A continuity is a group of books or novellas written by different authors with a connected theme that runs through each story. Writing a continuity series with other authors can be a fun and challenging process as well as a great way to cross-pollinate readers.
The most important part of the process starts long before the writing begins…setting expectations in advance.
If you’re writing a continuity series involving shared characters and fictional locations for a publishing house, the stories are usually copyrighted to the publisher. For example, when I plot and write a book for Harlequin, I own the copyright to that book. When I write a continuity series for Harlequin, which means the publisher provides the plot, the publisher owns the copyright. This means I cannot write spinoff stories with the fictional setting or characters in that series.
Publishers do this to maintain the integrity of the product. They don’t necessarily want an author writing paranormal stories with characters introduced in an inspirational series.
I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, and I would never, ever give legal advice. However, the reason we have contracts is to set expectations ahead of time. I have heard horror stories of authors coming to legal blows over copyright issues.
Authors are very protective of their work. Agree ahead of time whether or not the authors in the series can write spin-offs of your shared world outside of the continuity series and make sure that agreement is in writing. I don’t want to wade into a quagmire here—this is just about setting the expectations in advance.
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Now for the fun part! Start building your world together. Decide on the common elements. Does an antique locket tie your story together? Are the main characters related? Where are the stories set? What is your heat level? (Confession Alert: I once wrote a novella for a collection with higher heat level as an experiment. Major backfire. I missed an opportunity to connect with readers of fellow inspirational authors. Don’t be a ‘Sherri’. Experiment on your own.) It’s generally best to stick with authors who write a similar heat level.
Communication is key. When we were writing the Legacy of the Heart anthology, we agreed that the characters in the contemporary stories lived in Wolf Creek. However, the historical authors weren’t tied to that location. People move over the years! The item that held the stories together was the locket passed down through generations.
If the location is a continuity point for your series, make sure that expectation is set ahead of time.
Read each other’s stories to get a sense of the other characters. This is the HARDEST part for me. I HATE having other people read my books. Especially during the editing process. I like to imagine I publish the books and they disappear into some weird void, but I still get checks from the publisher. I generally read the other books in a series curled in a ball and rocking back and forth while muttering, “I’m not worthy.”
Plus, I’m not great with deadlines. I like to meet a deadline at 12:01 am by falling asleep on the keyboard. (Ask me about the time I fell asleep on the keyboard and added 1,017 pages to my manuscript with the spacebar.) All I can say is this—don’t be a ‘Sherri’. Be nice to your fellow authors and allow everyone time to read each other’s stories and get a sense of the characters.
If you don’t like how another author has characterized your hero/setting/Alpaca llama—tell them. Assume that no one in your life is a mind reader! I *want* to know if your hero’s Alpaca llama would never, ever spit on anyone.
Once you decide on the details with your fellow authors, write them down. Which brings me to a series of a tips from the authors in the series. A lot of the same concerns are shared, highlighting the importance of certain tips from Sherri Shackelford
Dropbox is not just for photos! When writing a continuity series for a publishing house, the editor will provide the authors with a ‘bible’ containing an outline of each book in the series and descriptions of the characters. Often these details are adjusted during the course of writing the novels.
Setting up a shared document is an ideal way to keep track of these changing details. Programs such as Dropbox and Google Docs are excellent for file sharing. Users can track changes made by other authors and receive notification when the document has been updated. The programs allow users to see who made the changes while keeping a copy of the original text for comparison.
Whether your publisher gives you a bible or you create one with your fellow authors, this tool is invaluable. For example, in Legacy of the Heart, the locket is passed down through generations. Having a description to reference ensured continuity.
Facebook groups or email groups are also beneficial. These tools provide a searchable database if you forget something. (Have you ever been in a group communique where one person keeps asking the same questions that have already been answered over and over again? Annoying!) Continuity authors often set up either a private Facebook group or a dedicated email group to streamline communication.
Which is a perfect segue to our next helpful hint from Stacy Henrie:
One of the most helpful tools for me in collaborating with the other authors for our anthology was our secret Facebook group that Tina set up for us. It was the perfect venue to share pictures with everyone or snippets from our works in progress as well as ask questions rather than flooding each other's in-boxes with email. We even did a poll on there when we were picking a title. It was a great way to communicate as a group and keep us all in the loop.
