THE ACCIDENTAL SERIES – Guest post by Katie Oliver

The Accidental Series

Lisette has graciously invited me to visit her Writers’ Chateau once again, to talk about writing a series – in my case, writing a romantic comedy series.

Confession: I’m probably the worst person on earth to address this subject…because my first three books (Dating Mr Darcy) didn’t start out as a series. They were just three novels with a few overlapping characters, characters I found interesting and fun and wanted to write about. It all started like this:

What if, I mused, a British family owns a long-established department store, Dashwood and James. Due to unforeseen economic circumstances, the store falls on hard times. And what if an arrogant but astute businessman (think Simon Cowell or Gordon Ramsay) is brought in to help the store…and clashes immediately with the family’s spoilt daughter, Natalie?

And I was off and running.

When I wrote Prada and Prejudice and the next two books, I didn’t follow any ‘rules.’ I didn’t look at any publisher’s guidelines. I just wrote what I wanted to read, but couldn’t find on the shelves – romantic comedy with some menace and/or mystery thrown in. I wrote all three books while still working full time – don’t ask me how. I look back, and I really don’t know how I did it.

Folders(These were my working folders for the first three books in the Dating Mr Darcy series. I found the  Izak Zenou folders at Target. Score! Pretty, sassy, and perfect for storing all of my story notes, photos, and editorial letters.)

It was just something I felt I had to do. The kids were grown, and I had a strong ‘it’s now or never’ feeling (with apologies to Elvis). So I let my imagination take off, and I wrote every chance I could – in a tiny pocket notebook before mass (I know, bad), on legal pads at work (again, bad), and hunched over my laptop at home. I had the fever (with apologies to Peggy Lee and Christopher Walken).

I kept track of the characters and plot points in a spiral notebook, one for each book, and I saved any articles, interviews, or research notes related to the story in folders and a three-ring binder. I bought poster boards and made a collage of photographs of people who resembled my characters, and hung it near my desk for visual inspiration whenever my imagination flagged.

Folder 2Working folder for book two in the Dating Mr Darcy series, Love and Liability.

When I finished Prada and Prejudice, I began writing the second book. A few things that inspired me at the time included Mara Rooney’s portrayal of Lisbeth Salander in the film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; a segment on Gordon Ramsay’s The F Word program about “freegans” – people who skip-dive for a living because it’s (a) free and (b) helps reduce food waste; The September Issue, a documentary which offered a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Anna Wintour and Vogue magazine; episodes of Law and Order UK; payday loans; and the British media’s mobile phone hacking scandal.


When I started the second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, I needed ( you guessed it) more folders. These three kept me semi-organized while writing And the Bride Wore Prada, Love, Lies and Louboutins, and Manolos in Manhattan. And they were pretty to look at. Win-win.

Somehow, all these disparate things became Love and Liability, my second book.

Once again, I saved articles. I clipped photographs. I watched films and programs related to my research. Then…I wrote. I stopped to consult the previous book whenever I needed to search for the name of Lady Whatsit or recall the birth date of a secondary character’s sister or confirm where someone went to school/got married/grew up. It was random and disorganized and it drove me batty.

And it struck me then that perhaps I had gone about this the wrong way.

I had a lot of information and plenty of research material…but no system to keep track of it all, no method for detailing my characters’ bios and backgrounds. I carried on in this haphazard manner and finished book two.

KO_Photos_WallThis is my “mood board” for Prada and Prejudice – it’s on the sloping wall next to my under-the-eaves writing desk.

Halfway through the third book, Mansfield Lark, an amazing thing happened. Well, two amazing things. I acquired a literary agent who sold all three books to Carina UK, who wanted to publish them as e-books. However, they wanted to tie the books together as a series. So we started in the obvious place – with the Jane Austen-y title, Prada and Prejudice.

Initially, I was a little leery about this marketing decision. The books are ‘Austen lite’ at best – they don’t so much pay homage to Jane as give the occasional (sometimes cheeky) nod in her direction – but they do deal with families, and relationships, and romantic foibles, all of which I hoped readers (and Miss Austen) would relate to, and embrace.

I caught some flack from a few die-hard Austenites early on, and probably deservedly so. But when you’re a new, unproven writer and you have little (i.e., no) say in a publisher’s marketing or book-titling decisions, you learn to smile, nod politely, and go with the editorial flow.

