Is writing a series for you? Or are standalone books better for you? Why would you choose to write a series? What are the pros and cons?
Is writing a series for you? Or are standalone books better for you? Why would you choose to write a series? What are the pros and cons? This and more on today’s episode of Writing Pursuits.
Welcome to the Writing Pursuits podcast, where authors like you discuss writing craft, author, life, and book marketing strategies. I'm your host, Kathrese McKee. I own Word Marker Edits, and write and produce the weekly newsletter, Word Marker Tips for Authors. In addition, I am a speculative fiction author.
Writing Pursuits is for authors who drink too much coffee, endure judgmental looks from their furry writing companions, and struggle for words. If you are a writer seeking encouragement, information, and inspiration, this podcast is for you. Let's get to it.
Hey, Writing Pursuits Authors. Welcome back to the podcast. To those of you who are new, I want to extend a special welcome. My name is Kathrese McKee, and I'm glad you're here. Please leave a comment, a star rating, and follow the show to help others find Writing Pursuits.
I just got back from Cleveland, Ohio for the first ever Three Story Method editor certification with renowned author, editor, and teacher, J. Thorn. It was wonderful to meet my online writer/editor friends in person.
J. taught our cohort of twelve editors his Three Story Method for editing and how to analyse fiction to diagnose problems up front to save our clients money and the most precious commodity of all, their time.
If you are curious about the Three Story Method, find the book and its convenient companion workbook on Amazon, Kobo, and anywhere else you buy your books. Or contact me at Word Marker Edits to learn more about my services.
And now, let’s get to today’s topic.
Series or Standalone Book: Which is the Best Choice for You?
Before I get into this topic, let me say this: whether or not you choose to write a series, your choice is the right one for you. Do not feel as though you must create a series. Instead, write the best books you can.
Many factors will play into your decision, including: your writing style, your genre, your patience, and your stamina level. So if you are happy with writing standalone fiction novels, then take everything that follows with a grain of salt.
And there is no saying you cannot write both standalone novels and a series.
Also before I really get started, I want to credit to Chris Fox of ChrisFoxWrites.com for the idea for this episode. He presented “The Flagship Series” at the Sell More Books Summit 2018 in Chicago, and I had the pleasure of meeting Chris afterward. And his presentation stuck with me.
Obviously, Chris advocates for writing series. And he makes a good case for using a flagship series as the foundation of a backlist. He lives what he preaches, too, with both a fiction series and non-fiction series to his credit. What Fox favors most is a way for independent authors to earn a living from their books.
Fiction series can be lucrative if you create an enthralling story world your readers want to re-visit, a place that is endearingly nostalgic or weirdly familiar or fantastically real. And no setting would be complete without an era, real or imagined, to set the mood. A cast of relatable characters who live, struggle, mourn, and grow is an essential piece of the puzzle as well as a plot that keeps the readers coming back for more.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There are different types of series. There is the *Lord of the Rings* kind of series, and the *Jack Reacher* kind. One has an overarching plot; the other is more episodic. Some are more character driven while others are more plot driven. Each type has a set of readers who are actively looking for their next fandom.
What Is a Flagship Series?
Chris defined a successful flagship series as one that is:
- well branded,
- long (one million words), and
- designed to create loyal readers.
Don’t let the one million words scare you. Nobody writes more than one word at a time. And when you break it down, it’s twenty 50,000 word books, which are pretty thin, or ten 100,000 word books.
That still sounds like a lot, but again, it’s one book at a time, written one word at a time.
In my opinion, one million words is a lofty goal, and we have plenty of examples to prove it is optional. After all, The Chronicles of Narnia isn’t even close to one million words long. Neither is the Twilight series or The Hunger Games series. But Robert Jordan’s enormous series definitely meets that benchmark.
But let’s say the goal is one million words. If you write twenty standalone 50,000 word novels, that will provide you with a great backlist of books to market. And why not write related, standalone novels?
Don’t despair if you have already created a standalone story, and your fans are asking for more. If you feel that your story is truly complete and you belatedly decide to create a series, then write another story in the same universe about different characters.
And now a word from our sponsor.
