In my May post, I wrote very briefly about continuity series. So briefly, that several readers asked for more information. Here’s what I know from my experience writing for three continuity series from two publishers – Annie’s Fiction and Guideposts Books.
First, so you know what I’m talking about, a continuity series is a series of books that follow the same characters through a story arc—but rather than being written by a single author, they’re written by several authors each using their own or a penname. The books are work for hire rather than a royalty situation. The pay is decent.
A series might run for only a few books or for as many as twenty-five. In the case of series from Annie’s Fiction and Guideposts Books, the books are available in hardback, e-book, and audiobook but . . . not at your local or online bookstore. Annie’s and Guideposts do very well selling their books through direct-to-consumer book clubs. These book clubs are great for binge-readers because the books come out every four to six weeks. That publishing pace is why they need multiple writers.
Some libraries do get the books and some of the books also show up used or “like new” on Ebay and Amazon. Interestingly, I was able to buy a Kindle edition of one book on Amazon, and I don’t know how that happened.
The series I’ve worked on have been cozy mysteries. The publisher dreams up the general premise of the series, the location, and the characters. They give the characters backstories, relatives, friends, hobbies, favorite colors, food likes and dislikes, favorite music, clothing styles, pets, vehicles, and shared histories with some of the other characters, etc.
For the main character, there’s also a romance timeline for writers to follow – a gentle path from stirrings of interest in book one through a first date then on to the first kiss and eventually thoughts of marriage in a later book.
All of that information - plus photos of the characters, streetscapes of the town, specific buildings and businesses, the character’s houses or apartments, floorplans, and street maps – is collected in the series guidelines. The guidelines are updated as the series progresses. It’s an exciting day when the first set of guidelines shows up in your inbox. Like getting dossiers on a bunch of suspects. Also like a travel brochure with the location photos. The publishers choose places their readers (and this writer) might like to live.
What makes a good continuity writer? Someone who plays well with others. It’s important to stay in contact with the series editor and the other writers, as they work on their books, so that everyone knows when important changes are made – a new character or business pops up or a new piece of backstory is added, etc.
When a manuscript is turned in, the editor does the usual editor stuff (making suggestions for changes, improvements, clarifications, etc.). Then, after the author rewrites and resubmits, the editor attends to continuity – making sure that all the books in the series have a similar feel, while also each reflecting their individual author’s voice. How does the editor do that? Magic as far as I’m concerned.
You might ask if there’s much creative leeway for the writers working on a continuity series. The answer, at least for the series I’ve worked on, is absolutely. The plots, crimes, villains, suspects, secondary characters, etc. are all up to the writer. Because they’re looking for continuity, though, plots and all the rest do need to be okayed by the editor.
Would I ever want to write just for continuity series? I could see doing that, though for two reasons I’d rather not. First, I really do like being in charge of my own fictional worlds. Second, although I like the decent paycheck, I really like the decent advances and decent royalties I’ve been lucky enough to earn from my traditionally published series.
How can you write for a continuity series? Annie’s Fiction and Guideposts Books both hire almost exclusively through literary agents. According to a 2016 article by Guideposts editor Jon Woodhams, “only a handful of writers are chosen to contribute to our series, through a rigorous audition process; and we really look for authors who already have a proven track record of publishing.” That said, if you’re interested, and you have the agent and the track record, why not give it a try?
Readers, are you aware of these subscription book clubs? Writers, what do you think of writing to spec?