At some point, we all want to write a series. We dream of a long epic with a dozen entries that fill an entire shelf at the local bookstore. Those dreams, like any writing dreams, are entirely possible. If you really want to write that series, though, you need to take a step back and remember where things start: the first book.
Its Own Book
The first thing you should know about any book in a series is this: it should be a great read on its own. Even if you emblazon the series number on the cover of each story, you never know which one your readers will pick up first. Library selections aren’t perfect, bookstores may not carry every book in the series, and they may grab the third book in your series for free as part of a Kindle promotion. You just don’t know, so make sure each book makes sense on its own.
That said, the first book needs to stand alone for even more important reasons: publishing and returns. If you go with a traditional publisher, they will only take your book if it stands alone. They probably won’t commit to a series until they see how well it sells. While you can always write a series, if you want to publish it, you have to make sure you cooperate with publishers’ needs. Honestly, this is just smart business, anyway, and it will only improve your writing.
The first novel in a series needs to do a lot, especially if you write about an original world with its own complex magical systems, space politics, or sentient cow people. You’re probably in a rush to tell readers all about it, and you want to introduce your characters quickly so you can move on to the fun stuff. Stop. Take a breath, and pace yourself.
Get the story moving first and sprinkle the introductions. If you plan to write a series, remember that you can actually add more introductions in later books. You should add complexity to your characters and world with each installment, and if you drop big, ugly paragraphs full of exposition throughout the first novel, you won’t have enough to lure the audience into following stories. You don’t have to introduce everything in the first book – just enough for THAT story – and you should keep making fresh introductions throughout your series.
Build Something Worth Returning To
Make readers fall in love with the first book. That’s the ultimate key to building a series. If the readers want more of your world, words, and characters, they will come back for more, and you’ll have the recipe for a long-lived series on your hands. Showcase everything that makes your world special, like unique character relationships, complex moral choices, stunning settings, and fast-paced plots. Luring readers back to a series is like trying to win return tourists. Give them a good time, make them fall in love, help them build memories, and they’re yours for life.
If you ultimately want to build a series, plant a few seeds. While your first book must wrap up all the important plot elements, leave the groundwork for future drama or rising threats. Maybe the villain’s second in command escapes, or perhaps the great evil is only contained and not destroyed. Is there a burgeoning love triangle among your heroes? Maybe characters mention other parts of your world in casual conversation they never have a chance to explore in your first book.
The first book in your series should be its own book. That lets you write a second book in the same place, with the same characters, that is also its own book. Then maybe you’ll get to write a third and a fourth, but it all starts with that first story. Take your time, pace those introductions, and help readers fall in love just as deeply as you have. And, as always, enjoy the ride!