S is for Series

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I have this incredibly useful tendency to write really long pieces. That means I tend to plan more to write a series than I do a standalone novel. Even when I do plan a standalone, it usually develops prequels and sequels anyway.

There are two ways to approach a series. Either each book can stand on its own or each book needs to be read in order. There are a few exceptions, there always are. Some combine the two even, having sets of books that need to be read in order but others that can be read on their own.

Most series fall into one category or the other. A series like A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) needs to be read in order or you’ll be completely lost. Most mystery series can be read out of order, since each book deals with one case.

Then there are the Discworlds of the series spectrum. Each book can stand on its own and be read in any order, however you might want to read some sets as a series in their own right, like the City Watch books, or the Moist Von Lipwig. And if you haven’t read Terry Pratchett’s series yet, I highly recommend it.

As an author, it can be difficult to work through which kind of series you want to be writing. Having a book that’s read in sequence means that the later books will drive sales of previous books, and you have the opportunity to offer the early books for free to gain readers. But not all readers are willing to dive into a series. Especially if they don’t know how many books there will be or how long the author will keep writing them. Conversely, writing each book as a standalone means each one can gain its own following to drive sales, but it can be hard to craft your series so that each book can be independent while keeping it integrated into the series as a whole.

I try to be balanced with my books. If a reader stumbles onto book three, I don’t want them to be completely lost, but I don’t want readers who have read books one and two to be bored or annoyed with recapping either. You have to strike a balance with your information giving when you’re writing a series. You don’t have to repeat everything about book one in book two, just the things that are pertinent to book two.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on series. What strategies do you think work best for a series? Do you prefer standalone books that relate to each other and share characters or do you like to follow one grand adventure through multiple books? What strategies work best for bringing information back up in later books without getting repetitive? Any pet peeves about series? And just for fun, what’s your favorite series?

S

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