It’s very important to respect the characters of each author. When an author introduces or brings onstage a character developed by another author, it is imperative that the two authors work together to make sure that character is authentic to the development author’s vision for the character.
Readers find it jarring to come across a secondary character who is portrayed one way in a book and then later is the hero or heroine of their own book and is portrayed completely different.
Another important thing is for authors to work together in developing secondary characters who will not become protagonists of their own story so that those secondary characters stay consistent from book to book.
In all honesty, this was my first continuity. I waited until I wrote ‘the end’ on my story to go back and read the other stories and layer in a bit of foreshadowing from the stories that would come after mine. It was totally a kick to see my characters and a secondary character appear in person or referred to in the other two stories. This was a novella collection, so it was easy to keep track of names and information, but I would definitely set up an Excel spreadsheet bible for a novel-length continuity series.
Communication is key. The more you let the other authors know what you have planned, the better. Especially if you need them to leave clues for your book in their books.
Finish your book early! I know it’s hard, with deadlines, but if you have your book done early, you’re giving yourself enough time to let the other authors read it and give their feedback, so you have enough time to make any changes for the sake of the continuity.
Read the other authors’ books! It’s so important to make sure you understand what they have written and
Now for the super fun part!
Three winners will receive ecopies of the book, and a fourth winner will receive an ecopy—plus a cool mug in a cool box!
In my novella, one of my characters is afraid of ending something, but endings aren’t all bad—Name a time in your life when an ending was a positive.
An antique locket with the power to inspire everlasting love unites the five stories in this stunning collection of historical and contemporary inspirational romance novellas!
In Heritage of Love, Danica Favorite takes us to the Chicago world’s fair, where a chance encounter will spark an opportunity for true love, if only the young couple can first overcome polite society’s rigid rules . . .
Stacy Henrie tells the story of a sheriff desperate to escape the matchmaking efforts of the women in his small town, only to discover that his attempts to sidestep them may lead to eternal love and happiness in By Any Other Name . . .
Tina Radcliffe’s Forget Me Not paints the picture of a charming antique store, where love will blossom when two strangers learn the secret about a long-ago hurt and a love that never died . . .
In The Lost Locket, Terri Reed introduces readers to two people who have given up on love and will fight their undeniable attraction until it may be too late . . .
And in Winning the Fireman’s Heart, Sherri Shackelford shows us two long-time friends forever searching for the perfect mate, until a gesture of kindness reveals the love that’s always been waiting for them . . .
About the Authors:
A self-professed crazy chicken lady, Danica loves the adventure of living a creative life, and loves to explore the depths of human nature and follow people on the journey to happily-ever-after. Though the journey is often bumpy, those bumps are what refine imperfect characters as they live the life God created them for. Oops, that just spoiled the ending of all of Danica’s stories. Then again, getting there is all the fun.
A USA Today bestselling author, Stacy has published more than a dozen inspirational historical romance novels and novellas. Born and raised in the West, where she currently resides with her family, Stacy enjoys reading, road trips, interior decorating, chocolate, and most of all laughing with her husband and kids.
Originally from Western New York, Tina left home for a tour of duty with the Army Security Agency stationed in Augsburg, Germany, and ended up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and later moved to Colorado. A freelance writer for over twenty years, Tina is an RWA Honor Roll member, a two-time RWA Golden Heart finalist, two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist, and a 2014 ACFW Carol Award winner. She currently resides in Arizona, where she writes fun, heartwarming romance.
Terri’s romance and romantic suspense novels have appeared on Publishers Weekly Top 25 and Nielsen’s Bookscan Top 100; have been Amazon Bestsellers and featured in USA Today, Christian Fiction Magazine, and Romantic Times magazine; have finaled in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA contest, National Reader’s Choice Award contest, and American Christian Fiction Writers’ Carol Award contest.
Sherri is an award-winning author of inspirational, Christian romance novels for Harlequin/HarperCollins. A wife and mother of three, Sherri’s hobbies include collecting mismatched socks, discovering new ways to avoid cleaning, and standing in the middle of the room while thinking, “Why did I just come in here?” A reformed pessimist and recent hopeful romantic, Sherri has a passion for writing. Her books are fun and fast-paced, with plenty of heart and soul.