This is the sort of thing I chew on, questions about writing, when I really should be writing. But this is kind of bugging me.
“This” is the question of what to call a series of novels of indeterminate number. I will be coming out with a novel about storm chasers soon, and I’m in the middle of writing a sequel. I’m not sure if there will be a third novel, though I’m thinking about it. But I’d hate to label it a trilogy (or a duet, as I found in one instance) without being sure, and “series” is too prosaic. In addition to the title, I can call the first one “a storm chasing novel,” but it would be convenient to say it’s “Book One of” something. I don’t want to call it The Storm Chasers Chronicles or some variation thereof, because (a), there are already at least two novels with some permutation of “storm chasers” in the title (I haven’t read them, for fear of compromising my brain), and (b) “Chronicles” seems a little, well, grand.
“Chronicles” also doesn’t seem to fit the subject – a contemporary adventure with humor, drama and romance. I’m not saying “Chronicles” is pretentious, but it brings to mind any number of fantasy series that I once devoured. It sounds magical, historical, or epic. So what’s the alternative? “Series” is a snooze. “Stories” implies short stories. “Tales” – well, I think of something between Chaucer and Peter Rabbit. And then there’s “Saga.” “Twilight” is billed as a saga. I’m pretty sure most sagas should include Vikings or multigenerational family soap operas. By those standards, Charlaine Harris’ amusing Sookie Stackhouse novels should be a saga, because one of the major characters is a Viking vampire, but she circumnavigates convention (and has it three ways) by calling the books the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Talk about appealing to multiple genres, and that’s without even mentioning the hot sex scenes. “Mysteries” on its own is a convenient alternative to “Chronicles,” but it helps to have written a mystery.Often series are marketed with their characters – i.e., “Book One of the John Smith Mysteries” or simply “A John Smith Mystery.” Then one must have a character to hang them on. I actually do have a central character who will travel from one novel to the next, but he shares the spotlight in the first novel, so I don’t think that works, either.
Novelists who cultivate famous characters don’t necessarily start out calling their novels after them. Ian Fleming’s first edition of “Casino Royale” doesn’t say “A James Bond Novel” on the cover. Instead, it displays a rather disconcerting array of girly hearts. (If you have one of these, by the way, it’s worth a freaking fortune.)
Should one make something up, the way Spike Lee calls his movies “A Spike Lee Joint” instead of “Film”? Maybe you can’t go wrong with “novels.” “Book One of the whatever novels.” Whatever “whatever” is. Enter creativity and a strong sense of identity. E.g. the Millennium Trilogy or The Lord of the Rings, which asserts that it is not a trilogy, but one massive book, and therefore not needful of silly appellations such as “trilogy” or “series.” Jasper Fforde chucks all convention with “First Among Sequels,” which is (to be excessively literal) not the first sequel but the fifth book in the clever series starring Thursday Next, and the American edition went ahead and put the character’s name on the cover above that original UK title.
There’s a lot of talk about how important marketing is these days, and I’m sure a good series name or gimmick is part of that, along with the ability to tell people which one comes first. A good book cover and tagline are great, too, but what it comes down to, I suspect, is writing a good book. Word will spread. And then you can worry a little more about what to call its successors.