by Will Viharo
So you want to be a successful writer. Good luck. Just keep in mind that probably isn’t going to happen. Ever.
But it could!
You’ll never know unless you try. And one way to increase the odds in your favor is to come up with not just a single book, putting all your eggs in one basket, but a series of inter-related books.
That way, at least you have more baskets. Now about those eggs…
I’ve written before about the benefits of writing a book series, though I was focusing on the horror genre. This is a more general look at the potential of this plan.
In my case, I have one detective series with six installments to my credit, featuring Vic Valentine, Private Eye.
The first novel in this series, Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me, was also my first published novel, by San Francisco’s Wild Card Press (now long defunct), way back in 1995.
Like many small presses, they didn’t last long once they realized there’s not much money in publishing, so they never published any of the four immediate sequels. It was up to me to that much later, via my own imprint, Thrillville Press. However, this particular novel was miraculously discovered in a L.A. bookstore by recent Golden Globe winner Christian Slater (Mr. Robot), in 2001. He optioned the book for a planned film annually since then, but so far, no dice. We’ve come very close, though.
Anyway, this long-simmering movie deal did result in two very positive developments that might not have happened otherwise: the original out of print novel was reissued by Gutter Books in 2013, and my latest Vic Valentine novel, Hard-boiled Heart – directly inspired by the twists and turns of my close brush with fame and fortune – was just published by Gutter in December, 2015.
The four aforementioned sequels, written in quick succession in the mid-1990s, were compiled in a collection called The Vic Valentine Classic Case Files by startup Double Life Press last year, but soon after its publication, they also closed shop on short notice. Hence the creation of my own imprint, and the resurrection of not only this omnibus, but the three volumes of The Thrillville Pulp Fiction Collection. (Fortunately I had commissioned the cover art and retained rights to the material, something I strongly suggest any author do when signing with small presses, if that option is negotiable in the contract.)
Go Ahead, It's Your (Alternate) World, So Play God!
But whether you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route, with a publisher of any size, if you can conceive of a main character that is relatable to a wide audience, whose adventures will inspire and entertain them, with a sense of humanity that engenders empathy, you may have a bestselling series on your hands.
That hasn’t happened to me, yet. But it happens often enough to many other authors that any publisher, agent or publicist would strongly suggest you give this a shot.
The goal is to hook the reader with the first book, and making them invest emotionally in the future of the chief protagonist, so that no matter what their exploits may be, the reader cares what happens to him or her. Or them.
Essentially, you’ll be franchising your character, a la The Walking Dead, Star Wars, Batman, James Bond, Harry Potter, Vic Valentine, etc.
The trick is to make your character feel and sound more like a flesh-and-blood entity than a virtual phantom, practically leaping off the page into the reader's brain, so that his or her experiences resonate with people in the real world, even if the world your characters inhabit is fantastical.
While your own life may inform your imagination, just don't over-indulge your own neuroses or darkest fantasies, which will certainly turn off readers that desire entertainment, not self-therapy.
To Inspire Others, Look To Your Own Inspirations...
For Vic Valentine, I imagined a cross between two of my own favorite fictional characters, J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye, and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, the endlessly influential private eye protagonist of such seminal genre masterpiece as The Big Sleep, Farewell My Lovely, and The Long Goodbye. It was always the Voice that captivated as a fan of these works, much more so than the incidental plots.
Speaking strictly subjectively, the crime genre is probably so popular because it often features desperate people doing desperate things to survive, and readers (as well as authors) can vicariously experience their downfall even as they identify with their plight, since almost everyone struggles to get by at some point, without resorting to illegal activity, though.
Vic Valentine, while a conscious throwback to noir detectives of yore, is really just a contemporary slacker without many career options. What makes him special is that his first-person narratives are really internal monologues reacting to circumstances both beyond his control and for which he is wholly responsible, even if it’s unintentional, due to his own incompetence and selfishness.
These imperfect qualities of vulnerability and fallibility are what have kept him alive for twenty years, and why I decided to write a new book catching readers up with his mid-life crisis, and so far the response has been very positive.
The hope is that those just being introduced to Vic Valentine via Hard-boiled Heart will want to go back and read Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me as well as the four in-between books compiled in The Vic Valentine Classic Case Files. In that case, I’m already front-loaded with an entire series at their disposal.
The moral of this blog, if there is one? By hook or by crook, just get your books out there, and make sure the characters are realistic and relatable, because you never know which strangers out there might connect with it on a deep level.
Maybe even a movie/TV star.
Next: Finding Your Ideal Writing Environment
PHOTOS: WILL VIHARO (ART BY MATT BROWN and SCOOTER HARRIS)