No matter what they're called—a continuity, a mini-series, a trilogy or simply a series romance—readers, authors and publishers carry on a passionate affair with novels that feature the ongoing stories of a cast of beloved characters. Be they virgins or villains, "there's a huge appetite on the part of the public for continuing characters," says New York City agent Amy Berkower. "Writers like to do them and publishers are becoming much keener in asking for them. It's a way to publish books closer together and increase a writer's profile in the marketplace."
"Several years ago," says Warner mass market editorial director Beth de Guzman, "people were saying that they were tired of interconnected books, but in recent years the cycle has turned back to where tie-in romance books are once again reader favorites." The key to continuing to be reader favorites? "Ear-to-the-ground research on whether readers want more in a series or it should come to an end. It's always better not to overstay one's welcome," says de Guzman.
"The appeal of books that have families and continuing characters is irresistible to readers," says Jennifer Enderlin, associate publisher at St. Martin's Paperbacks, "because romance is all about a sense of community. Readers can get to know a community of characters and look forward to seeing them again in future books."
While publishers may dote on the bottom line, for readers, love is all about the characters. In the words of Charis Calhoon, Romance Writers of America's communication manager, "Readers recognize that their own lives are populated with sisters, friends, neighbors and strangers they meet along the way. Life is about more than a spouse or boyfriend. Readers respond to books that reflect this sense of community. The crotchety aunt or the family ranch appears in all three books, and it works. It's natural for them to root for the diverse characters in the books they read, to follow these sideliners into their own books and to be given a glimpse of past favorites in new installments."
And readers are thrilled to follow their favorites not just for one season or a series of three titles, but for decades. In 1981, Pocket published Jude Deveraux's The Velvet Promise, the first in what must surely be the longest-running family saga in romance publishing history. The Montgomery Novels now span 17 titles, nine centuries (1293-present) and some 20 million copies in print. The latest is Forever... A Novel of Good and Evil, Love and Hope (Oct.) a mass market contemporary paranormal set in New England.
Deveraux's commitment and passion for continuity romances echoes the thoughts of both authors and readers. "I started writing about one family in an attempt to keep myself from being miserable," she recalls. "I would spend months writing about characters, and when I'd finished, I'd be very sad that I'd never see them again. I came up with the idea of writing four books about four brothers so I could see the characters from my previous books. However, when I'd finished the four books, I wanted to know what happened to their children!"
Deveraux isn't the only hardcover superstar committed to providing her mass market readers with a sense of continuity. Nora Roberts, who began writing about continuing characters in her days with Silhouette in the early '80s, still does one trilogy a year for Berkley in mass market original. The newest, a contemporary suspense, begins this month with Key of Light, continues in December with Key of Knowledge and concludes in January with Key of Valor.
While love may conquer all, love in the romance business won't happen without great timing. "I'm a great believer in the momentum and excitement of a series," says agent Irene Goodman, "if the publisher provides stellar support. It is vital to do a series at the right moment in the author's career. The series needs to be really special and the marketing has to match it."
So in a world where maidens live happily ever after with scoundrels and vampires can find true love, can there be anything new in the quest for love that will last for more than a single title? "This is a very creative industry," says Pocket editorial director Maggie Crawford. "Authors can always mix up the elements one more time and throw in a dash of something new—someone is sure to come along with something unexpected." In asking publishers about their particular mix of series elements, PW discovered much that was new and even a few unexpected highlights.
Avon—Building Whole New Worlds
The popularity of continuing series, believes Morrow/Avon executive editor Lucia Macro, goes beyond the reader falling in love with the characters. "The reader also falls in love with the unique world that the author creates. Authors who can 'world-build'—those who have the clearest vision for not only their characters but for the society in which they live are the authors who create the strongest series."
A champion world-builder for Avon is Christina Dodd. While Dodd had previously done series that were "loosely tied together," the Regency era Governess Brides series, reports Macro, was her first venture into a "major mini-series." The six-book series began in 2000 with Rules of Surrender and finished this September with My Favorite Bride's multi-week appearance on the New York Times list. Dodd returns in March with the first title in a duet, Scandalous Again, which stars an aristocratic lady who trades places with her companion.
While Karen Hawkins is a fairly recent addition to the Avon list, "her numbers for each book have gone steadily up," says Macro. The Talisman Ring series debuted this August with An Affair to Remember, which links back to Hawkins's 2001 standalone, The Seduction of Sara. "After the book was finished," Macro explains, "Karen realized that she wanted to expand upon those characters and situations." Confessions of a Scoundrel continues the series in March; three more titles are planned.
