Did you know that in many ways it’s easier to write a series than it is to write a standalone novel?
Novels in a series are more profitable too; they sell better. In a series, each novel promotes the others, so marketing is a snap.
Want proof it makes sense to write a series? Check the catalogue of any bestselling commercial fiction author, whether self-publishing or traditionally published, and you’ll find they write series. Indeed, my first publishing contract was for a series; publishers prefer multi-book contracts because they know series sell.
In addition to selling more books, when you write a series, you:
- Save time, because beginning a new novel is a messy process. With a series, you save setup time on each book after the first;
- Plotting is easier (seriously);
- Inspiration and creativity flow;
- You feel more confident because you know the world in which you’re writing.
You want to write a series… But what if it doesn’t sell?
Whenever I mention “write a series” at least one of my students asks: “But what if the series doesn’t sell?”
It’s a good question, but there’s no easy answer.
You have a choice if sales of the first and subsequent books are low:
- Drop the series (disappointing); or…
- Continue, if you believe in the series.
Here’s the thing. Some series take time to get established. One of my fiction students believed in her series so sincerely that she wrote five novels before the series took off.
Her response, when I asked her how she kept writing: “My beta readers encouraged me. Plus I loved the characters. I enjoyed it, even though I was exhausted because I wrote early each morning, before work.”
Let’s look at the reasons to write a series in a little more detail.
1. Save time: set up your series world once
When you start a new novel, you have lots of choices. Which genre? What era? Style? Characters…
All those decisions can lead to decision fatigue:
It turns out that making decisions is tiring. The classic signs of decision fatigue include procrastination and avoidance.
Of course, there’s a simple way out of all the 1001 decisions you need to make: just start writing. Bestselling romance author Barbara Cartland wrote a novel every two weeks. As soon as she finished one, she’d start dictating the next one the very next day. She claimed she simply asked her subconscious mind to produce a plot, and it obligingly did.
Without a doubt, Ms Cartland was a pantser, par excellence.
No matter how you do it, whether you outline and plot for weeks on end, or just start writing, beginning a novel is messy and stressful.
When you write a series on the other hand, you create the series’ “world” once, then you can use it for each subsequent novel in the series.
2. Plotting chores lessen: no need to start afresh with each novel
As with the housekeeping work of creating a world, when you write a series, much of your characterization is done; that’s a big saving in time and energy.
You can create an overarching plot if you wish when you write a series. This means you already know much of what will happen in subsequent novels. Ta-da! Instant happiness.
However, the concept of an overarching plot can be a challenge. If you don’t want a continuing plot, write each novel as a standalone—the world and characters remain the same, but there’s a fresh plot for each novel.
When you write a series, decide whether you’ll write books which are standalones, or which are more episodic—that is, they have an overarching plot which isn’t resolved until the final book.
Many mystery series are written as standalones. While the sleuth, his family, and colleagues remain the same, there’s a fresh case to solve in each novel.
3. You’re more creative: inspiration and creativity flow
After the first novel, if motivation flags, you’ve got a whole world of characters and plot you can mine for inspiration in the series’ previous novels.
Let’s say you’re writing Book 3 in the series. You’re feeling a little stale and uninspired. If you only had a good idea…So, you decide to reread the first two novels.
Ten minutes later, you discover a scene with the brother of your series’ hero. You mentioned him in a couple of scenes in the first book. He has potential, you realize.
Before you know it, you’re inspired: what if the brother goes missing? It would make a wonderful subplot in your current novel.
4. Build confidence: you’re more confident when you write a series
If the first book in your series sells, you’re off to the races. But let’s look at a worst-case scenario. The first book’s reception doesn’t fill you with confidence. You’re thinking about giving up on the series… What if you’re wasting time?
If you hate your series’ idea, the characters, and the world, don’t torture yourself. Drop the series. Write a series of short stories and publish them, or start a new novel.
Big tip: your enjoyment of what you’re writing isn’t an indulgence: it’s essential. Both apathy and enthusiasm come across to the reader. Therefore, your feelings about your series matter.
Over the years, speaking with friends and writing students, it’s more common than not that a series takes time to become established. Usually, you won’t know until you’ve written three books whether or not the series will be a success… So, if you’re enjoying yourself, keep writing.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ll gain in confidence as your series grows. Writing a novel is a big achievement, and when you write a series, that’s on a whole new level, and always increases your confidence as an author.
Want to write a series? Check what you’ve published
As I pointed out, you may already have started a series:
… bestselling author C.S. Forester published the novel The Happy Return, in which his naval hero Horatio Hornblower is already in command of a ship, in 1937. Forester didn’t publish the start of Hornblower’s naval career until 1950, with Mr. Midshipman Hornblower.
The success of The Happy Return showed Forester that he had a goldmine in Hornblower.
Check the novels and short stories you’ve written. You may have the potential for a goldmine of your own, when you decide to write a series.
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Copywriter and marketing pro Angela Booth maintains a busy copywriting and ghostwriting practice. Fascinated by online marketing, she wrote one of the first business books for internet marketing, published by Allen & Unwin. She’s been an enthusiastic blogger since the late 1990s.