This episode of Writing Pursuits is brought to you by Word Marker Edits, trusted by fiction authors since 2014 to take their writing to a new level of excellence. Featuring story analysis and diagnostics, Kathrese McKee, a Three Story Method certified editor, can help you “prepare your story for the journey ahead.” For more information, go to WordMarkerEdits.com.
And now, back to Writing Pursuits.
What Are the Benefits of Writing a Series?
In Chris’s opinion, the benefits are:
- reader loyalty,
- advertising advantage, and
- easy expansion.
The benefits of reader loyalty are obvious. Who doesn’t want lifelong fans who think of your characters as real people? But those fans can be your best advocates, far more valuable than the testimonies of friends and family members. There is also the possibility of creating a tribe of fans who interact within a community of like-minded readers.
A series provides a built-in advertising advantage. A well-branded, well-written, and well-targeted series makes every advertising dollar count and is almost guaranteed to be profitable.
Uh-oh, she’s talking about money again.
Stick with me. Five standalone books are more expensive to market than a solid, five book series because readers are not compelled to read through multiple, unrelated books. A fan--let’s call her Alice--has no pressing reason to pick up the next, unrelated book. In fact, it may take several books before Alice remembers your author name (or your pen name) unless they are eager to get your next book. That’s a great, built-in reason to write a series.
If Alice likes the first book in your series, she is likely to purchase the second book and the third. The initial cost of gaining Alice as a new fan for a series can be recouped if she purchases multiple books. Momentum can be on your side due to read-through factor.
So How Do You Market Sustainably?
Well, first of all, identify the potential markets for your series; there can be more than one.
And then, you can use “crop rotation”; switch your focus from market to market to let the fields go fallow, if we’re using crop analogies. Be judicious in your use of ads, if you use ads, so you don’t saturate your audience.
Create series momentum; each new book is a means to refresh the series and win new readers.
Stick with one series at a time unless you are a super fast writer.
Scroll through successful books in your genre to see which categories they are listed in to expand where your book might appear..
How Do You Write a Flagship Series?
First, please, have a final destination in mind. It can change, but start with the ending in mind. Because there is nothing fans hate more than an unsatisfactory series conclusion, unless it’s finding out a final book will never be written. That’s happened to me a few times.
Remember LOST the TV series that ran from 2004 through 2010? Yeah, I’m trying to forget it too. Remember how the writers used “open loops,” raising urgent questions in the viewers’ minds? Fans of the show had to watch the next episode in hopes they would learn the answers to their questions. Some answers became clear over time. Each episode presented more questions to the fans.
It was addictive. People met around the water cooler every week to discuss their theories. They bought the t-shirt. They bought into the series.
And then … THEN, Lost got lost. It jumped the shark. There was no end in sight. After being on the air for five years, the series ended in a horrible heap of half answers and weirdness. It was SO unsatisfactory. Don’t get lost. Have a final destination in mind.
So, here are some tips for creating a great series:
Study the best selling series in your niche.
Understand the expectations of your target audience. What sort of experience are they hoping for?
Satisfy the core questions within each book, but also employ open loops to leave your readers wanting to read through the series.
Create tensions that ebb and flow. In your series, the hero and the villain may have to rely on one another for a time. Shake things up.
Pay attention to character arcs; make sure your characters grow, for good or ill.
And then, create wonder.
Remember that you are competing with Netflix, Hulu, and fifty other entertainment options. Study your competition. In TV series and binge content, things get complicated and intertwined. Alliances change. Go and write bingeable content.
To extend the series, understand future things that could happen among your characters like who will betray whom and who will be redeemed. This knowledge will help you start their story arcs early.
FINALLY, don’t jump the shark like LOST. Finish your series in a satisfying way. Reading fiction is an emotional activity; make sure your readers don’t throw the last book across the room in a fit of anger.
As I indicated at the beginning, writing a series is a personal choice. And whether you choose to write a series or standalone novels, write the best books you can.
Thank you for joining me today. If you have questions about writing or need a story diagnostic, please go to WritingPursuits.com. That’s all I have for today. Until next time ...
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