If you are a genre writer, you are probably no stranger to the idea of writing a series. Many, many genre writers have at least one series – often, they write for more. Series are a great way to retain avid readers, gain more interest in your writing due to a consistent release schedule, and to further optimize your revenue streams by offering your series on subscription services like Kobo Plus or opting them into library purchasing programs such as OverDrive.
Readers love a series. Stories that allow them to experience an episodic format are ideal for maintaining reader interest. This practice goes all the way back to the days before English-language novels even existed – chapters would be published regularly in magazines and pamphlets until the story was complete. People paid for a copy of the magazine or pamphlet in order to access the next part of their favourite story. Charles Dickenson was one such author, but there were many, many more.
The practice of a series has certainly evolved. Now the focus is on completed books, not individual chapters, but the ferver for a continuing story hasn’t faded. Readers like having something to look forward to, and writing a series is an almost guaranteed way to hook your readership for a long time to come.
Here are some general words of advice if you are thinking of getting started with a series:
- Make sure you have one manuscript completed and at least one more planned before launching your series. This is a must. Don’t jump into a series without an idea of where it might end up. The worst possible outcome is not that you series won’t find its readership – it’s that you will be unable to continue it due to a lack of interest or planning!
- Don’t overlook series potential in one of your pre-existing standalones. If the story in one of your earlier novels is done, great! But if you have even an inkling that you could expand that world or continue with the journeys of one or more characters, investigate that feeling by revisiting the work.
- And make sure you are as dedicated to your series as your readers will be. Nothing is worse than a cliff-hanger that is never resolved due to an author abandoning their series.
Characters: the core of a series – so often, characters are the main draw of a novel series. It doesn’t matter what kind of plot they’re involved in; as long as they are memorable, enjoyable to read, and, for many readers, relatable, you’ve got yourself a guaranteed draw via your unforgettable characters. Pay attention to what kinds of characters readers in you genre return to and rave about again and again. Consider including these kinds of characters in your series – but don’t sacrifice your own style! Put your personal twists on their characterizations and stay in line with your own writing style. If all else fails, simply work on the development of the kinds of characters you like to read about. Guaranteed, there are others out there who will be drawn to them too.
One-off stories within a larger series world – do you have a world that you have created in a standalone? Consider creating a series within that world. The stories don’t have to be directly related; they can simply take place in the world you’ve built up, even if it’s the real world! Did you set a romance in a fictional small town? Consider writing more romances in the same small town starring different characters. Have a detailed fantasy world with multiple countries? Focus on a story in a kingdom neighbouring the one in the first title you wrote. There are many ways to create a connected series that doesn’t rely on a complicated, lengthy plot (if that’s not your style – if it is, go for it).
These types of series are also often lacking in cliff-hangers and other potential series draws (or upsets), so be aware of that when writing. Be sure to consider what will keep your readers coming back after the stand-alone story has concluded.
Time spent invested in a series – make sure you pay attention to how often a reader’s interest in a series is maintained. Fantasy and sci-fi readers, for example, are often the types to stick around for decades. Other readers may prefer shorter series that are complete within a year or two. However your readers read, pay attention. If you find yourself writing at a slower pace, for example, make sure your readers understand that. Make it clear that you are aiming for a series that spans multiple years of releases rather than just one. Writing a novel takes time – writing multiple novels takes even longer!
Scheduling series success – speaking of time invested – make sure you pay attention to your release schedule. Set deadlines for yourself that align with when you can reasonably get your books out there on the market. Don’t let time stretch on and on between releases – unless your readers are aware of the necessary time it take you to work, they may grow impatient and lose interest. However, those kinds of readers aren’t going to be your most loyal! Remember that a series can draw a reader back in at any point, even if their interest has waned.
But, ultimately, a schedule helps you most of all. Consistency is key – in writing, and, subsequently, releasing.
Novellas, extras, and spin-off series – as mentioned before, one-off stories that have no releation to the large, overarching plot of a series can be great at padding out a series between major releases. Consider releasing short novellas, extras (such as character bios, character interviews, etc.) or direct some energy into creating a spin-off series featuring fan favourites that isn’t necessarily as long as or as detailed as your main series.
They can also be a lower-effort, lower-stakes way of testing out new ideas, introducing new characters, and having some fun! Take the time here to write funny, one-off escapades your characters can get into that doesn’t detract from the main storyline. Or focus on a single day or event in their lives in a themed short story. Have fun with it! Your readers will appreciate your sense of humor and added lightness to, say, a gritty fantasy series or a tense romantic thriller. Again, if this isn’t your style, don’t worry – simply write short pieces in that accent and compliment your main series.
Consider promoting these extras as way to keep up with your world while your readers wait for the next instalment. Post about them on social media and include them in your newsletters as you would any other new release. The point here is to keep readers engaged and always on the look out for more from you.
Lastly, we want to remind you of the options we have available that really benefit the avid series writer:
Kobo Plus opt-in – Kobo Plus is an excellent way to get extra revenue on your titles. Series are great to include here, especially packaged series; the longer the book, the longer your readers will spend reading, meaning more revenue for you.
OverDrive opt-in – libraries purchasing box sets and series instalments, too! Don’t forget that your local library (and beyond) has a budget for eBooks. Often, they will allocate some of it to indie and self-published authors. Make sure your book series is available on OverDrive, or you might be missing out on several sales.
And here are some resources on creating and writing a great series and more: