Karen Weisner Interview

A lovely Regency lady
 

Do you think publishers and readers love series, that they sell well? Why or why not?
Why do you think series are so popular? Do you think series books sell better than
stand alones? Why do you write series? What do you think sets your series apart from
the dozens of others out there in the genre(s) you write?

I believe readers love a series IF the series follows characters the readers find appealing.
A series offers a return journey to a visit a person the reader liked -- the reading world's
equivalent to making friends. The well received series sells because readers, like all people,
wish to keep in contact with people they befriend. Publishers like series because branding
grows stronger over time, improving sales. In effect, the publisher gets more bang with each
succeeding book than a stand alone book generally receives.

I fell into writing a series. The first book generated a concept for the second, and so on, and
it became a series naturally. Sales of the second book doubled sales of the first and I know
from royalties statements that people buy the first two books equally. To be honest, the third
book has not sold as well as the first two, although that could be due to distribution errors.
When the fourth comes out, its sales will determine if I write a fifth. My series is definitely unique:
the setting is England during the Regency period. The twist is that Camelot is not a myth, but history.

What type of series do you usually write? i.e. Single character who is the main character in each book in the series, a group of characters and each one (or several) gets their own story in a subsequent book, setting series, particular theme that each book is based on, etc. Or simply describe the overall focus of your series as best as you can here.
Each book in the series has different protagonists, but those characters can appear as minor characters in other books. The Banshee Brigade, an oddball clique, appear in each book as "comic relief." The setting is constant, being Regency England, and the plots revolve around aspects of the concept that Camelot existed and influenced the evolution of England. In the first book, magic creates havoc (mimicking Merlin in the Camelot myths). In the second book, the altered history of England is more prominent, as the Napoleonic Wars become Boneparte and Wellington both trying to find the Ark of the Covenant. Papers related to that quest are stolen and must be found. The third book reads much like a standard Regency romance -- but magicians are influencing a marriage of convenience. The fourth book explores the myth of the Holy Grail, with the Grail being kept in the Tower of London with the Crown jewels.

Do you or have you planned to start a series with the first book, or did you stumble on the series after writing the first or second books? What do you see as the pros and cons of each way? If you stumbled on the series after a book or two was written, did you have any problems in series books afterward (specifically, inconsistencies or changed premises)? How did you fix these? Did your readers notice the inconsistency and were/how were you able to correct it after the book was published? Please be as specific as you can about all aspects of this.
As I said before, a series came about accidentally. The pros are that I have a wealth of myth about Camelot that can be used to spice up plots and that I can explain away deviancies from the rigidity of standard Regency romance. The downside is weaving imaginary events and concepts into a period that is well known and much loved by readers; I risk angering Regency lovers. Some people have expressed confusion. A reviewer who wrote about her confusion may have hurt sales.

I have not come across any major inconsistencies, but the more books in the series, the worse it will get. Writing the second book, which is a prequel to the first, I finally had to write a note to myself and stick it on the computer monitor reminding myself that one character was NOT married. I have a file where I list the events in all the books in chronological order and color code each book. I doubt my publisher would allow me to alter a published book, so I had better not goof.

When you decide you’re going to write a series, do you do anything in particular to prepare for it? (Blurb the series and/or the stories; outline or essay each book in the series and how they’ll connect and how particular characters will fill roles; specific organizational processes, like ways keeping track of information that’s needed for each book, possibly re-reading previous books before starting a new one in the series, etc.?)  
I do not plan for further books in the series before I write them. They can be as interconnected or disconnected from each other as I please because they also stand alone. I do go over things from one book or another as I write a new one to make sure I give people the correct physical characteristics and history. I refer to a file that lists every event from all the books in chronological order to fit a new plot in since the Regency period is limited in time. The only characters I feel I must include are members of the Banshee Brigade, but there are enough of them to give me a great deal of latitude.

If you’re writing a series with a group of characters, how do you introduce series characters initially, then book to book, without confusing readers? Also, how do you avoid the “information dumps” that can be such a problem in writing interconnected books?
The Banshee Brigade -- eight or more individual characters -- developed because I had to have suspects to the theft of military secrets. Before publication, there were complaints that readers had trouble keeping them straight. I "solved" that problem by writing "the Banshee Brigade" as a single character at times and by having other characters fail to distinguish between them. The reader does not have to keep track of them to make sense of the plot.

Between books, I avoid information dumps by ignoring them. Each book is standalone, so if I mention an incident or character from another book, I treat it as new material -- but I go over it as lightly as possible. So, if the reader picks up book four before they read book two, they are going to be aware of some things that happen in book two. Any references to a MINOR prior event are extras the series enthusiast can look for, but they are not presented in a way that would confuse the new reader. In conclusion, I break about half and half here. Two of the books won't affect the others, but the other two books are more interconnected.

