One common desire among authors is to build and nurture a loyal fan base. The easiest (although not most intuitive) way to do so is by creating a beloved book series. A book series can become your entrance into the hearts of thousands or even millions of readers worldwide. Just ask:
- JK Rowling (Harry Potter)
- Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)
- George R. R. Martin (A Song of Fire and Ice)
- Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid)
- Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events)
- R. L. Stine (Goosebumps)
- Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency)
The above represent just a few of the authors who have found critical acclaim and built a community of engaged readers through writing a book series. And even though these authors make it look easy, writing a book series is anything but—at least if you want to do it well. There are several potential mistakes when you attempt to create your book series.
In this post, we share top tips to help you write a book series that your readers will love. We’ll also identify common mistakes that you should avoid along the way.
Why Create a Book Series
You may be wondering if you should bother writing a book series. Are there benefits to writing series over one-off books?
Absolutely. But it's not for every story.
While it's true that not every book lends itself to creating a book series, many do. And there are numerous reasons you should consider unraveling a story throughout multiple books.
Let’s keep it real. One excellent reason to write a book series is the potential to make more money. Authors typically choose to write books because they love storytelling. However, if you're a full-time author or hope to become one, you also write books to make a living. Writing a book series allows you to market once to your target audience and then continue to get their buy-in throughout multiple books.
If you successfully hook them, you can keep your reader coming back for more with each new edition. Since you’ve already established a loyal fan base who keeps coming back for more, you won't have to market as heavily for each new installment.
It’s worth noting that if you hope to go the route of a traditional publisher, writing a book series is a great way to get your foot in the door. Many literary agents and publishers love a pitch that includes a book series. They know that a book series can make more money. If you demonstrate that you already have a plan for a series, that will get him more excited about working with you.
The second reason to create a book series is that you have the opportunity to spend more time developing your characters and building a more nuanced plot. If you're trying to cram everything into one book, you’ll need to cut a lot to make it work. Beloved characters, intriguing subplots, and entire swaths of your carefully-worded prose may get edited out to obey your maximum word count. And while you'll still have to edit out wordiness or diversions that don’t enhance your overall storytelling, you'll still have the space to weave an intricate plot when writing a book series.
Different Types of Book Series
Not all book series follow the same pattern. On the one hand, you have a book series like The Baby-Sitters Club. On the other hand, you have a book series like The Lord of the Rings. And then you have a book series like The Shadowhunter Chronicles. It's not just the content that makes these series so different from each; it's also their structures.
The first type of book series is known as a serial. In this type of book series, the reader becomes immersed in one cohesive story spread over multiple books. When writing a serial, an author typically writes the story from beginning to end. The story flows best when read in chronological order. Although each book may have a subplot, it has one overarching story told from the first book to the last. This series focuses on the story.
The second type of book series is known as episodic. In this series, the reader follows one main protagonist as the protagonist encounters different conflicts or episodes. These books have a clear beginning where the reader meets the main characters. However, episodic books have no end because characters continue to live on and appear in subsequent books. This series focuses on the character.
The third type of book series is the connected world. It’s not as common as the first two. The reader follows a series of connected characters living within the same world or universe in these book series. The characters may know each other, or they may not (yet). These series can focus on prominent events that affect the entire universe and follow various characters as they respond to these events. This series focuses on the world that you’ve created.
With this foundation established, we can identify the most common mistakes to avoid when writing any of the above book series models.
Mistake #1: Not Going In With a Plan
Before you begin writing your book series, starting with a plan is essential. If you don't, your lack of planning will become painfully apparent to your readers in book two. This mistake applies to all book series, but especially the serial type.
The benefits of planning with a serial book series are obvious: All of your books in the series should tell the same overarching story. They must be connected and lead towards a central climax and satisfying resolution. It's a good idea to outline the series first and then outline each book to ensure that it's focused on telling the broader story. Doing so will reduce the occurrence of plot holes.
Because episodic books will focus on character, plan how you will develop the character over time. No reader wants to follow a character who never learns from previous mistakes. Consider how the character will, slowly but surely, mature throughout your books.
For a series in a connected work, your plan should focus on how the characters connect to each other and the events in the world. They may or may not meet up, but you should consider how their actions impact or influence each other.
Mistake #2: Not Developing Your Plot
This tip focuses on serial and connected book series. Whether you're writing three books or 30, you must have a solid central plot that ties the books together. Having this will keep the reader motivated to read subsequent books.
For each book in your series, you also need unique plots that can stand independently. Individual stories will keep the reader engaged throughout the entire series.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can relax the tightness of your storytelling simply because you have more room to flesh it out. If you can't keep your reader interested, they will likely give up on you.
Each book must have a central conflict. Planning the book series ahead of time allows you to assign major conflicts to each book.
Mistake #3: Giving Away Too Much About Your Characters Too Soon
The beauty of writing a book series is that you have space to explore characterization. Don't front load your books with too much information about your characters. Introduce critical characters in your first book but start to weave in their motivations and back story throughout your following books.
Slowly revealing your characters makes for a more rewarding read. When the reader discovers something new about the character in book two, they can reflect on a particular action that the character made in book one and finally understand why they did it.
In book series of all types, characterization is paramount. Your readers stick with these characters throughout multiple books. The reader's relationship with your characters will deepen with each book they read. To facilitate that, ensure that your reader learns something new about your characters in each book.
Mistake #4: Not Hooking the Reader at the End of Each Book
While the books in your series don’t necessarily need to end with a pronounced cliffhanger, each book should end with a question. Barring the final book in your series, by the end of each book, the reader should be satisfied with the resolution of the main conflict and have questions about the future. The primary question the reader should ask themselves is: “What does this mean for the protagonist?” That question will drive them to read your future installment(s). Always leave the fate of the protagonist up in the air.
Mistake #5: Not Pacing Your Publication
The final mistake covered in this post is perhaps the most practical. Consider the schedule of your publication. If you want to keep your readers hooked, you can't let too much time elapse between books. No reader wants to wait five years or more between books to see what happened to their favorite character.
If more than 12 months elapse between books in your series, you're in danger of losing the momentum you’ve built with your readers. Be sure to publish consistently, so your readers remember that you exist and are eager to pick up where they left off.
Writing a book series is rewarding in many ways. You get more room to unfurl a story. You can also develop a more engaged fan base. Plus, you have the opportunity to make more money than you would with a one-off book. As you write, use the above steps to ensure you're sidestepping the most common mistakes when writing a book series.