The second series, Marrying Mr Darcy, continued on with the next three books I’d written, but with a slightly different theme this time – the titles would each refer to a designer (Prada, Louboutin, and Manolo, to be exact). Again, I had my doubts. Would non-fashion people know who Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik were? (They’re French and Italian shoe designers, respectively, for those of you who may not know.)

But when I saw the titles and the gorgeous cover art that accompanied the books, I was once again one-hundred percent convinced. And with the release of the first book in the new series, And the Bride Wore Prada, I had my first best seller. Love, Lies and Louboutins became my second…on preorder, before it was even published.



The marketing wonks were once again vindicated.

So you see, I really am a terrible person to ask about how to write a series. I came at it from the wrong way around altogether, which is not the usual way to go about these things. But then I seldom do things in the usual way

Normally, when writing a series, it’s customary for an author to plan out the story arc for each individual book, as well as the overarching story arc for the entire series. There should be a “Bible” to track the various characters and their particulars from one book (and one series) to the next. There should be storyboards and index cards, and complicated genealogies and diagrams of family trees, and a lot of colored markers.

Of course, I did none of that.

But going forward? I think – no, I’m sure – that I probably will.

KatieOliverKatie Oliver loves romantic comedies, characters who “meet cute,” Richard Curtis films, and Prosecco (not necessarily in that order). She currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.

Katie has been writing since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it. With her sons grown and gone, she decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories. She even finishes most of them.




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Manolos in Manhattan Blurb:

In the city that never sleeps…

Strutting down Park Avenue in her new Manolos, Holly James looks like a woman who has it all. But beneath the Prada sunglasses, Holly has a mounting list of decidedly unfabulous problems. Right at the top? The fact that since her fiancé Jamie started spending all his time at his new restaurant (with his impossibly gorgeous sous-chef!), Holly has practically forgotten what he looks like…and started to feel a teensy bit paranoid.

…shopping is a twenty-four hour job!

So when her old flame Alex suggests they catch up, Holly jumps at the distraction. After all, what’s the harm in some window shopping? But when sinister thefts start taking place all over the city, the Big Apple begins to feel like a dangerous place…and Holly can’t help being relieved to have capable, commanding Alex so close by. Suddenly, Holly’s window shopping is veering worryingly close to an impulse buy! But would giving into temptation be an investment…or the biggest mistake of her life?


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Katie’s Writers’ Chateau Interview



Katie Oliver currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband and three parakeets, in a rambling old house with uneven floors and a dining room that leaks when it rains.

She’s been writing off and on since she was eight, and has a box crammed with (mostly unfinished) novels to prove it.  With her sons grown and gone, Katie decided to get serious and write more (and hopefully, better) stories.  

She even finishes most of them.

What is your latest book?

Mansfield Lark is the latest, published on 3 March.


Is your recent book part of a series?

Yes, Mansfield Lark is the newest addition to the “Dating Mr Darcy” series. Other books in the series are Prada and Prejudice and Love and Liability. I have two more books in the works – one featuring Natalie and Rhys from Prada, and one with Gemma and Dominic from Mansfield.

What are the special challenges in writing a series?

Well, I didn’t start out to write a series. I wrote the first book, Prada and Prejudice, with no clue that I’d write another…and then another, featuring some of the same characters across the three books. It just sort of happened that way. As I wrote the first one, I thought, you know, I really need to tell Holly’s story…and Dominic’s story… and so I did.

I think the biggest challenge when writing a series is keeping everything straight from one book to the next! I might forget whether a character in book one had blonde hair or black, or where he/she was born. Where was Ian and Alexa’s house located? Did Natalie take one gap year, or two? Those little details will trip you up in a later book if you don’t track them. I keep a notebook for each book, and I jot down stuff as I begin writing, so I can refer to it later.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

All the time! For instance, (spoiler alert) I didn’t intend for Holly James to end up with Alex Barrington. He was meant to be a cad who breaks her heart. But it didn’t work out that way…

Authors, especially Indies, are constantly trying to understand why some authors sell very while their talented fellow authors have a hard time of it. It’s an ongoing conundrum. What do you make of it all?

What I make of it is this: it’s a crapshoot. There are many very excellent writers whose books languish unread. And there are many so-so writers whose books hit the bestseller lists.

