As of today (November 22, 2014 when I’m writing this piece), I have written seven full-length Original Sinners novels, seven Original Sinners novellas, and approximately twenty Original Sinners short stories for a grand total of over 1 million words. When writing a series of this scope with stories that span three decades, the challenge is how to keep things fresh and interesting for readers when they know your characters and this world almost as intimately as you (the writer) knows them.
That’s where the Steve Jobs quote above comes in. Now it may seem strange to take writing inspiration from a computer designer and CEO, but the late-great Steve Jobs was the man responsible for the smartphone which I assume 99% of people reading this article own. You might even be reading this article on your iPhone (or another brand of smartphone, but let’s be honest, Steve Jobs is responsible for even the non-Apple smartphones). Apple was a computer company that turned into a phone company because one day Jobs and his team were sitting around a table complaining about how terrible their phones were. Remember the old flip-phones and how you had to press numbers on your keyboard to spell out words for text messages? Thus was born the iPhone, something we didn’t know we wanted or needed until it was unveiled to the world and has since taken over it.
What does this have to do with writing a series? Everything. As a series writer, you have to know what your readers expect to happen next in your series and then…
Give them something different.
Example: At the end of THE SIREN, two characters still in love with each other even after a five-year separation re-unite. The logical next step and what readers would expect from book two in an erotic romance series, would be to show my newly reunited couple back together and working on their relationship. That’s what readers expected too. And it might have been an okay book. Nora and Søren are always fun to write. The problem is that if you always give the reader what she or he expects, you’re running the risk of being seen as “predictable.” And nothing will kill a series faster than charges that it’s “boring” or “predictable.”
Readers have certain expectations for their books: a romance novel should have a happy ending, a sci-fi novel should have science, a Western should take place in the Old West. But apart from these basic genre considerations all genre writers must follow, the horizon is wide open to write what you want to write and go directions readers never expected you to go.
I did that with THE ANGEL by taking two very minor characters from THE SIREN and making them major characters in the next book. The erotic pairing in THE SIREN was M/F (Nora and her editor Zach and Nora and her ex-lover Søren). For THE SIREN, the main love story was between trust fund baby Griffin and now 17-year-old Michael who Nora ushered into adulthood in THE SIREN. In THE SIREN, Griffin says he needs a sub the same night Michael submits to a dominant for the first time. When writing THE SIREN I hadn’t planned to put Michael and Griffin together in a book but when I wrote it, it seemed pre-ordained that they should be together. So instead of putting the focus of THE ANGEL solely on Nora and Søren’s relationship—which was the logical choice for a book two—I wrote about a couple no one ever saw coming (until we saw them coming wink wink).
Nearly every day a reader tells me that Michael and Griffin are their favorite couple in the entire series. Readers didn’t know they needed Michael and Griffin’s love story until I showed them how sweet and sexy they are together.
It’s a real risk subverting reader expectations. A few readers were turned off because it was a M/M pairing. But the risk paid off. Many more readers fell madly in love with the story. It was and is my editor’s favorite book in the entire series.
Anytime I’m stuck writing, I ask myself what readers would expect with the story. Then I think about how I can give them something that’s not only different, but better than they expected. Because readers deserve the best, and the best I can give readers is something fun, unpredictable, and surprising. When reader expect a new and improved flip-phone, give them a smartphone instead. Your readers are the reason you have a writing career. Don’t waste their time by meeting their expectations. Earn their money, their time, and their affection for your books by subverting and exceeding them.
Happy reading! Happy writing!