When it comes to marketing these continuing series, "timing is the key," asserts Morrow/Avon associate publisher Libby Jordan. "When you're doing a successful series like Christina Dodd's, you don't want two years between books—you have to be able to tease the next book. We maintain momentum by laying the groundwork from book one for the next two or three or four titles. You have to be quick out of the gate letting retailers, reviewers and readers know there's more to come."
Ballantine—Reaching Jaded Readers
"If done well," says senior editor Shauna Summers, "even the most jaded readers will be drawn in by connected series." To reach both the devoted and the jaded, Ballantine's Ivy imprint focuses on getting ARCs to as many reviewers and booksellers as possible. "It's word of mouth that builds an author, particularly in such a crowded marketplace," says Summers.
One beneficiary of a successful word of mouth campaign is Galen Foley. One of Ballantine's first continuity acquisitions was Foley's Ascension series, which began in 1998. Reader buzz and support of the series produced a solid and loyal fan base. Foley built on this readership with a Regency series featuring the aristocratic Knight brothers and their sister that began early this year with Lord of Fire and Lord of Ice. The newest addition, Lady of Desire, is due in January with, reports Summers, more on the way as the series expands in 2004 to include non-aristocratic friends of the Knights who will be featured in their own stories.
Suzanne Brockman's The Troubleshooter series is set in the world of a Navy Seal team. Into the Night is due in mass market next month with a move into hardcover set for July's Gone Too Far, which will feature two secondary characters that readers felt deserved their own storylines. "Her sales were growing with each book," says Summers, "so the move into hardcover was the next logical step." Cherry Adair's high adventure spy intrigue series featuring three brothers continued in September with In Too Deep and a yet unnamed title due in fall 2004. "It speaks to the magic of Cherry's writing," says Summers, "that even though the books have been published a year apart, the momentum keeps on building."
Nicole Jordan had already developed a solid fan base when she moved to Ballantine from Avon. The fourth title in her Regency era Notorious series (began in 2000), Ecstasy, came out in October, with the final installment due next August. This series, believes Summers "has moved Nicole to the next level and established her at Ballantine."
Bantam—Reenergizing and Reaffirming
Though readers were alerted to Bantam's new "Get Connected" program in PW's last romance feature, "Reinventing the Wheel" (July 1), more information is now forthcoming.
"Get Connected" says deputy publisher Nita Taublib, "is a year-long back-to- back reading experience designed to connect readers with some of Bantam Dell's biggest, brightest and best-selling stars of historical romance." The 2003 program kicks off with authors Jane Feathers, Mary Balogh, Josie Litton and Madeline Hunter. Feather's The Kiss series, which features two sisters who must each strike a devil's bargain with dangerous and irresistible heroes, continues in January with the mass market edition of To Kiss A Spy, followed in February by a mass market original, Kissed by Shadows. Balogh's The Bedwyn Family Books series will consist of mass market originals in March, April, May and June. Set in England, each book features one of the rich, feisty and orphaned Bedwyn brothers and sister.
Litton's The Fountain Trilogy takes center stage in July, August, and September with mass market originals that feature the descendents of the author's Dream Island trilogy. Hunter will wrap up the year with her mass market original The Seducer series (October, November and December) about three men in a dueling club.
The program was presented to the trade this June, reports creative marketing director Betsy Hulsebosch, who is planning consumer ads in Redbook along with a radio ad campaign. She notes that the $5.99 price point for a 300-page book will be attractive to both readers and retailers. "Get Connected" will be the biggest campaign the publisher has ever launched for historical romance. It will, in Hulsebosch's words, "reenergize and reaffirm our commitment to readers of historical romance."
Berkley—Authors Are Generating the Concepts
"We experimented with editorially generated multi-author continuity series such as A Town Called Harmony and Sons and Daughters in the mid-'90s," says editor Cindy Hwang, "but we felt they were very limiting both editorially and for the authors." But continuity series are back at Berkley—this time with concepts generated by individual authors. Berkley Sensation launches in June and will replace the theme series lines such as Magical Love and Time Passages.
With Sensation, says Hwang, Berkley will be "going in a new direction editorially. We want to focus back on developing individual authors and careers. Sensation gives authors the freedom to develop trilogies or linked stories without us specifying they have to write within a certain theme. Authors can concentrate on honing their own voices." Executive publicity director Liz Perl believes this new direction will "revolutionize the way we publish romance. It gives us the opportunity to build authors bigger and faster. Every month, we won't have to think 'where is the Highland romance?'—if you have a fantastic book, it doesn't have to fit into a theme. In some ways, this is almost the antithesis of that Harlequin-type series publishing."
