Good morning, friends!
Today, let’s talk about the fine art of the Spin-off novel. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock since the 70’s, a spin-off is a novel that takes a character or subplot from another novel and creates a new story around it. The most classic example I can think of for this would be the Star Trek novels. In 1967, Bantam began publishing adaptations of the original TV series written by James Blish. Since then, if you go to Amazon and search “Star Trek Books,” about 11,000 titles appear from a ton of different authors (I lost count at 100-something). Talk about milking it! Star Trek has a huge fan base from the 70’s, as well as new Trekkies who come aboard all the time. I have 15-year-old students who saw the most recent Star Wars movie and have been hooked.
More recently, however, novel spin-offs happen on a smaller scale, but achieve the same result of “milking it.” Some of the most famous and current Indie examples are Abbi Glines’ Sea Breeze series, Kristen Proby’s With Me Series, and Olivia Cunnings’ Sinners on Tour and One Night With Sole Regret series. What we see with most of these is a tertiary character from a novel who becomes the main character of another novel.
While I definitely prefer an unplanned or unexpected spin-off to an unplanned sequel, I definitely think there are some general guidelines that can make or break the effectiveness (and sales) of such a book.
1. Let it Stand Alone.
If you want your Spin-off series to be successful, then each novel in the series should possess the ability to be read as a stand-alone novel. Your readers shouldn’t have to stress over which one came first, or have to read that one in order to understand the current one. This allows you to spend less time covering back story or refreshing our memories. Creating each novel as a stand-alone helps it feel less like a sequel and more like a new novel.
2. Let it Be Original
If it feels too much like the same storyline (same conflict, same resolution) as the other books in the series, then it won’t hold the same appeal as the first. Right now, especially on the Indie Romance scene, it can feel like Groundhog’s Day. If you’ve read one, you’ve read them all, so to speak. As a reader, I’m always on the hunt for those gems that stand out just a little bit. Olivia Cunning hooked me with the bisexual spin in her most recent book in the Sinners on Tour series. Abbi Glines is not so good at the shockingly different plot, however. Most of her books seem to follow the same plot recipe, but where she hooks me is with the characterization.
All Most of her virginal/innocent female protagonists are different enough (or have different enough backgrounds) to be interesting.
3. Let Them Be Bad
One of the best pieces of writing adv
ice I’ve ever received was: “Don’t be afraid to let your characters make very bad choices.” If ever there was a great spin-off plot, it began with a tertiary character, in his or her own story, made a seriously big mistake. The master of big mistakes, in my opinion, is A.L. Jackson. Her characters not only suffer for years from their mistakes, but she spins such a dark tale that we suffer right along with her characters. While many of her novels are stand alone, they could easily have spin-offs, which I would gladly read. More to the point, what I’d like to see in a really good Spin-off is the Bad Guy/Girl from another book in the series as a protagonist. Emily Giffin touched on this a little bit with her Something Blue, but I wouldn’t have really called Darcy an antagonist (although she was annoying as hell).
4. Leave the Past Behind
In a successful spin off, we don’t need to hear or see the characters from the other books unless they are vital to the current plot. My students read the Bluford High books a lot (as they are high-interest/low-reading level), and in those we see many of the same characters that carry over, but only when necessary to keep consistency. If in one book character X is in character Y’s math class, then he/she should be there in the next book as well, unless it’s a new school year. The same applies to adult fiction. I don’t want to hear all about Rush and Blair in Abbi Glines’ spin-off of Woods in Twisted Perfection, and so far (I’m halfway in at the moment) I have only heard Rush mentioned once. Thank you, Abbi!
5. If It Ain’t Broke…
There are a bunch of spin-off/adaptations/sequels out there based on Pride and Prejudice. Unless you have something truly unique (like ZOMBIES) to add to the plot, then leave it alone. (But you can always add ZOMBIES… because… ZOMBIES!)