If you’re writing about one character who is the main character of each book in the series, what do you believe is important when it comes to character growth and bringing something new to that character with each book versus changes, subtle or drastic, to that character’s personality between the books in the series?
I do not get into character arc between books. The protagonist from book two is in book four, but as a minor character. If I decide to make a character more prominent, character arc will start where the prior book left off and proceed from there -- but I don't intend to do that now.

But that leaves the Banshee Brigade unaccounted for. This group of friends is shallow, stupid, and irritating. So far, they have had little or no character arc because as individuals they are limited. I tell people to liken them to four-year-olds in a sandbox; there is not much room for character arc in self absorbed toddlers.

In your series(’), do you think it’s important that each book be the same basic genre, or can the individual books be a mix of genres?
I have toyed with the idea of writing books set in other eras using the concept. It is entirely possible, but I have not done it. If the series took off for the New York Times Bestseller list, I would probably ask my publisher what he thought before I tried it.

How do you build continuity with your series from one book to the next? In other words, how do you tie one book to the next, and, ultimately, all the books in the series together? Or do you believe the ties between each book can be extremely loose?
The continuity in my series comes from the time period. Regency era England had the "upper ten thousand" - in other words, high society consisted of perhaps ten thousand people. In such an insular society, most people knew or knew of each other. Many were related to each other. Also, the appearance of Banshee Brigade members provide continuity. The plots of each book are not necessarily connected, although the plot of book four issues from an incident in book one. To explain, in book one, the husband is going to pretend to auction artwork for an individual -- he intends to cheat the man of the money, but he dies before he can do it. In book four, the sister of the cheated man is looking for the art, so there is info about events in book one.

What do you consider the most important aspects an author needs to do or ensure when setting up a series, continuing a series, and ending a series? If you could list 3-5 things you consider extremely important when writing a series, that would be great!
Just because I write a series doesn't mean I have considered any of the above. I have not. The most important thing, obviously, is to not contradict yourself - unless you can excuse the contradiction as being one person's opinion, or the truth coming out, etc.

Do you believe series’ books should stand alone, or can/should the basic story carry over into the next book in the series? In other words, should all series have an overall/long-term story arc that carries through every single book? Or do you think each book can have individual, new story arcs? How important is it that each story in a series stands alone? Please address your opinion concerning the issue of reader fairness in leaving a story unfinished over the course of a series until the final book.
Every book ever written should stand alone. If the story continues in the next book, it should still stand alone. That said, if the writer wants to include an element that spans books, the writer had better include enough in each book to satisfy the reader of each book. It sounds like tightrope walking, and the biggest risk I can think of is the reader getting bored with the mystery and walking away.

Do you think readers get bored with a series after awhile? What’s the optimal number of books in a series? How do you keep readers interested with each new book if you’re writing a long series? When it comes to reader expectation with a series, what do you think are absolutes—must haves and no-no’s (in other words, what would you never do when it comes to a series because you believe readers would be disappointed if you did? What do you always do because you know readers expect it?)
Of course readers can get bored with a series. The trick would be to have the focus of the series evolve. It can't be the same in book one as it is in book ten. What I would personally hate is a series where the overall plot of the whole echoes the character arc of an overwritten plot. I get disgusted with plots where there is not one, not two, not even three dark moments, but more. Enough finally, I will say, and throw the book away. If I was aware of that maneuvering in a series, I think I would throw the set away. And I doubt readers would tolerate killing off a popular hero. If they are reading the book because the hero is so wonderful, you better not lose him. Think of Captain Jack Sparrow. Who would go see another Pirates of the Caribbean movie if Johnny Depp wasn't in it?

Have you ever had a publisher discontinue your series before you completed it, or had a publisher go out of business in the middle of your series? Please provide details about the situation, fan reactions, etc.
Awful question. Mimicks my reality. My publisher is not very interested in my series -- the company was sold between books two and three. I am shopping book four elsewhere, with fear that it is dead.

After completing a series, 1) how did you feel about the end? Were you ready for it to be over, or were you sad and not ready to let go? How, specifically, did you end series—did you tie up the series in a particular way to make it clear the series had ended? Or did you leave it open-ended (i.e., you might come back to it later)? In each situation, what was reader reaction?
My series is open ended, but possibly dead. My sadness would be for the fourth book not appearing, because I think it is really neat. Otherwise, it is fear of the unknown -- I have to come up with something NEW.

What do you believe is crucial to having a series soar off the shelves? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages to releasing series books back-to-back or one per year, etc.?
 I suspect that flooding the market with a series is as bad as having them come out too far apart. I am not expert enough to answer. I do the best I can. And if I knew what made books fly off the shelves, I would write that and nothing else. You have to catch the eye and attention of readers and keep it.

Anything else you’d like to add?
Use my answers as the responses of the person who never worried about having "A SERIES." I didn't plan, I didn't consider. I just wrote the books I wanted to write.