Book series – whether trilogies or longer – have been around for a good long while.
They’re especially popular, though, with indie authors (who self-publish their own work), and over the past few years, I’ve seen lots of great indie authors focusing or coming to series writing.
So why are series so popular?
For the sake of this post, I’m going to count a “series” as two or more linked books. It might be:
- A “closed” series: quite often a trilogy. The story is moving towards an end point, and the books build on one another.
- An “open” series: very popular in the crime and thriller genres. Each book links to the others, but they can generally be read out of sequence – and the protagonist doesn’t change significantly from book to book. They could go on indefinitely, with no set end point.
A series doesn’t have to be made up of full-length novels, either. Some authors do a series entirely of novella-length works (like Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant’s Yesterday’s Gone); others weave together novels and novellas into a series (J.F. Penn’s ARKANE series includes Day of the Vikings, One Day in Budapest and One Day in Budapest, all of which are novella-length.)
Although series are generally associated with commercial fiction, they’re also an option for more literary authors: Joanne Harris, for instance, turned Chocolat into a three-book series, and wrote Blueeyedboy and Different Class as sequels of sorts to Gentlemen and Players. She writes on her website:
“So technically, this is a trilogy (I’ve always rather liked trilogies) although each story stands alone, and can be read in any order. […]I’m very fond of Straitley. One of the reasons I wrote Different Class is that I enjoyed writing his voice so much that I wanted to revisit him. ”
Why Authors Like Writing a Series of Books
One of the big reasons why authors write series, of course, is simply because they enjoy them! K.M Weiland, who’s written a number of successful standalone books, had this to say about writing a series:
Last year, I began my first-ever series when my originally standalone portal fantasy Dreamlander turned into a trilogy on me. Outlining the follow-up books has been an entirely different, multi-faceted, and incredibly rewarding experience.
When I wrote Lycopolis, it was intended as a stand-alone novel … but after I decided to self-publish, I felt there was scope for a trilogy. My reasoning, as an author, was probably similar to most indie authors’:
- It’s easier to sell readers a sequel than an entirely new novel: they’re already familiar with your characters and setting and – hopefully! – want more.
- As an author, it’s also easier to create a series. You’ve already established your characters and setting, and you can explore them in more depth or give them new and bigger challenges to face.
- When self-publishing, you call the shots. You don’t need a publisher’s permission to write a series (and traditional publishers may well not want a series from an unproven first-time author).
Why Readers Respond Well to Series
Like all authors, I’m also a reader! And as a reader, I enjoy series of novels – whether traditionally published (I tore through Sophie Hannah’s Culver Valley Crime novels earlier this year) or self-published (I read the whole of J.F. Penn’s London Psychic trilogy on holiday last summer).
So why do series work for readers?
- You know roughly what to expect. I’ve noticed that even if I’m not wildly keen on the first book in a series, I’ll often go on and read the rest anyway! I read all the Magic 2.0 series despite having mixed feelings about the first book – the rest of the trilogy also had flaws, but they were readable and entertaining.
- You can potentially get good value for money by picking up a “box set” of ebooks: many authors with three or more books in a series package them together as a set. I have to admit, though, that for me personally this isn’t a great draw: I don’t want to commit to buying several books until I’ve read the first!
What are the Drawbacks of Writing a Series?
While I’m a big fan of series, from both the writing and the reading side of things, I’ll admit they can have drawbacks too.
As an author, one potential problem is boredom. Maybe you enjoy writing lots of very different stories, and you don’t want to stick with one setting and one set of characters – or even one genre or style.
As a reader, a series can feel like a big thing to get into. When I see massive series of eight or so books, I feel daunted even starting! (Authors can help here by writing shorter series, by creating sets of 2 or 3 books within a long series, or by writing a reasonably stand-alone book to serve as an introduction to the series.)
Ultimately, of course, no author has to write a series. But a series of books – whether loosely linked or closely following one another – can be a great way to draw readers in and give them a rich, detailed story to enjoy.