When should a book be part of a series? For some authors, it seems like the more appropriate question is when shouldn’t a book be part of a series? Everybody and their uncle has one these days. You know what I’m talking about. It seems like half the books on Amazon have the parenthetical A Bobbaloo Buttkiss Mystery or the like. And then there are the trilogies. Hunger Games, Insurgent, Fifty Shades, etc., etc.
I don’t think it’s a secret that this is a marketing technique for many authors. Not all, but many. If people like the first book in the series, then guess what? Chances are good that they’ll buy the second book, the third book, all the way up to the eleven-teenth book. It’s a little hard to fault this logic if your primary goal is to increase your sales. After all, book marketing occurs over the long haul. Very, very few authors can earn a living off a single book.
But this does raise a question. Is it a bad thing to write a series? Even if the logic is sound from a business perspective, we’re authors. We make stuff up for a living. Is it wrong to take the easy path and produce a bunch of sequels?
When I was writing the draft for The Timekeeper’s Son, I had to face this question head on. You see, I didn’t want to write a series. Part of the reason is that I really don’t want to be one of those authors who writes a series just to sell more books. I’ve been wanting to write my entire life. I’ve been wanting to create stories my entire life. I don’t want to sell out and take the easy path just to make more money. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all authors who write series do it for the money. Many do, but not all. Some do it because their readers really love the characters. Others do it because they really love the characters. Still others do it because they aren’t done with the story.
As for me, I created a world that ended up being much bigger than I thought it was. There are too many rules and too many reasons that a nine-year-old boy shouldn’t be involved in the dangerous parts of the story. I mean, what parent in their right mind is going to allow their nine-year-old to come along when you’re chasing down a violent bad guy. Never mind the fact that he has the mind of a man in his thirties. It’s just plain dangerous.
Because of that, I had to create a reason for him to be in the action. That reason took up the entire first book. I felt like diving into the world of the Timekeepers took away from the urgency of the story I was telling. But I also knew I couldn’t leave it that way. And, even if I didn’t know, my readers have told me. That’s been one of the most common bits of feedback I’ve gotten from my readers: “But… You can’t be done. The Timekeepers… I WANT TO KNOW MORE!”
So, it was a foregone conclusion before I was even two thirds of the way done with the draft. I knew I needed to write more than one book. The question was what kind of series I should write.
As well as I can tell, there are three types of series. I’m sure there are more creative ways to see it, but these are the big ones:
- The Ad Nauseam Series
This is the type that seems to have run rampant as of late. These are the ones that I most suspect as being a marketing technique. Basically, you have a character or a group of characters and the series follows them through many different adventures. Sometimes they are related and sometimes they aren’t. These have been around in fiction for a long, long time. They can be great because they create a sense of familiarity for the reader. Plus, once a reader has started a series, there’s a bit of safety in buying future books. The downside is that there is limited room for character growth. After a while, you risk contradicting the nature of the characters or making them too static.
Star Wars, The Matrix, Hunger Games, etc., etc. Trilogies can be fantastic if the story is engaging. They can be, well, boring if it isn’t. If you go this route, you have to have a really big and really interesting story that can fill up 900 or 1,000 or more pages. Plus, you have to have a beginning, a middle, and an end that will cause readers to move on to the next book. Now, of course, there doesn’t have to be three parts. Star Wars has six. The Left Behind series has twelve. I think the general idea is still the same, though.
The best example of this I can come up with is Harry Potter. Harry Potter has a goal. There is a big, bad antagonist he has to defeat in the end, but he and his friends have a bunch of adventures along the way. Sometimes, these adventures clearly move him toward the goal and sometimes they don’t appear to at first. Basically, this is the ad nauseam series with a defined end point.
Now, I’m sure that my language choices give away the fact that I’m a little biased. But don’t let my bias sway you. If you really like that kind of infinite series, go for it. I’m not trying to tell you it’s bad, even if I don’t particularly like them. My point here is to call out the types because I had to work out what I wanted to write.
For me, it looks like I’m going the trilogy route. This is a little tough because I didn’t start with a trilogy. I started with an idea. I started with the concept of a world where things were a little different than we all understand them to be. And I ended up with a story that didn’t feel like it was finished, but it also didn’t feel like it was a trilogy. I don’t think anyone who reads the first book will say, “This is definitely a trilogy.” But, then again, I didn’t do that when I saw Star Wars for the first time either.
So, what about you? What do you think about series? What do you think should drive the kind of series you write or, even, whether you should write one?