Sensation will publish four titles per month—one historical, one contemporary, one "special" (an established author being built to the next level and writing in any romantic genre) and one debut title. Two series will debut during the June launch. Ruth Glick, writing as Rebecca York, will contribute the first of a trio of contemporary romantic suspense novels featuring related characters and a dose of the paranormal—Killing Moon will be followed in August by Edge of the Moon and Witching Moon in September. Robin D. Owens's Heart Thief is the sequel to her RITA award-winning Heartmate, about inhabitants of a futuristic psychic colony.
Also coming from Berkley (but not Sensation) in August are Julia London's first contemporary romance, Material Girl, book one in a trilogy about three sisters loosely based on King Lear; and Rebecca Hagan Lee's Barely A Bride, which launches the Free Fellows League historical series about a group of young aristocrats who vow never to marry.
Dorchester—Time to Bond
Also noted in PW's July 1 romance feature was Dorchester's Love Spell imprint, which will launch its first continuity series this January—B.L.I.S.S. will debut with Nina Bangs's From Boardwalk with Love. The series, says senior editor Chris Keeslar, "is about contemporary heroines sucked into the world of espionage—women who never knew that coming in from the cold meant jumping into something hot."
The series' three authors—Bangs, Lisa Cach, and Lynsay Sands—were selected in large part, says Keeslar, for their wit—and their sense of editorial adventure. "The temptation is to pick authors on general talent, not how they fit into a series. For a series to be successful you need authors who understand and love the concept rather than just writing something that they hope will sell."
Dorchester launched the first three titles—From Boardwalk with Love, Cach's Dr. Yes (Feb.) and Sands's The Loving Daylights (Apr.)—at the recent Romantic Times convention with events that included a party where invitees were asked to dress as their favorite James Bond character. Also in the works is a Web scavenger hunt done in partnership with romance-friendly sites like writerspace.com. "We truly believe that B.L.I.S.S. will take the romance world by storm," says sales and marketing director Brooke Borneman. "It completely reworks the spy thriller genre and should attract not just James Bond and Charlie's Angel's fans but a younger, hipper audience."
In a more conventional vein, Dorchester/Leisure is continuing with its Secret Fires series, which started in 2001. Sales of the series about the Thomas McBride family of Texas, says Borneman, propelled authors Elaine Barbieri, Bobbi Smith, Constance O'Banyon and Evelyn Rogers to "their best sales ever" and landed O'Banyon's The Agreement and Rogers's The Loner on the USA Today bestseller list. In July, all four authors will return to Texas—and a brand new Lone Star family—when their Forbidden Fires series debuts with Smith's Hunter's Moon.
Harlequin—Taking a Cue from TV
Marsha Zinberg, senior editor and special projects editorial coordinator, cites such '80s hit TV shows as L.A. Law and St. Elsewhere as the genesis for Harlequin and Silhouette's continuities. "We saw that a cast of continuing characters and an interconnected storyline was becoming a trend in pop culture—one we were certain could be successfully translated into print." In 1992, Harlequin published the Tyler series, 12 titles set in a Wisconsin town, each written by a different author. The series, says Zinberg, has been reissued 11 times via direct mail; it remains so successful that Harlequin plans three new titles, to be sold through traditional trade outlets.
Harlequin's 2003 continuity (as yet untitled) will feature the families and children of the Forrester Square section of Seattle. Rather than leading off with the first title in the series, Harlequin will begin with Date with Destiny, an anthology prequel. Due in July, the month prior to the series launch, and written by Kristine Rolofson, Muriel Jensen and Kristin Gabriel, it takes place a year before Muriel Jensen's Reinventing Julia (Aug.) and will introduce readers to three friends who run a Seattle day-care center.
Silhouette's 2003 continuity, Family Secrets, is "a modern family saga that unfolds like episodes of TV's 24," says Margaret Marbury, associate senior editor, Silhouette Continuities. The series kicks off in June with Maggie Shayne's Enemy Mind and will continue with one title a month for the following 11 months.
Harlequin's 2001-2002 continuity, Trueblood Texas, was such a smash that they will be celebrating with a Christmas anthology, Trueblood Christmas (Nov.) by three authors from the series, Jasmine Cresswell, Tara Taylor Quinn and Kate Hoffman.
