D*Con: Plotting a Sustaining Series

Plotting and Writing a Sustaining Series

Note: This is not “and ending a series” – Ringo

You have no clue how excited I was about this panel. This is the dream, especially when there’s so much more that can happen in your world.

With: John Ringo, Gail Martin, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Claire Eddy, and Bill Foscett

How Did You Decide To Write a Series

Yarbro – I always intended my series to be 5 books… now it’s 27 books and counting.

Martin – I loved the story, so I had to build the world.

Ringo – Before [he] was published, [he] hung out online in Baen’s bar and learned that Baen didn’t want 1-trick ponies. By the time Baen asked for his book, he sent the 1st book and what he had of book 2, pausing mid-chapter, mid-paragraph, mid-sentence. Didn’t hear anything for a few weeks, then Baen called and asked WHERE’S THE REST.

Foscett – Don’t write the next 2 books though, outline and write a few chapters, but move on, because things will change after book 1 is picked up.

Ringo & Martin – Unless the story is flowing. ALWAYS write if the story is flowing.

Ringo – Just remember “don’t wrap your heart around anything.”

Yarbro – You have to love it, or you’ll hate it before you’re done. Just don’t expect anyone else to love it.

Ringo –

The Last Centurian took [him] 9 days to write, 7 full days, barely sleeping. He’d been on a romantic get away with his then-girlfriend…

Ringo’s Wife – Last romantic getaway we took! (she called out from the back of the panel audience)

Ringo – And right after they got there, it just started coming to [him]. [They] talked and packed up and went home and [he] just let it pour out.

Eddy – Sometimes a book is too long, so the editor will split it in two. But you’ll need a vicarious winning experience at the end of each part.

Ringo –

There are 2 types of series:

  • Open Ended(story world with self contained stories)
  • Meta Story (1 overarching story)
    • Each story in the series ends with either a physical victory – the climax, and the moral victory – the denouement. You shouldn’t put both together until the end of the story.

Ringo – Only series [he] ever finished- Empire of Man – and then the publisher asked for 3 more books.


  • For Meta stories
    • Think about what arc for the character do you want to tell
  • For Open Ended
    • Each book has a self-contained arch

Publishing stories

Yarbro – Her editor for her original 5 books left and turned the last book over to a Romance Editor.

Ringo – He was paired up (as a Jr author as part of Baen’s mentoring program), with David Drake, who, unlike Ringo, is an organic writer. Drake sent him a 35k outline.

(They still do the mentor program – Check out Mike Massa next year)

Foscett – Note: outlining is good for collaborations, or the story turns into a bad game of telephone.

Martin – [She] outlines, but that’s for the publisher to feel good enough to write the check. The story goes where it needs to go.

What Problems Do You Run Into?

Eddy – She inherited an author with a 425k story. After reading, she found an organic stopping point around 225k words. Then told the author to make the next one’s start organic.

It’s best if, on some rainy Sunday afternoon, when a new reader stumbles across your novel in a bookstore, it shouldn’t matter if they can find book 12 or book 1, the story needs to start in an organic place. – Eddy

Yarbro- Saint-Germain wasn’t talking to [her], but Olivia did. So [Yarbro] wrote her story and focused on the character. Then, Saint-Germain started writing letters to Olivia, and that’s when [she] found his voice again.


Ringo – Back when he was a junior writer, paired with David Weber for March Upcountry, Weber sends him the outline. Chapters 1-6 are pretty detailed– about 30k words.

Then, one line “Ch 6- 19  They cross the country. This is your specialty. Just write some barbarians and city states.”

So, Ringo wrote and he wrote. And one day, he’s stuck and desperate not to ask for help. He’s literally rolling on the floor of his house, wrestling with the plot when he spots his role playing 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide on the shelf. He takes the book and rolls on the random terrain table: “jungle, jungle, jungle, marsh…”

The world map ended up being a cut-up Cretaceous Period world map.

Every week, he sends what he has and hears nothing. No clue if they like it, hate it, want him to do something else.

Finally he gets a [call/email?] asking for what he has. Ringo admits, “I’m only up to maybe chapter 8?” and sends the whole thing.



2 weeks later, he gets a call from Baen. “I think this is a little long.”

The story was up to 423,000+ words for “9” chapters.

Grab bag

  • Don’t collaborate until you have a strong voice
  • Publishers often prefer 3-book deals over singletons; all the work they put into your platform can be used to sell more than a 1-hit wonder.
  • Side characters can only hint at their backstories until they’re the main character
  • Terry Pratchett is famous for introducing characters with everything you need to know about them. It takes a master to do it like that.
  • Ringo called Ghost “50 Shades of Guns”, weirdest of the 5 books, more of a prologue. And Unto the Breech was the best thing he’s ever written but he doesn’t like the series.
  • 245k+ books, are known in publishing by the unit term “A Sanderson”

Chatter before the panel

Word/Phrase Meanings*

  • dixie – short for money
  • a shot of [alcohol] – from back when poor frontiersmen would trade bullets for liquor
  • passing the buck – hand off a buck-knife in a game of poker to show who was dealer

Confused Copy Editors

  • Asked why the bartender would put his fingers in the whiskey (“two fingers neat of scotch)
  • Moved all the dialogue to the beginning of the paragraph, with the action to follow. No matter what.
  • Noted that “democracy” would never have been said in ancient GREECE

*According to the group, I didn’t verify them

P.S. The feature image is of me in my Poison Ivy makeup and jewelry.

PPS. When you keep deleting text trying to italicize or move it because your ctrl-key is broke, you might get a bit frustrated. Just be glad I finished this post before bedtime.

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