Wednesday Wing….Should you write a book series? #ArchiveDay #WriterTips

Welcome to my feature called Wednesday Wing where I’ll be passing on

observations, tips and information to readers I’ve made a note of.

Rosie's Notebook

Today I’m passing on a tip about writing a book series from my own READING experiences.

I seriously believe that with the explosion of self-publishing that the book market is at a saturated state, anyone and everyone can publish a book or five.

There is a saying about there being at least one book in each of us waiting to be written. For many authors writing a book is one of their life’s ambitions and once they’ve written and published their first book there is no stopping them, even before they’ve hit the publish button many authors will be scribbling away with thoughts of their next book.

BUT what should that next book be about? SHOULD you write a sequel or plan a series? Or should you write a one off stand alone novel and then try another completely different style or genre? There is no right or wrong answer, however I do think authors need to think long and hard before diving in with a sequel or a series.

Marketing and selling any new book is hard and unless the book becomes a best seller, selling a sequel WILL be even harder. Readers are put off committing to the sequel if they haven’t read the first book. If your first book had less than a mass of  5* genuine reviews from REAL readers (not your family and friends but a wide selection of reviews across the world), the sequel will be treated cautiously by readers.

So what can you do? The YA Fantasy genre has book series in it’s droves as does the Detective crime genre. I know from my own reading of YA fantasy that the popular series will often have the first book on kindle offered for FREE to capture the reading audience and then it makes them pay for the rest. BUT ANY first book in a series still has to be a smokin’ hot read for readers to be gagging for book 2 and beyond. It still means hours of hard sweat and lots of your hard earned money to make that book a great seller and then you give it away for free in the hope that the next books will bring in the cash.

Cliff hanger or stand-alone? Some series are stand alone books which all have a connection, these are books which finish their storyline with each book. The Cliff-hanger takes the reader on a roller coaster ride and just when things get exciting or it looks like the mystery will be solved, the book ends and the reader is left gagging for the next book. As a reader a cliff-hanger ending is a real pain if you have to wait several months for the next book. The danger for an author is that you’ve then lost the reader who forgets about your book unless you have a really loyal fan base. (Think Harry Potter books)

AS READERS, what are your thoughts about series and sequels? (Many of you are authors, but today I ask you to put your READER hat on and look at things from the other side of the fence)

Here are links to all my other Wednesday Wing Posts.

 Checking your WordPress is linked to your Twitter helps others share your posts http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7L2

 Writer’s Craft books by Rayne Hall full of REALLY useful tips http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7Ma

 Hyperlinks, Short links and Linkys http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7Rl

 Making your post titles easy to share on Twitter to maximise views. http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7SA

 Creating Twitter pics that fit http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7Y4

 Creating a slideshow on WordPress http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7Yo

Getting the most out of Google+ posts http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7YM

Automated Tweets, LOVE ‘EM or HATE ‘EM? make use of them http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-7Za

 What’s Your Book Genre? http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-84S

 Should you write dreams into your work? http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-84Q

 What can I read in the first 10% of your book? http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-84W

 Dialogue – he/she said http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-87T

 Creating Twitter Lists – http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-8ck

 Making best use of your Twitter “Thank-You” http://wp.me/p2Eu3u-8cn

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52 thoughts on “Wednesday Wing….Should you write a book series? #ArchiveDay #WriterTips

  1. Once you discover a great author there is nothing better than finding they have more books about the same characters, who you can begin to understand in much greater depth than in a single book. One of my favourites is the Shardlake series of historical fiction books by C. J. Sansom. 🙂

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  2. I’ve read parts of a few series in the last couple of years and think it’s important that each book in a series is a stand alone, and it’s nice if each follow on has a little recap at the front – the equivalent of the ‘last week on blah-blah’ bit in a television series! I hate to be left with a cliffhanger at the end of a book – it makes me feel ripped off.

    You’ve already covered the fact that a sequel is twice as hard to sell as a one off (unless the first one has been a big success); there are a couple of long series that I’ve read the first four of, and, although I do want to know what happens, I think your interest can start to wane a bit after book 3! Purely from a reader’s point of view, my advice to anyone thinking of publishing a series is to get the first two written before you publish the first, so that the second can come out after a couple of months, and you’re already well into the writing of the third by then! Momentum is all, I reckon.

