Besides being famous authors, what do Tom Clancy, J.K. Rowling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and George R. R. Martin have in common? The answer should be pretty obvious: they all wrote series. In fact, some of the most beloved authors of all time are series writers. What’s more, series have a way of creating some of the most loyal, devoted fans.
As a result, series are a fantastic way for writers looking to create that loyal fan base who will read-through from one book to the next. Series are also highly recommended for indie writers. Though series have so many wonderful aspects, writing an engaging series is easier said than done. That said, here are some things to consider when evaluating if you should write one.
Does Your Story Suit a Series?
Even though many different types of stories are well-suited to series, there are just as many than shouldn’t be. Every book of a series needs to be equally engaging as the one that came before—if not more so. If one of the books goes stale, some readers may not continue on to the next one. Likewise, if too many of the story threads have been neatly resolved and readers don’t need to find out more, the story very well may be over. Evaluate whether or not the story you want to tell is one that needs multiple books in order to tell it.
It’s also a good idea to take your genre into account when planning a series. Not all genres do well as series (for example, literary fiction). On the other hand, some genres tend to gravitate toward certain categories of series, which leads to the second question:
What Type of Series Are You Writing?
In general, there are two types of series. The first, an episodic or procedural series, is one in which each book of the story stands alone and is self-contained, but the protagonist is the same. An example of this would be Sherlock Holmes or James Patterson’s Alex Cross. Crime fiction, thrillers, and mystery novels are particularly suited toward episodic series.
On the other hand, serialized novels are frequently the most commonly associated with series. In this type of series, there is an overarching story that is too long to tell in one novel and each book continues the central plot. Despite this, each novel in this type of series needs to be able to stand alone with its own plot. For example, each novel in the Harry Potter series tells the story of Harry, a boy wizard who must confront Voldemort—the evil wizard who killed his parents and believes killing Harry is the key to his success. But in each novel of the series, Harry must solve a mysterious problem and face an unknown enemy.
How Strong Is Your Story World?
The very best series have characters that are so deep and complex that readers want to be with them for several novels. Writing a strong series character requires a great deal of planning. You should know your characters backwards and forwards. You should have their backstories and worlds so well-conceived that you know how they would react under a vast array of circumstances. The secondary characters should also be incredibly well developed and able to balance out your protagonist’s needs.
In addition, the world building in series must be very well drawn. While this is important in all books, in series, you may be creating towns and history or worlds that will need continuity. Some writers find it particularly helpful to create “story bibles” for their own personal references. These can be notebooks, journals, or binders full of information about the world and characters and its history and intricacies. Here’s more on world-building: World Building Basics.
Writing a series is a lot of work and requires a great deal of planning. In general, it’s smart to know where you’re heading with at least a loose outline. Also make sure you take the time to end the story when it needs to end. But if you do the work well, the reward of creating a world that readers want to immerse themselves in over and over again will be worth the effort.