Writing A Series by Leigh Russell

Many authors set out to write a series, plotting the protagonist’s development through the books. Characters are introduced and plot lines set up in one book, to be picked up and developed in later books. When I wrote the first draft of Cut Short, I had no idea anyone else would ever read the manuscript, let alone publish it. The idea that it might turn out to be the start of a long series of novels never crossed my mind, until the story secured me a three book publishing deal and was shortlisted for a major award. After the success of the first three books – Cut Short, Road Closed and Dead End all went on to become international bestsellers – my publisher asked for a further three books in the series. Death Bed and Stop Dead are out and I’m currently working on the sixth book in the series. My publisher has set up a meeting where I’m hoping he’ll make an offer for another three books. I’ve already outlined the seventh one in the series.

The main benefit of writing a series has been that I’ve never had time to worry about how each book will be received, since as soon as one book is published, I’m busy working on the next one.

The most challenging aspect for me is having to remember details from previous books, like characters’ ages or the colour of their eyes. If I get any of these wrong, readers will notice. Fortunately my editor is eagle-eyed and seems to have an infallible memory, unlike me! To begin with I used to keep everything in my head, but as the number of books has grown I have taken to keeping notes on each of my characters.  I would advise any aspiring author to do the same.

You may think you are writing a stand alone novel – but you never know. Your one off book could be picked up by a publisher who sees it as the first in a series. You will come across a lot of helpful advice about being prepared for rejection, and the reality is that most manuscripts are never picked up by publishers or agents.  But be prepared for unexpected success as well. It happened to me. It could happen to you.

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Leigh Russell is the author of the DI Geraldine Steel series set in Kent and London. Her work has been shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award, selected as a Top Read on Eurocrime, and voted Best Crime Fiction Novel by readers of Crime Time. The books have reached the Top 50 Bestsellers List on amazon, Number 1 on kindle for female detectives, and the Top 50 Bestsellers on WH Smith’s Travel Chart. Her protagonist is one of Lovereading’s Great Crime Sleuths. Leigh runs creative writing workshops for the Society of Authors, the Get Writing Conference, and the Writers Lab, the Guardian’s “number 1 of the world’s 5 best writing holidays”.

One thought on “Writing A Series by Leigh Russell

  1. Phil Simpkin

    Leigh; I am a yet unpublished crime writer, and I am currently waiting for responses from a number of literary agents for my first submission, and I live in hope…

    I am presently part way through the second novel in a series I have planned, and was interested to see your comment above regarding the “challenging aspect” of remembering detail from previous novels.

    As my books are set in early Victorian Leicester, I was keen to make the details as accurate as possible, and thus built a comprehensive spreadsheet of characters, places, etc, together with relevant notes I had made during research.

    For my subsequent novels, I copy the original and set the date for the next novel. I only have to go through ages, descriptions, etc and update, allowing for physical changes to grow with the characters.

    I also check each landmark or location and Google it to see whether there were any changes relevant for the new date.

    I am also an avid user of the UK census and from 1851 in 10 years increments there is so much information to add value to authenticity, and this gets incorporated wherever possible.

    I hope I have the same or similar success to yourself, and wish you good luck with your next novel.