Retaining Readers: How to End Books in a Series
Ending books in a series is different than ending standalone novels or writing the final book. To learn how to end the final book, check out my previous article Getting to the End: How to Satisfy Your Readers. Each book in a series still needs to satisfy your reader in some way, but also retain enough of their interest to convince them to read the next book. Accomplishing this is not easy and can be the difference between a series readers can’t stop reading and one they never finish.
Promise More of What Your Readers Want
My last blog post covered 3 Types of Book Series: Writing Best Practices. In that post, I discussed in depth the differences between dynamic, static, and anthology series. Which type of series you’re writing will help you understand how to end your series in a way that promises more of what your particular readers want.
1. Dynamic Series Endings
If you’re writing a dynamic series, your books are primarily driven by one major plot, such as to overthrow the corrupt government or prevent the end of the world. Each book can focus on one aspect of the plot and by the end of the book, that aspect can be achieved or not. List big obstacles in the way of your characters achieving their goal. Do they have to win specific battles, traverse deadly environments, or collect certain items? Each step can be the primary plot of one book.
When using this method, each book in the series has a satisfactory ending because the stakes for that step in the journey have been won or lost. The book has a conclusion, but the whole story isn’t over. Your characters still have another battle or marsh or item. Mention the next step your characters will have to take to keep your readers invested in your series.
Readers read dynamic series for plot, so promise more of that.
2. Static Series Endings
Unlike a dynamic series, a static series is character driven. There isn’t necessarily a big, overarching plot. Instead, each book is an installment in the characters’ lives and needs to have an ending that satisfies your readers. Cliffhangers really don’t work in static series because readers are reading for the characters, not the plot.
At the end of a book in a static series, hint at what your characters might face next. Your reader has fallen in love with these people, so focus on a moment in the next book your readers know will be difficult for your characters. This could be the main mystery or plot or it could be the inciting incident or catalyst. Be sure to also hint at how/why this will be difficult for your character.
Readers read static series for characters, so promise more of them.
3. Anthology Series Endings
Anthology series are about the world, setting, or place. Instead of the same character(s) point of view, they switch up the people and plot, but remain rooted to one place. To keep readers interested, each novel in an anthology series should have a satisfactory ending that concludes the primary conflicts of the book and suggests what aspect of your world might change or be in danger in the next book. If you’re writing about a small town that finally got rid of a corrupt sheriff, mention a new sheriff arriving. If your world is fueled by magic, hint the energy fueling their abilities might be running out.
Readers read anthology series for the world you have created, so promise more of that.
Types of Endings That Hook Your Readers into Your Next Book
There are a handful of types of endings that work well for books in the middle of a series. All of these endings satisfy while at the same time promising more.
Leave the Boss Villain in Play
If you’re writing a series where the characters are attempting to overthrow a specific person or organization, don’t defeat the boss until the final book. This ending works well for plot-driven, dynamic series, but can also be useful with other types of series. Think of this type of series like a video game. In each book, your protagonist grows stronger and gets a little bit closer to the final battle in the same way video game characters level up.
Shut the Door, But Open a Window
In this type of ending, you bring the major conflicts to a conclusion, but somewhere in the last act or part, you introduce another thing your characters will have to deal with. This is particularly useful in static and anthology series because you can conclude the main plot. When introducing something new this late, keep it to a minor subplot, so your readers don’t feel cheated by an unintentional cliffhanger.
Create a Standalone with Close Ties
Again, this ending works best for static and anthology series. Each book has a full satisfactory ending, and the series might not need to be read in order. In this case, you need to hint at other aspects of the world and obstacles your characters must face to keep your readers interested. You need to promise there is more of what they loved about this book in the others. One way of doing this is to include the first chapter of the next book. Another is to reorient your characters to hint at what they might face next.
As I mentioned in my previous article on endings, I hate cliffhangers. As a reader, they make me so angry, I often refuse to read anything else by the author. However, there is one place I can stomach a cliffhanger: the second to last book. If a reader makes it all the way to your second to last book – whether you’re writing a trilogy or 20 book series – they are almost guaranteed to read the final book. You have thoroughly hooked them at that point. Cliffhangers usually only work with dynamic series because cliffhangers don’t tie up the plot.
An Editors Thoughts on Ending Book in a Series
Whether you choose one of these endings or something else entirely will depend on your specific story, but each book should still have some sort of conclusion if you want to retain your readers. You did promise them some type of ending by stopping your book there. If you want to be a multi-book author, your endings are the most important part of your books. If they don’t satisfy, your reader won’t read your next book. If they don’t hook, your reader won’t continue with the series.
Regardless of how you choose to end a book in your series, including the first chapter of your next book is a useful best practice. Many readers won’t be able to resist reading that next chapter and after doing so will be compelled to buy the next book. Even if your next book isn’t out now, consider including its first chapter. You never know when a reader will purchase or actually read your first book. By the time they do, the next one might be available.
Remember to promise more of what your readers want and provide some form of satisfactory ending to hook them into your next book and Ignite Your Ink.
What type of series ending compels you to keep reading? Share your experience in the comments below. For more tips on endings and a free revision checklist, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.