Posted On April 21, 2011 by Print This Post

The Art of Writing a Continuity by Allie Pleiter

Good morning RU! Please help me welcome back our friend Allie Pleiter. Allie’s going to chat with us about a topic we’ve never before covered at RU–series continuity. It’s a subject I’ve heard bandied about at conference, but not so much that I understand all the ends and outs.

So, without further ado, here’s Allie!

If you write category fiction–or aspire to–chances are at least once in your career you will meet up with the literary phenomenon known as the continuity mini series.  A publisher-initiated series of 3-5 books that run over a specified story arc, these turn the usual creative process a bit on its ear.  You want to think through this opportunity, if offered, because there are definite upsides and downsides:

So why say “yes”?

You were asked, and that’s a good thing.   You can’t sign up to do one of these, you have to be invited.  While I might argue there’s not too many reasons to turn down a paying offer of any kind from your publisher (particularly in this market), there are some implied confidences of quality and reliability in such an offer.

It’s an opportunity to collaborate. Yes, it’s going to mean hundreds of emails or even its own Yahoo group, but it may be a chance to exercise new collaborative muscles.  It’s frustrating in some respects–writing by committee is never a smooth business–but a valuable education.

You may get to play with the big dogs. Every continuity usually has one or two big name authors as an anchor, the same way anthologies do.  A continuity gives you the best possible introduction to another writer’s fans: a place in a story they already care about.

If you hate coming up with book ideas, that part is done for you. Yes, your job is to flush out the story arc in ways that reflect your voice and give life to the characters, but the basic plot line is laid out in advance.

Sounds great.  Why wouldn’t you do a continuity?

It’s not your idea. And that may really bug you.  This is, essentially, work for hire, which also means you don’t own the copyright.  Still, work for hire is work, and these days it may not be wise to look a work horse in the mouth, if you know what I mean.

It may not be your editor. If you love your longtime editor, chances are he or she will not be the person handling this project.  You’ll most likely have to work with someone new, or at the very least add a third partner to your team.

It’s hard. The books are sequential, but are written nearly simultaneously.  That means you’re writing off an ending someone else hasn’t even written yet.  Details have to match up on the fly, which can make for massive confusion and no small amount of rewriting.   You’ll be given a “bible,” a detailed synopsis and character descriptions for both your book and the entire series, but it doesn’t cover everything.  And should you attempt to deviate, the ramifications can be whopping.

It’s a team sport. Collaborations aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.  If you like to write your first draft all at the last minute in a frenzy of procrastination, you’ll make yourself and your continuity partners crazy.  If you finish too early, you might have to go back repeatedly to make adjustments based on what your partners have written.  And you’ll most likely have to share your work before it’s finished, so if that makes you cringe this might not be for you.

Am I glad I worked on the Alaskan Brides series?  Yes, but I’ll be the first to admit it was tough.  I would never have looked to the Gold Rush on my own, so I was introduced to a fascinating culture and subject I might never have otherwise discovered.  I stretched new creative muscles, and that is never a bad thing.   I put another tool in my toolbox, another avenue for work from my publisher, and that’s never a bad thing.  And I had the opportunity to work with two wonderful authors, Linda Ford and Dorothy Clark.  All in all, not a bad deal.  Not a bad deal at all.

* * *

Thanks, Allie!

RU Writers, Would you write a story for a continuity series, if asked?

RU Readers, Do you love reading continuity series? Did you realize so much was going on behind the scenes to bring you a great read(s)?

Be sure to stop back tomorrow for our Ask an Editor column, brought to you by the lovely and crazy-talented Theresa Stevens.

Allie’s bio:

An avid knitter, coffee junkie, and devoted chocoholic, Allie Pleiter writes both fiction and non-fiction.  The enthusiastic but slightly untidy mother of two, Allie spends her days writing books, buying yarn, and finding new ways to avoid housework.  Allie hails from Connecticut, moved to the midwest to attend Northwestern University, and currently lives outside Chicago, Illinois.  The “dare from a friend” to begin writing has produced two parenting books, fourteen novels, and various national speaking engagements on faith, women’s issues, and writing.  Visit her website at www.alliepleiter.com or her knitting blog at www.DestiKNITions.blogspot.com.

YUKON WEDDING

Publisher:
Harlequin Love Inspired Historical
April 2011
ISBN #978-0373828630

A gold-rush town is no place for a single mother. But widow Lana Bristow won’t abandon the only home her son has ever known. She’ll fight to remain in Treasure Creek, Alaska—even if it means wedding Mack Tanner, the man she blames for her husband’s death. Mack sees marriage as his duty, the only way to protect his former business partner’s family. Yet what starts as an obligation changes as his spoiled socialite bride proves to be a woman of strength and grace. A woman who shows Mack the only treasure he needs is her heart.