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  3. I never thought of putting a ‘recap’ at the front of the next book in a series. It’s a good idea from Terry. I tried hard to make mine into both sequels and stand alone. One thing I will say as well, one of the greatest problems with being traditionally published is the time lapse between books. Readers have said to me that they had to read the first book to remember the characters , before starting on the next.. Love the idea of Wednesday Wing, Rosie.

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    • Thanks Judith, ah here lies another area for thought when we find an author we like and then can’t get hold of anything else written by them for a year or so, we forget them and move on.

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      • That’s so true. I sometimes wonder if it’s best to write THREE parts before you publish a series, so you can put them out every couple of months – I remember when I discovered Frank Tayell’s ‘Surviving The Evacuation’ series a year ago, I was thrilled that there were 4 parts already available, and read them all very quickly. Had to wait for the 5th part…. and I downloaded but haven’t read it yet, as the momentum had ceased.

        Oh dear, the sequel for The House of York won’t be available until the autumn – ah well, never mind! I’ll do a massive push for THOY a month before! Then that REALLY IS MY LAST SEQUEL!!!

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  4. Good point, Rosie. Here it goes with my opinion: I can’t stand any more series. There. I’ve said it. While I understand some characters prove to be so interesting that we want to make a story for them too, we must resist the temptation. Since you gave J.K. as example: what would’ve been if she wrote a book on Neville, one on Luna, on Snape I’m sure you see the opportunity there), etc. As for plot, every story could go further and futher, so we have to know when to stop.
    The world is changing. Not even we, most avid readers, have time to chew on big books. I like J.K. Rawlings’s (as Robert Galbraith) Cormoran Strike series. Still, they’re turning too long for my available time. We want something to read in the tube or in a night, and we want instant gratification. I don’t like reading 500 pages without reaching some kind of closure, it’s unfair.
    I used to like some fantasy, but most of it out there from my point of view (reader hat on, please keep in mind LOL) is unappealing. The books hold nothing for the reader. In the end, none of us read for Holly, or Lully, or Robin, etc. (as females, we might read for the male characters though; Cormoran Strike is skillfully attractive with his stump, hairy bulk and the past of a soldier and badass boxer). But in the end, we want this: what’s in it for us? What can we take away from this book?
    The Executioner, my book, was not supposed to be a two-book series. It’s just that it would’ve been too long for one book. But now, for the very reasons described above, I’m into the story(/novella business, posting them online on my blog in episodes as they mature, because readers want instant gratification, they want substance, they want closure, they want to love the characters without them becoming tedious, and they want to take something away. Just my two Cents. I’d love to hear other opinions.

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    • Thank you Ana, you have some really good points lots of us want to get on with a book. I’m stuck in the middle, I don’t enjoy a book of short stories, I like to get my teeth into a book, however in the other extreme most books over say 350 pages have me groaning at the length.

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    • I really understand your outlook! I get so fed up with it – every new book you see is part one of a series. Let’s hear it for the stand alone novel – I like, best of all, to read a book, enjoy it, and if I want to read something else by that author then I’ll download another – but not to HAVE to, in order to reach the end of the story.

      I’m starting to think, I’d love to see a book written from just one point of view, too….

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      • Super point. Yes, more points of view are confusing, if not done right. J.K. – since we were talking her earlier – is good at multiple POVs, but not everybody can brag with the skill. I feel the same, Terry.

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  5. I love a series and following on with characters I’m invested in, whether it’s a trilogy or longer. There has to be character development and not just story after story with nobody moving on. A cliff hanger does leave me a little deflated. I tend to steer clear of really long stand alones, anything over 400 pages max makes me think twice.

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  6. I don’t mind a series if each part can be read as a stand alone, but if I’m browsing on Amazon and see that something is Book 1 in a long series then I must admit that I go straight past it. And I like a satisfactory ending 🙂

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  7. I’m not keen on cliff-hanger endings. It feels like you’ve been cheated of a whole book, but if I enjoy a series book, I will usually read the next one at least. It has a sense of comfort to it, that you’re pretty sure you know the people/place and will like the story.

