We’re all about fiction writing this week, and I’ve received questions from romance writing students about series.
We’ve established that you’ll build a readership and make more sales when you write in series. In our first “write in series” article, we included a quote from Russell Blake:
You can try stand-alone – I have – but my series outsell my stand-alone books 4 to 1. Once you have at least three books in the series, make the first one free. Earn your income from the rest, but give readers a whole novel to decide whether they like you or not.
You’ll sell more books, over time, when you write in series, and you can always bundle your short stories and novellas, and sell the compilations, as well as the individual ebooks.
But you have questions. The most popular question was: “how do you plot a series”? Let’s look at some fiction tips for series, quickly. Then you can get back to writing.
1. All Series Have Something Which Ties Them Together.
A series of ebooks – this applies to nonfiction too – have SOMETHING which ties them together. For example, in a series I’m ghostwriting for a client, every story in the series takes place in one small town. So, we have recurring characters, seasonal events which take place in the town, and threats to the town from various sources.
As far as plotting goes, I work on one book at a time. I write the book, and as characters and events emerge, I get ideas for additional stories in the series. Easy.
If you browse Amazon, you’ll see that “small town series” is so popular, it’s almost a genre.
Anything can tie your series together:
- A family. If you’re writing romance, your series can be tied together via a family. All the siblings in the family have their own romances, in stories in the series;
- A person. Lee Child’s written many books with Jack Reacher as the main character. You’ll find lots of series based on characters in thriller and mystery fiction;
- An event. The event could be a war, or a period in history, or an intriguing event in history. You’ll find huge numbers of “mail order bride” romances on Amazon. It’s a trope. You can write a complete series about four or five or even more women who are all mail order brides.
2. Plot One Story at a Time.
You may be a budding George R.R. Martin, but if you want to pay your bills with your fiction, you’ll write stuff which you can start selling asap, instead of Game of Thrones.
It’s commonsense. Write a series of short stories. Then sell the compilation as a bundle, while continuing to sell your stories. You’re plotting one story at a time, even though you have ideas (ideas are not plots, as we discussed in ready-made plots), because your stories change as you write them.
3. Write “Cliff-Hanger” Series, if You Like. (Accept That Some Readers DON’T Like Them.)
“Cliff-hanger” series are serials. The stories don’t end, until the series ends. Serials are easy enough to write. Your serial is one story, with a three act structure. Charles Dickens and many other writers wrote serials for magazines. The books were then published in volumes.
There’s a challenge with selling serials. Let’s say you’ve plotted a story, which you’re publishing serially, in five separate ebooks. Each ebook ends on a cliffhanger. Your challenge is making your readers aware that each story is just part of a whole, and convincing them to buy.
If you spend time on Amazon, and read the reviews, you’ll soon see that no matter how you describe a story, some readers just don’t realize that they’re reading part of a story, and they’ll penalize you with one-star reviews.
I’ve no idea why this is. Some writers cheat by not making it plain that an ebook is a serial. Nowhere do they mention that the serial has several parts. On the other hand, other authors describe their serials honestly. Some readers will be annoyed no matter what you do.
A few one-star reviews are neither here nor there. It’s up to you. If you want to write serials, by all means do. I admit that I’m a total wimp; I don’t write serials. Of course, one day I might get a brilliant idea and work out a plot which would make a perfect serial, and write it. Who knows? We write what we write… so it’s up to you.
4. Once You’ve Published the Third in a Series, Make the First Ebook FREE.
Offer the first ebook in your series free as soon as you publish the THIRD ebook. Some of your readers will buy books 2 and 3, and your next ebooks. Your free ebook builds your readership.
I’ve just updated this article, first published in 2014.
The article remains essentially the same, because if anything, the tips are even more relevant now.
Have fun writing. 🙂
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