Continuity romance, says retail marketing director Anita Sultmanis, "is key to our publishing program." And the key to their continuing success? "We've tried all sorts of techniques over time, but have found that mass exposure by sampling is by far the best—sampling such as the Date with Destiny prequel. The most important thing is to hook as big an audience as possible from the start."
Kensington—Single Titles Just Don't Cut It
"When you're building an author," says Kensington editorial director Kate Duffy, "we believe that one of the most damaging things that you can do is to lurch from single title to single title. Those books that stand alone depend solely on author loyalty when, in fact, sometimes, oftentimes, the reader feels a deep connection with the characters. Linked books are the perfect antidotes to the complaint 'I just hated to see that book end' and 'I wonder whatever happened to....'"
The best thing about publishing a continuing series? "You're off at a gallop," says Duffy, "the reader is already predisposed to like the book before she even goes to the cash register."
Shannon Drake has galloped off with not one but two successful series for Kensington. Her Graham Family novels, based on Drake's research of her own family tree, began in hardcover in 1999 with Come the Morning. The latest, The Lion in Glory, is due in January. Drake's second series, which began in 1999, consists of supernatural books linked by the legacy of an alliance of vampires. (The fourth installment, Realm of Shadows, hit PW's mass market list last month.) Publisher Laurie Parkin sees the supernatural niche as "very hot" and Kensington has packaged Drake's books with the intent of "luring mainstream thriller readers."
At a time when people are debating whether historicals are still popular, Duffy has the highest hopes for Nita Abrams's series that features a family of Anglo Jewish spies working on behalf of Wellington. A Question of Honor and The Exiles will be followed in May with The Spy Bride.
Brava Books, Kensington's trade paper imprint, has a new continuing series with a number of interconnecting twists and turns. It began in August with the USA Today bestseller I Love Bad Boys by Lori Foster, Janelle Denison and Donna Kauffman. The concept and sales were so successful that Brava published I Brake for Bad Boys this month, which will be followed next year by Bad Boys on Board (Apr.) and Bad Boys to Go (Nov.). While there is a common link—those eponymous males—Foster characters from I Love Bad Boys are making a return in I Brake for Bad Boys, while Denison's Wilde brothers from I Brake for Bad Boys will star in their own Brava single title in July, Wilde Thing.
NAL/Signet—Don't Keep the Readers Waiting
"The best linked books," says editorial director Claire Zion, "come from an author's inspiration. The most successful romance writers create a world that readers want to spend time in—and then their interest extends across several titles."
Jaclyn Reding's Highland Heroes historical trilogy began in March (The Pretender) and continues this month (The Adventurer) before concluding next September with a yet untitled book about a modern-day descendant of the sisters featured in the first two books. The final book will be Reding's first contemporary, a move taken, says Zion, "because she's an author with a strong voice, a gift for creating vivid characters and a real knack for writing great dialogue."
Everything's coming up roses for Lauren Royal, whose Signet Flower trilogy began in September with Violet and will see an additional flower-based title every six months until the final flourish in October 2003, Rose. Set in Restoration England, Zion describes them as " the kind of sexy, humorous true-blue romances that have been the most popular with fans over the years."
One of NAL's "most beloved series," Patricia Gaffney's Wyckerley trilogy (originally published as Topaz paperback originals), returns in trade paperback editions in February, March and April. "Gaffney," notes Zion, "found a new audience with her contemporary women's fiction bestsellers. Many of these readers didn't know about her earlier books, so by going into trade paperback with these reissues, we will be distributing in all the outlets where her newer readers shop."
Jessica Hall's The White Tiger Sword trilogy begins in February with The Deepest Edge and will conclude in August 2003 with The Kissing Blades. Zion notes that while categorized as "romantic suspense," the trio are truly "romantic adventure" targeted to fans of TV shows like Alias who enjoy a lot of romance in their stories. Signet is bringing the books out in rapid succession (one every three months), reports Zion, "to try to maximize the opportunity to hook readers into this new concept. If they like the first one, we don't want to make them wait a year to get more."
Pocket—Authors Are Increasingly Enthusiastic
It's not just readers, but writers, says Maggie Crawford, who are becoming devoted to continuing series. "They can return to familiar settings and beloved characters and plunge forward with a story." One Pocket author who's plunging enthusiastically ahead this season is Linda Lael Miller, who gave readers a contemporary update on the 19th century McQuarry family of Primrose Creek, Nevada, in her Atria hardcover, The Last Chance Café (Apr. 2002, paperback due in May). Next month's High Country Bride marks the launch of a new mass market trilogy by Miller, The McKettrick Cowboys, about ranching brothers in Arizona Territory.
