The Secret Power of Series

© Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com

© Grigorenko | Dreamstime.com

Okay, writers. I’m going to tell you something you already know. Ready?

Nothing sells books like more books. Series are totally the way to go.

Heard that before? We all have, especially those of us who are indie authors. But you know, it’s really true. I mean, really, REALLY true. I’ve seen authors skyrocket in sales and popularity when they find a series that touches people and run with it.

Here’s the thing, though. In my humble opinion, not all series are created equal. Or rather, different kinds of series accomplish different things. I have two series out right now, one medieval romance and one historical western romance. They are structured entirely differently than each other, and as a result they’ve performed differently. Here’s how….

The first series I published was The Noble Hearts. The three novels in this series, The Loyal Heart, The Faithful Heart, and The Courageous Heart, are dependent upon each other. You can read them out of order, but there is an overarching plot to all three books. They are designed to be read in order. You won’t completely get The Courageous Heart unless you’ve read the first two (which is a shame, because in my opinion, The Courageous Heart is the best of the three by far).

My other series, Montana Romance, currently consists of four novels and three novellas. Each book in that series stands completely alone. You could read them in any order and the others would still be complete stories that makes sense from beginning to end. The only thing you’d miss out on by reading them out of order is maybe spoilers about who ended up with who. But let’s face it, this is romance. We all know who is going to end up with who from reading the back cover blurb.

© Farsh | Dreamstime.com

© Farsh | Dreamstime.com

I’ve had several reviewers and commenters say that they read In Your Arms or Fool For Love, and now even Somebody to Love, without having read any of the other books in the series and that they’ve enjoyed them thoroughly. I haven’t had the same sort of comments about The Noble Hearts. Guess which series sells better? By, like, a factor of ten?

Yes, they say that series are where the money is, but I would like to throw a little caveat in there and say that connected books that take place within the same world but can be read on their own really make the money. Does this mean that you shouldn’t write a continuous series? I hope not, because my Sci-Fi series, Grace’s Moon, which I will start publishing in July, is a continuous series.

My current working theory with continuous series is that it’s all about how you promote that first book. I think you have to continuously, diligently promote the living daylights out of that first book, and probably offer it at a discount or free too! (Side note: offering the first book of a series for free only works—and works WELL—if there are several other books in the series) We’ll see. I plan to kick some butt with Grace’s Moon.

But what if I don’t? I remember hearing something that I think Hugh Howey said about series. If the first couple of books don’t sell well, abandon the series and write something else. Hmm. On the surface that sounds appealing. Is it in our best interest to continue writing something that isn’t selling? It depends.

I recently read another article that complained deeply about the volume of series that authors (particularly indie authors) have started then abandoned. The author of that article expressed a level of betrayal from the readers and a reluctance for them to read anything more by the authors who had previously left them hanging. Now that rings true to me!

So what’s the answer? As far as Grace’s Moon (or any other series I plan to write in the future) goes, I have my initial game plan and I have ideas to extend it. The books that I know I am going to write are the kind that just have to be written. They’re inside me, struggling to get out. I’m not going to turn them away because their predecessors haven’t done well. I plan to publish four Grace books by the end of the year.

What about after that? Well, we’ll see. I have generations-worth of ideas for that series, but I also have—no joke—about ten other series begging to be written. The fourth book in the series will come to a satisfactory conclusion, but more will be possible.

In the end, I think that’s the best way to go with series. Write what you have to write and don’t cut it short, but leave the door open for more. I only intended to write four books in the Montana Romance series. Then the novellas popped to mind. Then a whole second series about the children of the main characters of the first season and their interactions with WWI. Then an interim book that takes place in 1908. I left the door open, and I think it will ultimately serve me well.

Yep, series are where the magic is.

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