A cautionary tale…osmosis isn’t always the ‘serie-s’ way to go!
By Nancy Jardine
The last time I visited this blog, I was writing about Agricola’s Bane, Book 4 of my Celtic Fervour Series (Saga), but today I’d like to offer some insights into what to avoid when needing to market multiple related novels.
Some seasoned authors, and perhaps wise newbies, plan a perfect book series well in advance of writing Book 1. Others, new to the profession, have only one book in their sightline. With personal hindsight, that isn’t the best strategy because “There may be trouble ahead…” The following may hopefully forewarn new authors that some choices made can be good marketing ones, other less so. But what YOU want to write really is important!
Picture this – A historical Novel. Late 1st Century A.D. setting, North Roman Britain location. When Ancient Roman Legions invade their territory, members of a Late Iron-Age tribe become refugees, the story told from a Celtic perspective rather than Roman.
During my last teaching year (2011), I became aware of how difficult it was to get historical fiction traditionally published. Though, I also learned it was easier to get a historical romance published by an ebook publisher. Hefty revisions changed my original story to having a central romance between Brigante Lorcan of Garrigill and Nara of the Selgovae tribe, without reducing my main historical content. A New York State ‘Romance Only’ ebook publisher rejected the manuscript but gave me a long list of improvements which, if done, would more likely satisfy their publishing criteria. I was so excited, I might soon be published!
Don’t be in too big a hurry to be published.
I ‘ramped up the sexual content’ as required but minimising the roles of my strong secondary characters, and clawing back on the historically accurate settings to make it fit that publisher’s ‘house style’ and book length, I found, didn’t appeal.
My manuscript by then wasn’t my initial conception of a historical novel. However, undaunted by the hybrid that my fabulous story now was, I submitted it to a Scottish-based publisher who published multiple genres. To my utter euphoria The Beltane Choice went through editing and publication stages in 2012, and the first reviews trickled in. One was 5* glowing in the way every author loves – highly praising the character portrayals (main and secondary); authenticity in historical details; and the underpinning romance. A huge shock, though, was being asked how long the reader had to wait for Book 2 of the series. In all my to-ing and fro-ing, a Book 2 hadn’t yet entered my mind.
My publisher was highly encouraging. Brennus of Garrigill, brother to Lorcan, was perfect for Book 2. Though for Brennus’ a relatively simple historical romance just wouldn’t suit. His story involved much more interaction with Ancient Roman characters, brought in much more military strategy on the part of both the Romans and the ‘Celts’ –– it had a completely different tone from Book 1. Brennus’ story revolved around three main characters and was told from three viewpoints – two Celtic and one Roman. When submitted, the manuscript was deemed too long with a word count of above 110, 000. The publisher suggestion was to make Brennus’ story be over two books with an intention to have both of them be stand-alone novels but this didn’t really work, though we strove for this. It was decided that a part of the title of Books 2 & 3 needed to have something in common so After Whorl: was inserted before the rest of the title – the Whorl referring to the battle at the end of Book 1 which was catastrophic for Brennus. A disclaimer was inserted at the end of Book 2 that Brennus’ story carries on in Book 3, a factor which doesn’t please some readers of ‘series’ books. After publication day, marketing the books became a huge challenge. A few reviews trickled in, all thankfully highly complimentary, but indicating that the books really do need to be read from the beginning to appreciate what’s happening to my Brigante Garrigill clan.
Brennus does get an HEA romantic ending at the end of Book 3, though it’s subdued because by then a huge battle confrontation is being enacted between the Ancient Roman Legions and the Caledonian Allies, which my refugee Garrigill warriors have joined. The main theatre of action at the end of Book 3 is barbarian northern Caledonia (currently North East Scotland), the progress of General Gnaeus Iulius Agricola’s campaign having reached there (in historical reality, Agricola’s campaigns from N England to NE Scotland took around thirteen years and my time-lapse reflects this).
In marketing terms what was being presented? It couldn’t be called a Historical Romance series because Book 2 had no HEA ending. So, it was marketed as a Historical Romantic Adventure Series since it truly did have all of those component parts across the books.
Book 4, told over multiple viewpoints (Roman and Celtic), has morphed all of the books into a continuing Historical Family Saga set in Ancient World surroundings, with older members like Lorcan and Nara of Book 1 now in the background with second generation mid-teens becoming the main protagonists.
The whole set of novels are historically as accurate as I can make them using the most up-to-date archaeological record that I can lay hands on. Does Book 4 have a more definite ending? No, because the story of young Beathan, the baby born in Book 1 to Lorcan and Nara, still has much more of his prophesised future to be revealed in the final Book 5. The set of four books are currently self-published with Ocelot Press and marketed as a historical Saga.
Will it be any easier to market the set when Book 5 is published sometime in early 2020? Time will tell, but as an author I’ve learned a lot, I believer my writing skills have grown a lot and…best of all, I’m writing what I want to write.
To date, I’ve sold hundreds of my paperback novels at Craft Fair and Event venues across my home area of Aberdeenshire. But that’s probably because, face to face, I’m able to make sure my customers realise the importance of beginning at the beginning to get the best reading experience of what is a set of highly different, yet extremely interrelated novels. It’s so brilliant when they sell, though a drawback is that they never write reviews in useful places like Amazon or Goodreads.
If there’s a chance a new author might want to create a series, make sure to know: Is it going to be a family saga over a number of decades involving lots of family members? Will the books have an interconnecting theme but with different characters majoring in each book? Will there be a series of events happening to one character across multiple books?
Why? What you have might not actually be a ‘series’. It’s all about that marketing, because if you don’t get it right “There may be trouble ahead…” with selling to book buyers.
If anyone reading this has a really brilliant idea of how I can best market my Celtic Fervour Saga when 5 books are on offer – please tell me!
Thank you Mary-Anne, for allowing me to share my publication journey with your readers!
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Nancy Jardine writes contemporary mysteries; historical adventure fiction and time travel historical adventure. Writing is squeezed in between regular grandchild minding and messy gardening. She’s a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, the Scottish Association of Writers, the Federation of Writers Scotland and the Historical Novel Society. She’s self-published with Ocelot Press.