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16 Responses to “The Art of Writing a Continuity by Allie Pleiter”

  1. Hi Allie,

    Welcome back to RU and thanks for the great post!

    How long did it take the three of you to write the series? When might readers see it on the shelves?

    Thanks,
    Tracey

    Posted by TraceyDevlyn | April 21, 2011, 5:01 am
  2. You’re seeing it right now…YUKON WEDDING is the first book in the “Alaskan Brides” miniseries. Fans of the Treasure Creek contemporary series done by Love Inspired last year will quickly realize this is the historical “prequel.” So no only did us historical authors have to match up to each other, we had to match up to an existing series! The first drafts of the book took about three months, which was fast for some of us, slow for others–different writing speeds are part of the challenge here.

    Posted by Allie Pleiter | April 21, 2011, 6:27 am
  3. Morning Allie!

    Ahhhh…so that’s what a continuity is! =) I had always wondered how difficult it would be to write in the same vein as other authors, using the same characters and storyline. Since I’m a pantser and wildly make up my story while I’m typing it, I can imagine that would be HARD to work with all the restrictions! On the other hand, as you say – it’s work!

    Are you thinking about doing others at some point?

    Thanks for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | April 21, 2011, 7:00 am
    • Would I do another? I can’t say for sure. I’ve only done this one, so I think I might do another just to have a comparison. It would depend entirely on my workload at the time, the subject matter, those kinds of things. I like diversity in my work, so I suspect I’d say yes.

      Posted by Allie Pleiter | April 21, 2011, 10:00 am
  4. Hi Allie!

    While I love the idea of writing prompts, the control freak in me wouldn’t bode well for continuities. :) But I am curious about how they decide who to choose to write one. Do they look at similiar voices/styles?

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | April 21, 2011, 7:38 am
  5. Hi Allie! I know some mystery series are work-for-hire but I didn’t realize Harlequin did that, too. Very interesting post – thank you! I guess it would kind of like ghost writing, except in this case you’d at least get your name on the cover. Now that’s a thought – I know of several mystery authors who also do ghost-writing. I wonder why we don’t have celebrities writing romance with ghost writers, too?

    I’m intrigued by the Alaskan Brides series. This concept reminds me of a similar series I fell in love with years ago – Welcome to Tyler, I think it was called. I still have some of those books!

    Go Wildcats! I didn’t go to Northwestern but I practically grew up on that campus. Both of my parents plus two uncles and an aunt went there, and my grandfather was NU’s treasurer for twenty years. When I was a kid, the WAA-MU show was one of my favorite events every spring. My son went to UChicago, though, so I’m no longer allowed to root for NU! ;-)

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | April 21, 2011, 7:47 am
  6. Hi, Allie –

    Welcome back to RU! Like Jen, I’m curious about the voice issues you might run into with a continuity. Did you feel you had to change your voice in any way in order to “fit in” to this series?

    Thanks so much!
    Kelsey

    Posted by KelseyBrowning | April 21, 2011, 9:06 am
    • No, I didn’t alter my voice at all. I figured they factored voice into their choices, so I just wrote the story as I would write it if it were my own idea (nowhere near as easy as I just made it sound). My partners and I took pains to ensure that characters’ voices were consistent from books to book—that Dorothy’s Lana talked like my Lana, etc–but not in our narrative styles.

      Posted by Allie Pleiter | April 21, 2011, 10:05 am
  7. Hi Allie,

    It sounds like a group project at school. There is an assigned topic, every one gets a piece, and then pull it together for a presentation and grade. Depending on the group, it could be fun or frustrating.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | April 21, 2011, 9:13 am
  8. Hi Allie! Thanks for the glimpse into writing a continuity. Didn’t realize all of the writers were writing simultaneously. Didn’t think this was necessary since the books typically come out a month or two apart. Not an easy proposition it seems, but it also seems like it could be a fun one.

    Posted by PatriciaW | April 21, 2011, 11:22 am
    • You’re right in that respect–our deadlines are roughly a month apart, but we’re still doing the majority of our drafting all at the same time. And our revisions are generally all right on top of each other. It’s tight quarters no matter how you look at it.

      Posted by Allie Pleiter | April 21, 2011, 3:24 pm
  9. Allie and everyone–

    Sorry for the late follow-up! Thanks so much for chatting about continuities with us. Fascinating process.

    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | April 22, 2011, 5:41 pm

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