Why Commit to a Book Series: Pros and Cons
To new and experienced writers, starting a series can be overwhelming and feel like an impossible commitment, but usually the benefits far out way the pitfalls. A book series is one of the most effective way to created super fans, and you only need to develop your characters and setting once.
Building Super Fans
Super fans are readers who not only pre-order your books, they tell all of their friends about the amazing story you’ve created. They are the people who dress up as your characters for Halloween, Comic Con, and other events. They are your author brand champions and invaluable assets. However, super fans don’t just spontaneously appear (unless they’re your relative). You have to cultivate that relationship. You connect with these readers through author events, social media, email lists, and book series.
Even non-super fan readers love series. They enjoy returning to characters and places they already know and have begun to miss. Readers don’t want their favorite stories to end, so the voracious ones look for series. I do want to warn you, some readers won’t begin a book series until all of the books are released because they are impatient and/or have been burned by too many authors starting a series and never finishing it.
In marketing terms, it’s easy to keep a customer coming back than it is to convince and new customer to pick your product. For authors, it’s easier to sell book two, three, seven, twelve in a series than it is to sell book one. Especially in the indie realm, book series sell better.
You Only Have to Work Hard at Development Once
A huge bonus of a series for an author is they only have to develop characters and settings one time, yet you get multiple books out of that time and effort. Each book does need its own plot, even if you’re writing a dynamic, plot-based series.
Most series follow around the same cast of characters. This means you only need to create and flesh out the majority of your characters in book one (or the early books for long series), then you can keep reusing them and building upon that foundation. This is particularly true if you’re writing a static, character-driven series.
The same goes for world and setting building. You only have to map out a finite number of houses, bedrooms, streets, towns, etc. Sure your characters might go to new places in each book, but you likely get to use some of the old ones as well. When you use a setting you’ve described in detail in a previous book, you only need to remind your reader of key components instead of rewriting lots of description passages. You can also look back at those old descriptions and use them as reminders and to inspire new ones.
If you write science fiction or fantasy, you only need to develop one magic or technology system instead of having to create something new for each book. This also gives you the opportunity to really flesh out how magic or technology works in your world, what the consequences are, and what the rules are. You can build on this system each book instead of having to start from scratch. This is particularly useful if you’re writing an anthology series.
You Fall in Love and Hate to Leave Your Characters
After I finished my first novel – a standalone – I was ecstatic and a little sad. These characters and places I spent so much time building were over. If you’re the type of writer who falls in love with your characters or who rarely grows tired of your setting, a book series might be the best choice for you. When you write a series, you get to dive deeper and deeper into your characters with each book, continue to develop that magic or technology system you’re enamored with, and return to the world you created.
However, not all books are series material. As much as I love those characters from my first book, I did not write it intending to create a series. I didn’t leave loose threads or hints at something more, so I’m not going to force that story to be something it’s not.
You must have enough story and ideas to justify writing a series. Adding fluff and dividing up a standalone book will not work. You will slow the pace of your story, create tangents, and open space for plot holes. This will not make the kind of series that builds super fans. No one has time for fluff today.
Take a moment to look at your story concept and the ideas you have for obstacles and conflicts your characters might face. List the major plot for each book. Do you have enough to justify a series? If you’ve never written a series you might not know, but outlining, even just a little bit, will help you get a better sense of whether or not a series is right for your current story ideas.
Tips from an Editor on Book Series
Writing a series is not easy and does not guarantee success. Most traditional publisher aren’t willing to take a chance on a new author with a series, so it’s become standard to say “This book is a standalone with series potential.” Because you’re an untested author, they don’t want to commit to multiple books, and you might not want to commit to a series with a new-to-you publisher either. So understand series are harder to pitch traditionally if you’re new.
In the self-publishing world, you either need to learn how to write, edit, and publish quickly or wait to publish book one in a series until you have the rest of the books well on their way to being ready to publish. Readers have short attention spans. You can’t release book one now and book two in few years. Readers will have forgotten about you. In the self-publishing world, authors release books in a series every 30-90 days for a rapid release or 1-3 books a year for a slower pace.
In order to reap the benefits of a series, you need to commit to finishing it. You can’t build super fans and marketing buzz or take advantage of only developing your characters and setting once if you only write every once in a while. You must commit to your story to retain readers and keep your story fresh in your mind and Ignite Your Ink.
What’s your favorite part about writing or reading a series? Share your thoughts in the comments below. I love the more in depth world building. For more articles on book series and a free guide to building strong settings, 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.