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  8. Oh, I’m doomed!! 😉

    Great post, Rosie, and some fabulous tips in the comments. I’m afraid I’ve committed every sin going as I’m about to publish book two in my YA series. I do have book three waiting in the wings and hope to get this out quickly. Writing the series was enormous fun, but the marketing has been a hard slog. Yes, I’m still learning (could have done with this post a year ago), and my next project is set to be a stand alone, but I wouldn’t change a thing. As an avid YA fan I’m used to reading a series and very often have to wait a year in between book releases from my favourite authors.

    When book two was in the editing stage I was told by my editor to include the re-cap as I was introducing characters without any explanation. In his words, ‘if people haven’t read book one they won’t know who this person is’. At first I was shocked that anyone would read the second book in a series without the first but I was going on my own reading habits and not the tried and tested industry norm.

    I love learning as I write but would I pen another series? Yes, I probably would. 🙂

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  9. It’s true people don’t have a lot of time these days. Like with anything else, it probably depends. I’m sure there are people who love series, other who can’t stand them. From the point of view of the writer it’s good to have some time and space to develop characters and storylines (I guess a bit like the difference between a movie and a TV series) but it might be best to have all the stories developed beforehand or a very clear idea. Of course, sometimes characters keep coming back with more stories.
    I think it’s also a matter of genre. In fantasy or science fiction if there’s plenty of world-building is probably more difficult to make each novel a stand-alone, whilst in other genres (like thrillers, for instance), it might be easier to write fairly separate stories, even if the readers of the series might get something different out of the reading that people reading a single novel…

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    • Yes the fact that we are all individuals with different likes makes the book market an interesting place, it’s just often good to be a little savvy about a few trends when starting out.

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  10. Strong characters are vital in a series. I need to fall in love with the characters to keep following their adventures beyond the first book, and I like each story to be more or less complete in itself. I can’t stand cliffhangers – I don’t mind being tantalised by a few loose ends, but a cliffhanger at the end of a story will make me throw the book across the room.

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  11. One of the reasons I’ve gone Indie for my upcoming new title is that I don’t know whether there IS sequel. Publishers always want to know about Book 2 and self-publishing gets rid of one, seriously unproductive, pressure.

    Excellent post. Much to ponder.

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  12. Great post, Rosie 🙂 Shame I don’t have a Tardis as this advice would have been so helpful two years ago when I first self published. As I write YA fantasy, my reading material has been mainly series and trilogies of late, although I do still like to read outside my genre too. Speaking as a reader first, if I’ve enjoyed the first book in a series, I’m much more likely to commit to the next. It would definetely be my preference to read one book straight after the other if the rest of the series was already available, although I’m also happy to wait if the previous book has really captured my interest. And I’ve been waiting very patiently for the next GRR Martin book 🙂 However, I’m very aware that my target audience who digest books at faster rate than me probably have less patience.

    Speaking with my writer’s hat on, this topic has given me no end of sleepless nights and grey hairs. When I first self published two years ago, I was pretty clueless to be honest. It was only after I joined Twitter & Goodreads and started doing more research I realised I’d made all the classic newbie mistakes and done everything back to front. If I’d known then what I know now I would have written at least the first two books of my trilogy before publishing, instead of there being such a long gap between books. You made a good point about readers forgetting about your story, although I would say hopefully there will always be new readers who get to read the books as a whole package 🙂

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    • Thank you Wendy, you are not alone in starting out from scratch and finding your own learning curve. Very true about always hoping to find new readers for your books and there in, is another whole headache about reaching that elusive “New Reader” and enticing them in.

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  13. Great post, Rosie. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses (there are many!) I tend to stay away from series (with the exception of 2 in my life) because I enjoy stand-alone books with closure. And I agree with Terry that the next book in a series, if I read one, should come out quickly while the characters are still fresh in the reader’s mind. Momentum is key. Always learning. Thanks so much!!

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  14. Interesting discussion, especially in that there are no hard and fast right/wrong answers. For me, I love series. I fall in love with characters, invest in them, and can’t wait to see their next adventure. I do think it generally works better if they live in a dangerous or complicated world. I’m fond of Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, and series such as The Dresden Files (my all time fave) will have me champing at the bit for the next book.