"Karen Robards," says Crawford, "wanted to reconnect with her romance fans," so in addition to writing hardcover romantic suspense for Atria, she's also penning a paperback original series of historical romances about the Regency-era Banning sisters—last spring's Scandalous was followed by last month's Irresistible, with the third title due some time next year. The move from hardcover back to paper, says Crawford, gave Robards no pause. "She doesn't view it as a step backwards, but as another avenue to reach readers. And there was no fear on Pocket's part that it might affect her hardcover sales." For Joan Johnston the move was more typical—from mass market to hardcover. Her Atria hardcover, The Price (Mar.) features characters introduced in her Bitter Creek paperback series for Dell. "Her audience has grown as have her skills as a writer, so the step up to hardcover was a natural one.," says Crawford.
One author who "readers are starting to discover," says Crawford, is Liz Carlyle. "There is stronger sell-through with each book and a lot of buzz in the romance community about her talent as a writer." Carlyle has already expanded the circle of Regency characters begun in 1999's My False Heart with four successive novels and one novella. The sixth, The Devil You Know, is due in April.
St. Martin's—That's Earl, Folks
When readers spoke, this publisher listened. It was intense reader response ("we want Brand's story") that led Barbara Dawson Smith to write One Wild Night (Sept. 2003) featuring the dissolute earl, Brand Villiers. A minor character in three prior historical romances featuring the Kenyon family, Villiers struck an immediate chord with readers. "Fans were asking for more Brand from the first book," says associate publisher Enderlin. "He's the baddest of all the bad boys and romance is all about redeeming the rake." Another bad boy, Calder Hart, has moved front and center in Deadly Caress (Apr., 2003) the newest entry in Brenda Joyce's historical series featuring amateur sleuth Francesca Cahill. Enderlin reports "an intense debate on the author's Web site over whether Calder should become a hero and get the girl."
SMP will be supporting Maureen Child's contemporary romances about the Candellano family trilogy with a special price point of $5.99. "We want to introduce her to new readers, and what romance readers want is a great read in a great voice," says Enderlin. Finding You/Knowing You (two books bound together) is due in May, to be followed in June by Loving You.
Sexy, immortal vampires have gotten Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark Hunter series off to a good start. Night Pleasures, which launched the series last month, hit the Ingram bestseller list; Night Embrace is due in July. "Fans of paranormals," says Enderlin, "are intense—passionate and very involved through the fan Web sites."
As for spreading the word about continuing series, mass market marketing director Cristina Gilbert believes it's all about information. "We utilize the author's Web sites and message boards—both very effective in building and maintaining momentum. Over the years we've developed a great mailing list (both e-mail and snail mail) that we use to alert readers when a sequel is due."
Warner—It Looks Like Forever
As noted in the July 1 romance feature, the publisher will launch its new Warner Forever line this January. The imprint, which will publish 24 titles a year in both series and standalones, will be dedicated solely to romance authors Warner is "building to a certain level," says mass market editorial director Beth de Guzman. Launching the series titles for the imprint will be Carly Phillips and Sue-Ellen Welfonder.
Phillips's The Playboy (Jan.) and Heartbreaker (Warner hardcover, Aug.) will complete her trilogy about three brothers who must marry to fulfill their ailing mother's wish for grandchildren. The first entry, The Bachelor, got off to a modest start last June, reports de Guzman, with a 40,000-copy first run. Then came the "big bang"—the book was selected as a "Reading with Ripa" selection on Live with Regis and Kelly and now has 500,000 in print.
When Sue-Ellen Welfonder wrote Devil in a Kilt in 2001, she had no plans to continue the story of the battle-scarred aristocrat Marmaduke. But reader response was so great that he's back: De Guzman describes Bride of the Beast as a great bad-boy-to-hero story—"it's one of the ultimate female fantasies, bringing a bad boy to one knee with a marriage proposal."
Traditionally, romances are written from two points of view—the man and the woman. But Claire Delacroix, says de Guzman, has taken on a big challenge in The Rogue, a historical set in Scotland. The story is told in the first person, by the heroine. The second book, The Scoundrel (Aug.) will be written again in the first person, this time from the point of view of the brother of the hero of The Rogue.
Interconnected romance veteran Dorothy Garlock's series about the midwestern Jones family, circa 1930, began in 2001 with a hardcover, The Edge of Town (a mass market followed last April). Then came High on a Hill, a June hardcover and mass market out this month. A Place Called Rainwater is due in hardcover this January.