A while ago I asked Susan Wiggs for some career advice. We’d taught together for seven straight years at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. She also lives one island south of me. She emailed me back within 20 minutes of my query with a very detailed explanation of the route she followed for success.
First, Susan said she studied successful authors in her genre. She looked for the patterns.
Second, what she came up with was a plan to write three books. Since they were romances, she couldn’t use the same protagonist in every book; so she looked at a unifying concept. She decided on a fictional town. Suzanne Brockman uses a Navy SEAL team. This gives reader continuity. I’m using West Point as my unifying concept in my current Duty, Honor, Country series.
Third, you need a unifying theme. In romance, well, it’s usually some form of romance. I’m using the theme of loyalty versus honor. I’m applying that theme on two levels: personal for the characters; and also in the big picture because my focus is on the Civil War.
Fourth, the goal is then to sell the heck out of the first book and get a commitment from the publisher to push the numbers on the three books. Now that is out of your control. Both Susan and I have experienced publishers that didn’t push a series.
I think though, if you approach agents and publishers with a plan, you have a much better success of the plan working than not having a plan.
In fact, I was on an agent panel at Pacific Northwest Writers (no idea why I was on panel—guess because my agent was sitting next to me). And I mentioned the idea of having a plan. After the panel was over, one of the agents told me in all the years he’d been agenting, no one had ever approached him with a plan. He said he’d love it if writers had one.
I think that is the Catch-22 that a lot of agents and editors can’t get past, they would love a new author to have a plan, but they don’t have the time or energy to teach you how to develop one. So we’re still working on the throw 100 new books against the wall and hope 1 sticks paradigm. I really think we need to get smarter.