The Familiarity of a Series

It’s well-known advice for self-publishers to write books in a series. The reasoning is simple. If one book of a trilogy sells, they all will. Running an ad and taking a loss on one can still be profitable on sequels. And of course, book one can be permafree.

However, the familiarity of sequels runs deeper than a sales tactic. Let’s make a comparison in the visual medium. A movie will need to introduce its characters, stage a conflict, and move the plot to a satisfying resolution, all within one sitting. But when writing in a series, with a model similar to television shows, you have a lot more time to fall in love with characters and their quirks.

Readers come into a sequel already knowing what to expect- the author style, the pace of the plotting, the setting, and of course, the characters. That leaves a lot more time for personal development and interesting asides. A powerful connection is born in readers after, say, book two or three. If they get that far, why not go for twenty?

The author side of the coin is interesting as well. Since I am just now starting to write the sequel to The Seventh Sons of Sycamore, I am realizing what I’ve already gained by not starting from scratch. I’m familiar with the locations and the base players. I know the attitude to shoot for. And it’s so much easier the second time around. Think about it: all the time spent creating character backgrounds and histories is already done. Sure, I need to introduce new settings and people, but you get my point.

A series becomes more than its component parts. All of a sudden there is a saga. A real world. A place to escape to. The author has created more than a book. It’s a legacy. And that’s what many readers are looking for.


  1. Reply

    All true, but there’s also the drawbacks to a series – from the author’s point of view, anyway. Dreaming up new and original scenarios in the same setting gets harder with each book, so familiar parameters that fit like a comfy pair of slippers start to get restrictive. Secondly, it is possible to get tired of a setting/character/environment, so an author can get bored of writing it and wish to leave that world completely, like Conan Doyle with the Sherlock stories (and George MacDonald Fraser loathed his famous Flashman character by the end).

    Series good then, but it can outstay its welcome, so a short series is better – unless of course it’s so fantastic that the readers demand more. In which case, you’re lumbered (though cashing the cheques may help).

  2. Reply

    Yeah. I’ve read all the Sherlock Holmes canon. It’s interesting to imagine Doyle trying to get traction for his other works but then getting a fat check and writing more Sherlock. Self-publishers are unlikely to have publishers urging them what to write, but the financial motivations are still strong.

    Another downside of a series is the kitchen sink mentality- an urban fantasy might only be about werewolves in one book, but after ten, you need to add vampires et al to keep interest. I’m struggling with that with my sequel right now, actually, and I’m not sure which way to go yet.

    I think I agree with you. Again using television as an example, a series that has a planned X-season story arc (Breaking Bad, The Shield) is better than a series that runs ad infinitum until it is canceled.

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