    For myself, I didn’t start out to write anything but one stand-alone book, and was then bombarded by requests for more. After I wrote the second in my Wake-Robin Ridge series, which was very different from the first, I had even more requests. So there will be a few more books about this growing dynamic between the couple in my first book, and the very gifted little boy that shows up in their backyard in book 2. I plan to focus on a lot of Appalachian legends, and think/HOPE I can make each book interesting in its own right. But they will all center on the characters already created.

    With the Riverbend series, each book will focus on a different person in the little town, so the opportunity for very different stories is there. Because it is a small town, and many people know each other, familiar faces will pop up in each book, but the focus and the story line will be very different.

    I always try to work backstory into the new book, to let readers know a bit of what has happened in earlier books, though it’s nice if they’ve read the earlier ones first, so they understand the importance of what’s going on. But it isn’t necessary. (For myself, I would never, EVER not read a series in order. Watching characters grow is half the fun.)

    As for cliffhangers, I don’t like them. At all. I prefer for the general thrust of each book to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion by the end of the story. I WILL, however, set up the next book, by giving a hint of what’s coming up. For me, that makes me quite eager to read the next one, without leaving me frustrated that the characters in the one I just finished haven’t resolved their various problems. So it’s like, “This drama is settled, and at least some folks have reached their HEA, but wait until you see what’s going to happen to so-and-so, in the next book.”

    That’s what I like, and I always want to give my readers the things that make me happy, and NEVER give them the things that have made me throw the book all the way across the room. (And yes, I’ve done that before, which is why I no longer read anything by Nicholas Sparks. I don’t like to suffer through agony after agony with characters, only to have them die in the end.)

    Thanks for a great topic, Rosie, and it’s been interesting to see the widely varied opinions. And thanks for letting me share mine, too. Have a great day!

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    • Thanks Marcia, you are a fine example of an author who is building a successful fan following for your books with their setting and your work out in the community as well as having the River Tours gang helping too. You’re one of those gems I’ve found and will stick will.

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      • Thank you, Rosie! So kind of you. And thanks, especially, for your wonderful reviews of my books. Amalie’s comment about the characters talking to her hits home with me. Mine talk to me all day (and sometimes all night), demanding I tell their stories. Little Rabbit never, ever stops, but I adore him so much, I’m happy to have him living in my head. His perspective on life always astonishes me.

        Hunter demanded I tell the world about what happened to him after I finished Swamp Ghosts, so I did, and now, his brothers, Jackson and Forrest, are wanting equal time. Especially Jackson. He’s so angry with how I left him at the end of Hunter’s tale. Here I am, trying to write Harbinger (the 3rd WRR story, about the Black Dog, or the Harbinger of Death known as Ol’ Shuck in Appalachia), and Jackson is whining and having tantrums and screaming at me to DO something for him! I guess that’s when you know the series isn’t over yet . . . when the next characters step up and start filling your brain full of their tales of woe. 😀

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  15. I am of two minds about the whole thing. If a book is mildly entertaining, but not very “meaty,” then I am happy reading it once and never entering its world again. I probably won’t even pick it up again. I’m done, finished. But ALL of my favorite books are parts of series: Rowling’s Potterverse being the most obvious, but also Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, or the Anita Blake books (although those get a bit long and racy for even my tastes), or really any story that has good characters with worthwhile struggles. I will re-read the books multiple times, and even read bad fanfiction from any given universe just to get a little more time with the characters I love.

    Of course, I am also one of those readers who HATES closure. If I could rip out the epilogue in every copy of Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows I would. Every good ending is just a potential starting post for another story. I also am one of those haters of the “happily ever after.”

