Hey, SE Readers. Joan with you today. In my last post, I spoke of story length. Today we’ll discuss writing a series of books.
First, let’s talk about serial fiction versus a series. Serial fiction is released in installments. This type of fiction became popular in the nineteenth century. Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers was released in nineteen installments and published over a twenty-month period. Series fiction is okay if you like cliffhangers and don’t mind waiting months or years for a satisfying solution, but many readers don’t like being left without an ending. Personally, I’m not fond of serial fiction.
A series is a collection of books that are connected in some way. The thread that holds them together could be the same lead character, the same location, or the same theme. These books all have a conclusion and often can be read as stand-alone books.
Sue Grafton’s “Alphabet” series—A is For Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc., followed the same lead character throughout. Several of our Story Empire authors have written series fiction. Mae Clair’s Point Pleasant series and Staci Troilo’s Cathedral Lake books were set in the same location, but each had different lead characters. Craig Boyack’s Lizzie and The Hat series features the same lead characters but with different adventures each time.
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I tend to think of a series as having at least three novels. However, there are some with as few as two. As far as a maximum number, it seems almost anything goes.
Sue Grafton wrote twenty-five Alphabet books and planned to write number twenty-six before her death in 2017. An author I recently began following, William Kent Krueger, released the nineteenth in his Cork O’Connor series yesterday.
The question for today is, “How many books should be in a series?”
I don’t think there is a simple answer. As long as readers are still engaged and there is interest in the books, keep writing. Here are a few things to ponder about whether or not to continue.
- Has readership slowed and sales of each subsequent book decreased?
- Is there an overall disinterest in the stories?
- If using the same lead characters, have they stopped growing?
- Have I done all I can do with my characters?
- Am I virtually rewriting the same story?
- Is the plot and ending of each book becoming too predictable?
- Am I out of fresh ideas and just keep writing for the sake of writing?
If you answered yes to any of these, it may be time to quit, or at the least, take a step back. Put aside the project for a while, then look at it with fresh eyes. It doesn’t matter if you still have a dozen more books planned. There are ways to weave new excitement into the stories, but if readership has fallen off, the damage has likely been done. In some cases, readers can be so soured that they won’t care to read any of your other works. Keep in mind that not every book needs a sequel, especially when the sequel is poorly written.
Of note, the television series MASH was still near the top of the ratings when it went off the air after eleven years. The writers and producers felt they were beginning to “recycle” stories than had already been done. It’s okay to discontinue a series if you feel you’ve come to that point, no matter how popular the books are. Eventually, reader interest will dwindle. Move on to something else and strive to write something better.
Do you enjoy reading or writing a series? How many books do you think should be included? Please share your thoughts in the comments.