Four Compelling Reasons to Write a Book Series
There are a lot of reasons for choosing to write a series vs. a standalone … here are four of them:
1. A Book Series give readers more of what they love.
Reading is a mini-vacation: it’s a chance to escape into a more exciting world than the one we live in, and to spend time with people who intrigue us, amuse us or inspire us.
When readers fall in love with your world and your characters, they want to go back, just like they want to go back to their favorite vacation spot next year. Buying the next book in your series is a no-brainer.
It’s not a coincidence that so many rising stars in the indie author space are writing series. They know that series are great for bonding with readers and building a fanbase more quickly.
(And once you’ve got a following of readers who love your writing, they’ll buy your standalone stories too.)
2. Books in a series may require less pre-planning.
You built the world and developed the recurring characters when you wrote book one. So when you sit down to write book two, you might only need to plan out the secondary characters. Or develop a couple of new locations within your story world.
This means you can get to the outlining stage faster.
You also probably planted the seeds for future conflicts in book one. Maybe one of the villain’s henchmen got away, and you realize that he could be stirring up new trouble for book two.
Or maybe that villager who your hero wasn’t able to save has a nephew bent on revenge.
What if your heroine took some serious damage in order to defeat her nemesis at the climax of book one—what would that damage drive her to do next?
By the time you finish book one, there’s often another story in this world brewing in the back of your head, some path-not-taken for the sake of keeping that first story focused.
Most story worlds are big enough to contain multiple stories, even if you didn’t realize it when you were planning your first book.
3. A Book Series gives readers multiple ways to find you as an author
How many times have you found a book that looked awesome—only to realize that it was third in a series, and that you needed to find book one?
In the pre-Amazon days, that was so frustrating. You had to go up to the counter of your bookstore and place a special order, which usually took seven-to-ten days to arrive. (And in the meantime, you still needed a new book to read!)
But today, I love finding a book that I’m dying to read and discovering that it’s #3. Because with a couple of clicks, I can start on #1 right away, and I know that if I like it as much as I think I will, there are more books waiting.
And if I love #1, I usually buy the rest of the series as soon as I get to the last page.
If you have five books in your series, that’s five times as many chances that I’ll discover you as an author (and buy everything you’ve written).
4. You can discount one book in your series and still make money on the promotion.
Being an indie author means you’re promoting your books yourself. You’re competing with big publishers who can afford to hire publicists and spend big on ads.
Whether you’re promoting your books through Facebook or Amazon Ads or paid newsletter spots, it’s easy to spend $100 on an ad that only sell 20 books. If your royalty is $2 per book, you just lost $60.
But if those 20 books are the first book in a five-book series (with good read-through), that ad could potentially sell 100 books, as each of those 20 readers buys the sequels to find out what happens next.
If that happens, your $100 ad earned you $200.
In other words, writing a series and waiting until you’ve got multiple books BEFORE you advertise book one can be the difference between bleeding money and making money.
That doesn’t mean series are a silver bullet. You still need to publish well-written books with fantastic, genre-appropriate covers and be smart about how you promote them to your target readers.
You also need to keep a few things in mind while you plan your series.
Five Things You’ll Need to Know About Writing A Series
1. The type of series you’re writing matters.
If you’re writing a series that doesn’t follow the same main character all the way through—a romance series, for example, which follows a family of four sisters, or a multi-protagonist series where the characters pass the torch as the story unfolds—you need to design your series so that each book has the same appeal.
You might do this by putting all the characters in a shared world, and that only works if you’ve done a thorough job of making sure the setting is a character in itself.
Or you might set up an overarching story that each character’s storyline dovetails into, so that even though we’re meeting a new protagonist with each book, we’re still reading to find out if the series villain is going to succeed in his evil plan.
If your protagonist goes on completely different adventures in each book, giving him a growth arc that progresses throughout the series or introducing a theme that might tie all the stories together could be the thing that makes your series stand out.
(In terms of plot structure, series fall into one of three categories—episodic, continuous, or hybrid.)
2. You don’t have to plan out the whole series at once. But you should get clear on what kind of world you’re writing in and what kinds of stories you’ll tell in it.
One of the things that makes series addictive is that they offer readers the kind of stories they’re already craving, with cool variations that make each new book fun.
The characters can change, but the emotional journey that the series delivers needs to be consistent if you want readers to keep coming back for more.
If book one is grim and gritty, the rest of the series should be too. If book one is comically heartwarming, be consistent with that tone throughout.
3. To keep world building from getting overwhelming, focus on the locations you need for the book you’re writing now…but leave some holes on the map.
It’s fine to know that there’s a desert beyond the fabled city your adventurers are seeking. It’s great if want to come up with a few rumors about that vast wasteland.
But don’t figure out the biology of the flame-spouting lizards that live there until you need it for a story.
And if you aren’t sure if you’d like to set book three in a desert or a jungle, it’s fine to leave that part of the map blank until you have to make that decision.
4. Keep a series bible. Even if you have a fantastic memory. Even if you live and breathe this world and the characters who live in it.
You’ve probably heard plenty of stories about authors forgetting their main character’s eye color, or accidentally changing a character’s age, or even mixing up two secondary characters in a sequel.
These kinds of mistakes drive your hardcore fans nuts! But you can avoid any slip-ups by tracking character information, location details and story timelines, so you (and your editor) can doublecheck any detail quickly.
5. Readers hate cliffhangers. A lot.
But cliffhangers keep readers reading. So where do you draw the line?
Maybe you don’t ever use them. Maybe you wrap everything up with a neat bow in each book, and you rely on reader satisfaction to sell your next book.
But what if you’re telling a story where the cliffhangers make sense?
If you must use them, throw your reader a bone. Before the cliffhanger, resolve a subplot in an emotionally-satisfying way. Or give your characters a heart-achingly beautiful moment that the reader can bask in. Or give the characters a solid win before they get hit with the cliffhanger.
In other words, craft another satisfying take-away moment that the reader will enjoy, so they don’t feel slapped in the face by the fact that the story just stops in the middle of the action.
(Also, if you’re ending a book on a cliffhanger, make sure you don’t leave the characters—and your readers—hanging for too long. A cliffhanger isn’t as hard to take if the next installment is coming out in a few weeks.)
But also, consider an alternative to cliffhangers: open loops.
In other words, resolve the big story conflict, but leave some smaller conflicts unresolved (meaningful conflicts that the reader will be emotionally invested in)
Gift the reader with a mystery or two that will keep them wondering…and wanting to read the next book.
About the Author
Lynn Johnston is a writing coach and award-winning author with a passion for teaching fiction writers how to increase the emotional impact of their stories to turn readers into fans.
She blogs at Write Smarter, Not Harder, where you can download her free ebook, Editing for Story.
She’s also the author of The 30 Day Novel Workbook, The 30 Day Romance Novel Workbook, and The Writer’s Guide to Getting Organized.