Friday, April 3, 2009

The Joys and Terrors of Writing a Series or Trilogy

How I Ended Up Writing a Trilogy
As most of you know, when I originally wrote the first scene of As The World Dies: The First Days it was supposed to be a short story. If someone had said to me, "Hey, that short story you wrote, the one called 'Tiny Fingers', is gonna end up a zombie trilogy" I would have told them they were nuts. My first love was vampires and I thought that my foray into writing about zombies was a flash in the pan.

I was wrong, of course.

When I gave in to the zombie muse, I decided to just have fun with As The World Dies and enjoy the ride through the deadlands. I enjoyed posting the story online and having immediate feedback and I fell deeply in love with all the characters. When the story wrapped up, I was in awe at the grand scope of it.

And then the demands for publication came pouring into my email, loud and strong.

As I stated before, when I actually compiled the story into manuscript form, I was shocked to find myself staring at 1,600 pages filled with close to 400,000 words of of zombie goodness. The average novel is around 70,000 words long. There was no way I could release the story in one book. Since I'm using POD to make the books available to the readers, I have to obey their guidelines and deal with their limitations. I could have made the font super tiny and tried to squeeze it into a tome of around 1000 pages long, but the price would have been ridiculously high, close to 50 dollars. It would also not allow me to expand on the world at all. If anything, I would be slicing the story down dramatically.

I had no choice but to split the story apart. I was amazed to find natural ending spots in the story that made it easy to cut it up into three sections. I could have probably done four books, but the third book would have ended on such a down note, I couldn't do that to the readers.

And that is how my zombie story became a zombie trilogy.

The Agony of the Expanded World

Reading through the original story, I was horrified to see how many things I had accidentally left out. Plot points and character development that were clear in my head never made it into the story. Therefore, I found myself not only editing and revising what was already in the story, but adding entirely new sections. The second book ended up with nearly a third of it being new material.

As I revised and edited the story, I also realized that the three new books had very different themes. The first book was all about surviving the first days and trying to establish a foothold in the dead world for the living. It had themes about friendship and love while establishing the terror of the first days. The second book became about not only surviving, but building an enclave for the living in the dead world. It was about moving on and letting go of the old world. It was also about the growing pains of establishing a new society. The third book was obviously about choice and sacrifice. The three books all had a very different energy to them.

This made me worry. Would readers embrace this or hate it?

The Favorite Child

Though people say they do not have a favorite child, oftentimes the oldest is the one that has gained the most attention. That is the child with the most pictures in the photo album and is the testing ground for parenting skills that may slack off on the younger ones. Parents tend to be harder on the eldest and have higher expectations.

I found myself dealing with the first book in this way. It was our litmus test for everything that was to come. From the cover artwork to editing, it was put through the wringer. Some things worked, some didn't. But the first book taught us a lot about the publishing process and opened our eyes to the problems we could anticipate. Even pricing the book was a headache. We wanted the price to be affordable, especially because it is now a trilogy. We finally figured out a price that allowed us enough profit to continue our publishing endeavors, but low enough to satisfy our customers.

By the time As The World Dies: The First Days came out, I was exhausted, but thoroughly happy with our "first born."

Empire Strikes Back or Matrix: Reloaded

Putting out the second book was easier, yet harder. A massive rewrite delayed publication and then we had major formatting issues. Yet, everything else about the book was made easier due to our experience with the first book.

My major fear for the second book is that the energy of the book is much different from its predecessor. Whereas in the first book the energy is high and frantic, the second book has a more relaxed, yet tense tone. The major threat in the first book was the zombies. In the second, the zombies are still a threat, but other humans become an issue within and without the fort's walls.

In the world of movie sequels, I loved the Empire Strikes Back and loathed Matrix: Reloaded. Both had a very different energy from the first movie, but one worked for me, the other didn't. I wanted to have an Empire Strikes Back. A darker look at the main characters and the fort as a whole. I was so angst ridden, I sent the novel off to a few hardcore zombie fans to get their input. All of them loved it.

Personally, I love the second book. I feel it expands the world and takes the characters closer to the hard choices they make in the last book, but I still fear that readers want that same frantic energy of the first one.

But I know that a story cannot stay in the same groove. If it does, it becomes predictable and repetitive. Like Matrix: Reloaded.

The Last Hurrah

The final book is under revision right now. Siege is not easy to write. It has some very hard moments in it and being as attached as I am to the characters, I do shed tears as they fall. The death toll is high.

Going into the final book, I have kept in mind that I have created a very specific world and have set certain plots in motion. I cannot alter the course now, but embrace it. Hopefully, the readers will enjoy the book as much as they did the first and second novels.

Finishing off the series, is not easy. One fan asked me to keep going, but I don't see that happening. I could be wrong. Right now, the As The World Dies Trilogy feels complete and solid.

It has been very stressful putting out these books because I don't want to disappoint. I do not want to let down the readers who have come to love the characters and the world that were born out of my twisted imagination.

Siege is going to be a massive book and I will try very hard to keep the cost down, but it may end up being twice the size of the other two books.

The Reward

What I have enjoyed immensely about writing such a long story was the ability to stay with the characters through all the action and see them develop. I loved the characters of this story so much that when some of them died, I cried my eyes out. But it was joy writing their words and their adventure.

Final Thoughts

Most authors now days seem to be writing series instead of stand alone offerings. I tend to want to write more than one book per world I create, but the trilogy has taught me a lot about the joys and terrors of writing in the same world for more than one book. I have vowed that I will not push a series beyond its expiration date and will try to remain fresh with my ideas if I venture into the same world twice.

As The World Dies: Siege WILL be out this year. I will keep you posted. Meanwhile, as I work on the revision, be assured I am doing my best to deliver a kick ass ending that will not disappoint.

(A Side Note to the naysayer who said my books are overpriced: You have no idea what we have done to make these books into a quality purchase for the fans. The artwork itself is a huge expense, but important in the presentation of the book. Compare the price to other books in the genre of the same print size and page count and it is not overpriced at all. Plus, I am an Indie Author and we pay out of pocket for everything.)


  1. Wow! Big post today! :O

    I can certainly see what you mean about sequals often having different energies about them. And I totally agree with what you said about the Star Wars/Matrix sequals. Reloaded was dire and Revolutions was just god awful. Sad when you consider how good the first one was.

    As much as I enjoy the ATWD books, I dont think a series would be a good idea. Unless you made a compilation of side stories about things we didnt see in the main novels.

    As to what that person said about the price. I think thats total rubbish. The books are very reasonable priced and well put together. You did a very good job keeping them as low priced as they are, considering you have to meet all the expenses yourself.

  2. Ugh! Revolutions. That was so awful I try and block it from my mind. *shudders*

    How did you like all the new stuff in the second book, btw?

    I'm dying to know!

  3. I thought the new additions were pretty good. Added in a lot of little fine details that were missing before. The scenes with Eric and Stacey were the ones that were most obviously new.

    Really looking forward to Seige :)

  4. Just finished Fighting to Survive and loved it. Thanks for another great book. Can't wait for the third to come out!

  5. Just wanted to let you know that I read both of your ATWD books over a weekend. I just happened to stumble across them on Amazon and couldn't get enough. You've got an amazing talent and I've just ordered your vampire novel to give it a shot. Keep up the great work!

    Any idea when the 3rd ATWD novel will be out? I'm thrilled to read it'll be even longer than the 1st two. No worries about the price. I'll pay top dollar to get it ASAP. I cannot wait!!!


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