you there under a different name?

    I remember that post (although I don’t think my reply would have been at all helpful, I believe I seconded what another Reider had said). Happy to have a look at your next query if you want other eyes on it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love that term–Reider. I’m not but I am an avid reader of her site. I sent in my question and was excited when she selected it immediately–within a week! That made me an OP though, didn’t it?

      The people who comment on her questions are always amazing with their insights, positivity, and suggestions. So many great ideas there.

      I hope I didn’t sound disgruntled about my queries. Her rejection of my books did nothing to mitigate my respect for her. I do assume it’s the way I presented the book. I may take you up on your offer!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Personally I have absolutely no problem with a book series that developes over centuries or even longer periods of time. Stephen Baxter and Ken Follet are two very successful writers that also do this (just reading the latter’s third book in a series ‘Columns of Fire’). 😊

    Liked by 2 people

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  13. Regarding your category dilemma, I think I’d lean towards Book I and Book II of the XXX set. Think about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Each book is complete up to a point, but each leads to the next book until Book III.

    As for the series: You write books with a particular topic interest but perhaps they are not a series as much as a theme focus. I think the commenters on Janet Reid’s blog stated the most important thing, which is to promote the first book, then worry about genre details later for other books.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m leaning the way you suggest, Shari, with my Book 1 and 2. I think I end Book 1 with some pieces tied up but a cliffhanger and then review what happened in Book 1 at the start of Book 2 (quickly). Hmm…

      The series focus–Janet’s post seems to make the most sense to me as I get a distance away from the issue. Thanks Shari for your thoughtful answer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I love the first book but I realize it’s a niche. Another issue that has arisen as I write the next is that, while Born in a Treacherous Time is arguably character-driven, Book 2 is more action-driven. I didn’t plan that, just is happening. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m no expert, Jacqui, but I think Man vs. Nature is a series, just like Monoliths of the World (I made that up) would be a series ~ built in different eras but the same theme. People who read and love Born in a Treacherous Time will want more and will eagerly purchase Book 2. I’d write an introduction to Book 2 where I’d mention Lucy and her struggles, introduce the main character of Book 2, draw parallels between the two characters despite the millennial gap(s), and set up the reader for another thrilling adventure. As to the diptych, I’d simply title them Part 1 and Part 2. This sounds like an exciting project ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Narnia did the leaps well but of course they had the characters so we understood the leaps in that world.

    It’s an intriguing question you ask. I think readers have to do their part and understand that the life expectancy back then was short and characters won’t stay alive all that long. I think that when all the books are out, or when a certain number are out, this will end up being called a series – even if unofficially – by readers.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi Jacqui – I’ll be over to read more and to ‘meet’ her … good for you for asking the question – that’s clearly vexing you … but which now has clarified certain aspects for you. Cheers Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Consistency in theme is clearly more important than changes in settings and time. when it comes to define whether books should be considered intertwined in a series this is a good, accurate criteria to define it, I think. Very enlightening post, dear Jacqui. Happy week. Love and best wishes 💓

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for weighing in. I’m leaning toward that direction myself though maybe ‘collection’ or something like that would be clearer, especially since I’m going to have triptychs in the middle of the series!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Such fun stuff here! As far as a series, I have often heard authors say that as they’re writing, the characters take on a life of their own: they become their own hopes, desires, destinies and the like. If you hear their voices saying, “we need to continue this journey,” I’d say that’s a sure sign that you’ve got a series on your hands. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Absolutely. That’s actually happening with this time period in my series/collection Man vs. Nature. I already have two books and my brain is organizing a third. It’s those voices talking, as you say.


  19. I think that the concept of ‘series,’ in this case, should be an after-the-fact marketing decision. The books will share concepts of time and space–and, I’m guessing here, probably they’ll share an underlying theme of survival in difficult/changing times. From a consumer’s point of view, that’s enough to make it a series. They’ll all need to be stand-alone books, but there’s enough commonality to call it a series from a marketing perspective. My only concern is that you may have invented a new genre, not historical fiction, but, to be accurate, pre-historical fiction.

    Liked by 4 people

  20. I can understand your dilemma, Jacqui. Personally, I do think you have a series here despite the time jumps. Having read and loved the first book, I would look for more in the series. I’d want more in the theme and style of storytelling.

    Book descriptions/blurbs can easily prep the reader for what is to come, not only for each book but for the whole vision/series. Amazon allows long book descriptions that give you room to do both. And having a duology in the mix is fine as long as it’s clear in the tagline and description.

    Janet seems to lay out some of the challenges with traditional publishing, and if you were going that route, it would make sense to heed her advice about what a publisher is willing to invest in. But self-publishing doesn’t have to deal with the same constraints. I think if you let the reader know how the series is set up, you’ll be fine. My two cents.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Your post and the reply were very informative. I wrote a TV pilot and two episodes a few years back that I’m considering adapting to novels. I like the idea you don’t tell an agent it’s a series, I also see their logic. Thanks!

    Liked by 2 people

  22. What front of mind for me in response to this post is admiration for your willingness to put yourself out there, Jacqui. Not only do you write a book in a genre that none of your friends/family ‘get’, but then you come up with a brilliant way of promoting the book (different questions answered on different blogs – brilliant), you take the risk of paying for a review that could go either way and now, ready to start on book 2, you write to a major literary agent with your question. You’ve got game, girl! Way to go!

    Liked by 3 people

  23. That is an interesting question. It becomes more confusing in movies because the actors playing the same characters also change. I think what Janet says makes sense. Why would someone want to get locked into a 6-book series without putting out the first book and checking out the response.

    Liked by 2 people

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