Things that help get your book noticed are: a well-designed book cover; blog tours; and hosting a giveaway to stir a buzz and find you new readers. Establish yourself as a brand. Your writing name is your brand. Utilize social media. Don’t post non-stop “buy my book” Tweets – that’s spam, and no one likes spam. Engage with your followers. Use apps like Quozio to pull quotes from your book and post them on Twitter or Facebook. Pin pictures of your characters or locations to Pinterest and share on other social media. Think outside of the “buy my book” box.

Beyond that? It’s luck, pure and simple.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Know that nothing happens fast in the publishing world. It takes time to get representation, land a book contract, navigate through the editorial process. Be patient. Learn. Listen to people who know what they’re doing – your editor, your agent, the art department, your publisher. But don’t be afraid to push back (politely) if you really hate the cover or don’t agree with an edit.

For indie authors – I recommend hiring a proofreader to copyedit your book before you format and publish it. And it’s worth hiring a graphics person to design a killer book cover, as well. Make social media work for you by connecting with readers, bloggers, and other writers.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

Once my kids were grown, I wrote the book (well, two) that I’d always wanted to write. When I finished, I got an agent referral through the Elaine English agency in Washington, DC, based on the synopsis and first three chapters of Love and Liability. It took time to get a publishing deal, mainly because my books featured British characters and settings, which American publishers were hesitant to take on. But with time and perseverance it did happen, and my books – all three of them – were bought by UK Carina/Harlequin and published an ebook series.

There are so many conflicting opinions out there about everything related to publishing: e-book pricing, book promotion, social media usage etc. How do you sort through it all to figure out what works best for you?

It’s true, there’s a LOT to wade through and it can be overwhelming, especially to a new writer. Just try different approaches to find the one that you’re most comfortable with. If you hate Twitter, create a Facebook page instead. If you hate writing a blog post, let book bloggers know you’re available to answer interview questions or provide an excerpt from your book.

Many authors are happy to share what worked – and what didn’t – with other writers. Romance Writers of America publishes lots of useful tips on marketing and promoting your book. There’s also plenty of good information on the Internet.

You have to find what works for YOU, and for your book. Be creative. Themed giveaways that fit your book are a great approach. For the Dating Mr Darcy books, I offered a British Barbie and assorted “Keep Calm” notepads, page clips, and a pocket organizer, in addition to my latest ebook. Have fun with it, and your audience will have fun, too (and hopefully, buy your book!)

Do you have any advice to a new author if they asked you whether to pursue the traditional route to publishing or to start out as an independent writer?

Decide what works best for you. If you work well independently, if you want to control everything from the cover design to the formatting and pricing of your book, you might want to self-publish.

If you prefer to focus on writing and wish to leave book cover design, editing, and formatting to others, you might prefer the traditional publishing route. Just be aware that promotion is still largely your responsibility. You may be assigned a publicist or a marketing liaison; you may not. Be prepared to market your books yourself.

What have you done to market your novel and what did you find the most effective? The least effective?

I think blog tours are one of the most effective ways to gain new readers for your books. You get exposure to a whole new audience who otherwise might not find you. You can share an excerpt from your book, or provide teasers about an upcoming release. You can participate in cross-genre blog tours with other authors. It’s fun, and a win-win for writers and readers.

Least effective? DON’T run a constant stream of links to your books on Twitter or Facebook. Just. Don’t. And giveaways can either be very effective or a complete waste of time. Themed giveaways are good; so are those that are open to everyone. Keep the rules simple. Don’t make contestants jump through a lot of hoops to enter, or they won’t bother. Make it easy, and fun.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

To play bass guitar! I’ve always wanted to do that. I want to be Tina Weymouth.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

That I suck at cooking. I’m an ace baker, and I make my own pizza dough and spaghetti sauce, and my lasagna is to die for. But beyond that? I’m hopeless.

What was the most valuable class you ever took in school? Why?

In my junior year of high school, I took a course called Film Production. For the first half of the semester we watched films – Showboat, The Night of the Generals, Singing in the Rain, Chariots of Fire – and then we discussed them. We examined how scenes were edited and paced – short and fast for action sequences, longer for quieter scenes, etc. We learned that the film editor took miles of footage and cut and spliced it all together into a cohesive, compelling whole.

I learned to look at movies in a whole new way. Why did the director choose black and white versus color? Why was a particular scene shot in slow motion? How did those choices affect the drama, the tension, the pace of the film?

I learned to apply those lessons to books as well. I’m a visual person, and I ‘see’ my books as films inside my head. So wherever you are, Mr. Singleton – thank you. You rocked that class.




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