For the last few years, box sets have been the rage and I wondered if we could gather some Harlequin Heartwarming authors together and have them all write stories in Christmas Town. But I wanted to keep the connected story aspect. Last year, I went a little crazy and gathered 11 other Harlequin Heartwarming authors and we put out a "box set" of 12 connected holiday themed stories all set in the same town: Christmas Town, Maine.
This year, our number is 15! And we garnered some support from Harlequin - there's a coupon inside both box sets for 20% off a Harlequin Heartwarming book! (That's about $1, which makes buying the box set almost free - lol!)
So what's it like to write with a group of 14 other authors in a town that's already had 15 stories (and characters and locations) written about it? Incredibly fun chaos! Here are some of our posts from our loop:
Who was the sheriff last year?
Has anyone written about a stocking store?
I need someone to get married around Christmas. Who has a couple from last year?
What was the name of the donut shop?
Does anyone mind if I write a story about a Christmas in the past?
Is it snowing at Christmas? How much snow?
We try to write a bible each year - honest, we do. But they tend to be brief notes on a spreadsheet. And we try to honor the heart of Christmas Town from the original stories, but we try to offer diversity, as well. Last year we had a second chance romance (h/h in their 50s? gasp!). This year we have a romantic suspense story and a few stories with a bit of holiday magic.
Since every three stories are connected, the trio of authors is required to plot together, share characters, and read each others' stories. Additionally, we have an editorial team among us for final reads of consistency in story within the three stories and across all 15 stories! This isn't exactly a thrown together box set.
So what kind of advice can I give to other authors who want to write connected stories?
- Think twice. LOL - you need to have authors who take connecting their stories seriously and who want to make the time to absorb the feel of the setting you've chosen (or the family you create). You'll need to choose a Han Solo (your driver of deadlines) and a Yoda or two (someone who honors the setting/theme).
- Make Google Docs your friend. We log our hero and heroine names to try and avoid names that are repetitive or sound the same (we aren't always completely successful). On another spreadsheet, we claim jobs and create businesses with holiday themed names, like Boxes and Boughs. We talk about hooks and themes.
- Embrace diversity. You're all in this together, which means you need to respect the process of others. Much as you might love to have a story outline from an author who shares characters with you, that author may be a pantser. Also, your voice will be different from someone else's and that's okay - readers enjoy diversity and discovering new authors.
- Make subsequent versions a little different. This year, we allowed our authors to choose from three holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. This gave a little more logistic breathing room (i.e., so the hero from one book wasn't having coffee the night before Christmas at a place where a heroine from another book was supposed to have closed the coffee shop early - yes, logistics are important in connected books!).
- Hone your target. We are targeting sweet/clean romance readers who enjoy holiday stories that are connected and don't have cliffhanger endings. None of our novellas are lead-ins to bigger books (i.e., prequels to characters an author is using in a full-length novel). A lot of box sets don't share anything other than being contemporary or all suspense or all vampire stories. In a crowded market, you need to stand out even more.
- Have an objective. Our objective is to build awareness of the Harlequin Heartwarming line, but also to build our readership base. If we make a list along the way, that's the cherry on top! But if we don't, we won't consider it a failure.
So there you have it. A little behind the scenes chaos. A little advice. And a whole lotta holiday cheer! Happy reading and happy writing!
Melinda Curtis is an award-winning USA Today bestseller. Her next release is A Heartwarming Holiday (a steal at 99 cents with a coupon for $1 off your next Heartwarming purchase). Her November release is Marrying the Single Dad, where an auto mechanic and a hair stylist fight over ownership of a once classic car.