Write Byte

Writing a Series

Our own Laurie Likes Books received an e-mail recently from Elaine Coffman, who wanted to submit a title for one of the Special Title Listings she maintains at The Archives of Laurie Likes Books.

Since so many of us are fans of related stories, we decided to ask Elaine to reflect on the topic. She is the author of an extremely successful series of related books and in fact wrote the final books in the Mackinnon series because her fans were relentless in their requests.

Here is what Elaine had to say:

The difference between writing a series of books as opposed to one book, is like having one child compared to several. You reap a greater joy. You get to be involved with your children longer, which is also true when writing about a family. I read once that there was a difference between a book of two hudred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages that was originally eight hundred pages. The six hundred pages are there, only you don't see them. This is what happens when you are writing a series of books. The other characters are there, but you don't see them.

I wrote my series of seven books so they did not have to be read in any order. I have been a frustrated reader of series myself, and found it so irritating when I discovered there were earlier books I should have read before the one I started with. I also know first hand that it can be difficult sometimes to find all of the books in a series.

This isn't the author's fault. Sometimes it isn't the publishers fault either. If the books are in print and they aren't in the bookstores, that is because the bookstore didn't order them. This may be due to lack of space or lack of interest, or oversight. If the books are out of print, that makes locating the books very difficult and a used bookstore is about the only way to find them.

Believe me, there isn't an author anywhere who wants to see her books out of print. She doesn't make any money on books that aren't for sale, and she doesn't pick up new readers who might have read them. Unfortunately, she doesn't have any control over the decision to keep them in print. This is strictly the publisher's decision.

When writing a series of books, you are at an advantage in that you know the history of your characters family almost as well as your own. In my series of books, the knowledge of what happened to each brother was important for the development of the other stories, as was the information about where each brother went after he left home. All of this family information played an important role in the writing of each book and in the development of each character.

It was also fun to write about a large family, and judging from my reader response, it must be fun to read about them as well. And why not? Families are something we all have.

When I started writing my Mackinnon books, I originally planned three books about three brothers from Texas who were orphaned at an early age. Before I got the first one finished, the idea had grown to five books about five brothers. However, there was a sister who was kidnapped by the Comanches when she was six, but I never intended to write her story, just as I never intended to do a spin off on a child who was in another one of the Mackinnon books. Shows how much I know . . . When I finished Heaven Knows, which was the fifth and what I thought of as the "last of the Mackinnons", I wrote a heartfelt letter to my readers, telling them "I never knew it would be so difficult to let them go. Working with the Mackinnons was like having children. One day they were little and playing around my feet. The next day they were grown."

I learned two things about putting letters in the back of books. First off, don't ever say you are through with anything, because your readers will prove you wrong, and secondly, don't put your address at the end of the letter if you don't want to spend the next two years of your life answering the same question. I received over six hundred letters asking, no, telling me I was not through with the Mackinnons. My mail box was stuffed. My readers were adamant. My next book advance went to buy stamps.

My readers told me I couldn't leave the sister out there in la-la land. They gave me suggestions. They told me what they would do to me if I refused. A writer's group in Florida even gave me a several paragraph outline. Many said they wanted the young boy in So This Is Love to have his own story, that when he grew up I had to take him back to Scotland to avenge his father's death and to regain his title.

I began sending copies of these letters to my editor. After two dozen, she cried uncle and my readers got their two books. The last (and I absolutely, positively, unequivocally mean this is the last) Mackinnon book, and seventh in the series will be released by Fawcett in February. They can boil me in oil, they can drive bamboo shoots up my fingernails, they can call my mother and complain, but I won't write another Mackinnon book . . . .

At least not for a few years.

I suppose the biggest plus to writing a series is the reader response, for they truly come to love these characters as much as the author does and they don't mind telling you. How can you not find pleasure in basking in the praise of those you hoped to entertain? What idiot wouldn't sit up at night typing, when anyone with an ounce of sense would have gone to bed, or out to dinner, because her readers are waiting to find out what happened to the next character in the series?

The hardest thing, I suppose, is coming to an end. I can think of only one parallel and that is the feeling you have when it comes time for your last child to go off to college. You knew all along this moment was coming and yet, you are totally unprepared. I think I expressed it best in my letter to my readers when I said:

"Friendship and romance may fail us. Our children grow up and leave. But the characters who have been given life in a book are indestructible. They live on . . ."

Elaine Coffman


You can e-mail Elaine by clicking here.

The MacKinnon series is comprised of the following titles:

  • Angel in Marble
  • For All the Right Reasons
  • Somewhere Along the Way
  • So This Is Love
  • Heaven Knows
  • When Love Comes Along
  • If You Love Me

Read an AAR Review of Elaine Coffman's The Bride of Black Douglas
Read an AAR Review of Elaine Coffman's The Fifth Daughter
Read an AAR Review of Elaine Coffman's The Highlander
Read an AAR Review of Elaine Coffman's The Italian