BURNED is in the hands of beta readers. I received a mock up of the cover (and screamed like a Joss Whedon fangirl). And we’re creeping closer to the entire book being a real deal. As in, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO READ THE DAMN THING.
So obviously, my reaction is to let the anxiety take over and make me panic. And it’s not necessarily because I’m putting yet another story into the world. It’s a new feeling, deeper than the usual nerves that go with anticipating readers’ reactions. I’ve finally figured out why: BURNED is the second story of an already established world, something I’ve never done before.
With GIFTED, I was introducing readers to a new world. It set up canon, explained storylines, and gave insight to characters who go from strangers to friends. It could’ve gone anywhere, because no expectations sat waiting in the wings. Whatever I made up in that story worked because it was a brand new adventure, both for my protagonist as well as my readers.
BURNED, however…this one’s different from the first two I’ve published because it’s the second in a series. There’s already a history, a backstory that readers will (hopefully) remember. The challenge is now not only creating an original plot with new villains, characters, and settings, but also keeping that established canon from previous novels. Like, you have to remember the Donovan tents were particular colors, or this character says this catchphrase, or wait a minute, how could THAT happen when THIS was explained a specific way in the first book? And on and on. (There’s of course the obvious advice to have spreadsheets and documentation on the details of your series. For example, I’ve got a spreadsheet of characters and their gifts, as well as their job in the circus.)
It’s important that the writer creates a new story in each book. Even if there’s an overall theme or plot (like you know over 5 books that “evil must be defeated”), there should be enough differences in each story to keep the reader entertained. New characters, minor plotlines, and different settings can help with this. You don’t want it to feel stale, the same old story retold in different ways. The point of a series is to move the story forward, but not forgetting canon so that readers still care about what happens because they’ve stuck with you this long and want the best for their favorite characters.
It’s also reassuring to readers that you are introducing new stories within each book despite it being a series. Remember that overall arc I mentioned? Sure, Lucy and the Donovan gang will face battles. But she will still have daily circus duties, problems with boys or friends, butt heads with skanky hoes (you’ll see in BURNED), and fear for her life in different ways. War might be on the horizon, but each book will have a different villain and plotline. And then of course you have to make each plot different from the previous ones so readers don’t get bored. Mix it up so readers are on the edge of their seats no matter which book they’re reading.
The only thing you DO have control over in going forward is produce good work – better work each time, really. While I will continuously add new guys, I know how to keep my established characters familiar to readers. They grow comfortable with the ones they know and are eager to meet new ones. And the best part is, readers will keep coming back for more because they grow familiar with your writing style, your story, and your characters, yet know they’re in for a different adventure each time.
Now if I can just keep my breakfast down at the thought of publishing yet another book. That’s something we’ll probably never get used to.