    From the writer’s perspective, series are harder to tackle, mainly because you have to know where you’re going and (as others have pointed out) when to stop. It’s also harder to sell a series, BUT (and this is a BIG but) it depends on what your goals are as a writer. If you want to make a living at it, then perhaps establishing a fan base with standalones is the way to go, and tackling series should be saved for later, if at all. But for those of us who just want to tell stories and aren’t as concerned about how many people read them, it’s about getting the stories we want to tell and want to hear down on paper. Any sales are just a bonus. I’ve got two manuscripts of standalones that may eventually see the light of day (if I ever get around to rewriting/editing them), but my series is my top priority right, at least until the three planned novels are completed. Once the characters stop talking to me, I’ll stop telling their stories. In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy the ride. And re-read my favorite series at LEAST one more time. 🙂

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    • Fabulous Amalie, I like your writing ethos. I would love the Harry Potter stories to go on and on, that is a series I keep re-reading, but then perhaps there is a right place to stop and just let a readers imagination fly. Only this weekend my kids and I were doing loads of Harry Potter trivia quizzes and I had a yearning to start the series again. Thanks for joining the discussion.

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      • Indeed. Love me some HP! And I really do think stories set in that UNIVERSE could go on forever. That’s why people are still reading Star Wars & Star Trek novelizations decades later. Some of the characters aren’t even in those worlds, but readers keep picking up the books because the universe is so important to them. I believe that everything should have its ending, but darn it I so do hate it when it arrives.

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  16. Amalie, that’s how I felt at the end of the Odd Thomas series, which is one of the best I’ve read. I purely hated to say goodbye to Oddie, but at the same time, I knew his story was over, and had ended exactly as it should have. It made me cry, yes, but I didn’t throw the book across the room, because it had been leading up to that moment from Book 1. But then, Dean Koontz is a master story teller, and with Odd Thomas, he hit on a character that became truly beloved to most readers. I do think in many cases, series can go on way too long. (Just like TV series). Writers need to know when it’s time to draw things to an end. If the universe is good, there’s no reason not to do a spin-off, delving more deeply into other characters, perhaps, but every story does need an ending, sooner or later. A book or series should last exactly as long as it takes to tell the story, and no longer. At least, that’s the way I see it.

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  17. As a reader I really hate cliff-hangers. They should occur at the end of a chapter, not the end of the book! I have enjoyed some series where I’ve wanted to spend more time with the characters but each book has been a stand alone in the series – like Judith’s for instance or Kate Atkinson’s detective series featuring Jackson Brodie (but maybe that’s because I fell in love with Jackson ;))

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  18. Great post, and really interesting discussion. By coincidence, yesterday I was drafting out a review of the first book in the Katherine Wheel series by Alex Martin. A freebie offer and an excellent blurb encouraged me to take a chance on this author who I hadn’t read before. I enjoyed it so much that I’m planning on buying the other two books in the series. The freebie certainly helped me choose the book in the first place, and the good writing and interesting central characters ensured I wanted to read more.

    However, a few years ago I went through a spate of reading far too many weak first books in a series and too many disappointing sequels. Maybe I just made some poor choices, but for quite a while I said no to almost everything that announced itself as the first book in a trilogy or series. Although I’ve now tentatively returned to reading trilogies and series, I prefer stand-alone books.

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  19. “Thematic series” are my favorites. Generally, I prefer to learn more about secondary characters from previous novels or have new protagonists introduced. Like everyone else, I don’t appreciate cliffhangers. I loved Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas Series. The first book will always remain my favorite, though.

    A great post, Rosie. Enjoyed everyone’s comments and opinions!

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  20. Since I’m deep into a series (third book coming up), I’m well aware of the pros and cons. I’m starting this book with a cast of characters and a little backstory (as suggested by Terry) and will need to continue doing this with each book. I don’t necessarily see leaving a little something at the end of each book for the next, but the story itself, in this case a mystery, has to be solved. Wish someone had advised me about having two books ready to go before publishing…
    I myself love reading a series because they allow you to get into the characters so much more deeply, and it’s nice for the writer, too.

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    • Hi Noelle, I feel “the need for speed” (slight mis-quote Maverick & Goose Top Gun) for book series availability has really only recently come about as our own ability to super speed download much of life evolves. Downloading books takes just seconds and we are being brain washed into a “I want it NOW” child tantrum like state. But with the saturated book market its wise to keep in touch with market demand.

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  21. I do like series reads because you get to know the main characters over time. However, that said, I really do not like cliff-hangers. So unless each book is a complete story in itself, I really don’t want to even start. Great thought-provoking post. 🙂
    @dino0726 from 
    FictionZeal – Impartial, Straightforward Fiction Book Reviews

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