If you’re a fiction author, I’m sure you’ve heard that series sell. This was brought home to me recently when I released several standalone novels under my pen names, and only one novel gained traction. I’m sure this novel received a boost from two previously-published short stories which featured the characters from the novel.
There’s a lesson there. My new resolution: write series, stop writing standalones.
Many genres lend themselves to series: romance, fantasy, mysteries, science fiction, and more.
For the fiction author who’s new to series: what are the rules?
This is a common question; you’ll be pleased to know that there aren’t any rules for a fiction author writing a series, as such. However, writing a series is more complex than writing standalone novels.
Things to be aware of:
- Consistency counts — keep track of characters, places, and events across the novels in the series (I use a spreadsheet);
- Ditto dates across the novels. This is especially important if you’re writing historical fiction, or thrillers, which mention news events. It’s also important for characters’ ages. Maintain a timeline. This needn’t be a chore. Your timeline can be a great source of inspiration for plotting and subplots;
- Be careful with spoilers. Readers can start reading your series with any book, they won’t all start with the first book. However, in your enthusiasm to avoid spoilers, don’t be too stingy — give sufficient information so that a novel is readable to someone new to the series. I’ve read some series novels which were incomprehensible because I hadn’t read previous novels in the series;
- Avoid killing off great characters. You may need them in later books in the series.
Let’s look at some tips for writing series of novels.
1. An overall series’ plot arc is useful (even in mystery novels), but not essential
We’ve talked about open loops. It’s a great idea to have a plot arc (an open loop) which extends over the series.
We talked about open loops in this article, Write Fiction For Readers: 3 Tips For Narrative Drive:
Open loops are psychological strategies used most often as copywriting tricks. They’re hooks and unanswered questions. You can and should use open loops right throughout your novel.
Be aware however, that an overall plot arc isn’t essential. As far as I can recall, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series of novels don’t have an overall arc.
2. If you’re a pantser, you don’t need to plot the entire series before you start writing
A vague outline of where you want the series to go is helpful, but optional. If you’re a pantser, as I am, who needs to write a novel to know where it’s going, please don’t let “I can’t outline!” put you off writing a series.
Your plotting for the series can be simple. In a mystery series for example, you may want your sleuth to have an on-again off-again romance. In your final novel in the series your star-crossed couple get together.
3. Your series must be fun for you to write
If you intend writing several books featuring a main character, keep asking yourself what makes your main character interesting while you’re writing the first novel. You’ll be spending a lot of time with this character. A desire to kill him or her off isn’t helpful. 🙂
Published? Which novel was most fun to write?
A series can be very loosely connected. Let’s say that you’re a fiction author who’s published several novels. Which novel was fun to write? Could you develop that novel into a series?
For example — you wrote a thriller set in New York. You loved writing it. Your main character in the thriller is a doctor.
- Continue his story?
- Develop his best friend, or son, as the main character in the second novel in a series?
- Set a novel in the same hospital, with a completely new character?
Although it’s fun to plan a new series, you can get stuck on the planning. A couple of my students have been “planning” their series for months. If you feel that you’re procrastinating in this way, just start writing. You’ll become inspired when you do; “planning” is often just procrastination.
Have fun writing series. They definitely sell better than standalone novels, and they’re easier to sell too — you can enroll the entire series into Amazon KDP Select. If Kindle Unlimited subscribers read one novel and enjoy it, they’ll read other novels in the series, which means more Pages Read income for you.
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