Five Secrets to a Successful Series

Creating a successful series is a skill. We think these five things hold the key to keeping your readers interested in more than one single novel.Creating a successful series is a skill. Some authors would say there’s no magical formula. If your books are planned to stand alone, you have to give enough information to satisfy the reader without any background; however, you can’t drop any spoilers that would ruin a reader’s experience if they go back and read the others in the series.

We think these five things hold the key to keeping your readers interested in more than one single novel:

Secret 1: Plan your book series from the start

One way to ensure each book contains exciting content is to create a story arc for what is going to happen in each book before you even start writing the first. Note down the key points of action, the milestones affecting your main character, changes in character behaviour, new characters to introduce and significant dates to keep the chronology clear for your readers. Research the background facts and add in any new information for each story. SilverWood’s Publishing Director Helen Hart says, "Planning your book is the best way to get started on the writing. A stack of post-it notes or idea postcards can help you organise the flow. And if you find yourself adding too many action scenes in, you’ve got the beginnings of a series."

Secret 2: Get people to fall in love with your characters

Some authors prefer to write in the first person, presenting the story as the narrative of the key character, so the reader really gets to know them well. Other writers opt for third person which allows a more expansive view of scenes beyond the viewpoint of the main character. Whichever style of writing you choose, develop a deep understanding of your protagonist, building the layers of their personality into each story. Readers need to identify with the main character, just as much as you, the author, need to like them. Each book gives you an opportunity to help the reader get more attached to the main character and keep them interested in what is going to happen next. Historical novelist Lucienne Boyce says, "As a writer and a reader, I think what’s important is that the main character is appealing and interesting. Even an 'anti-hero’ must hold some fascination. After all, you’re asking the reader to spend a lot of time with them." Lucienne’s series follows Dan Foster, Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist.

Secret 3: Create new developments to keep the writing flowing

When creating a single, central character, you have to offer development to their personality through the series. Everything that happens changes them slightly - so you need to think about the events and how they would impact on them and affect their behaviour. One famous character who has adapted to every adventure is Ian Fleming’s James Bond. But it can be tough to do this for a long-running series. Series author Wendy Percival uses family history to bring new developments into each of her Esme Quentin mysteries. Wendy says, "Readers have told me they really love Esme Quentin, who is almost a genealogy-researching Miss Marple. They ask me, what is she going to do next? That’s where the family histories really inspire me; I spot an unusual fact that nobody knows - and then I work out more about it to bring it into the story."

Secret 4: Engage your fans with a strong theme

Having a strong theme to underpin your series means you’ll never be short of content to share with interested readers. For that purpose, Wendy Percival has written a standalone novella as a prequel, A Legacy of Guilt, to introduce readers into the world of Esme Quentin. She also shares a weekly blog with her fans, updating them on her latest research into her own family history. Building a mailing list will give you the opportunity to send email updates to your readers; it helps to give away something special to encourage sign-ups. Marketing is a key part of making yours a successful series. People need to know when the next instalment of the story will be available for them. Tools to try are social media, including Facebook Ads and Twitter. And you can advertise on Amazon too.

Secret 5: Decide on the style of your endings

As an author, you get to choose how your books will finish. Do you love the suspense of a cliffhanger? Or do you want your books to be truly standalone and tie up the loose ends in each story to satisfy your readers’ curiosity? Kate Mosse’s historical fiction books famously carry an ending to the story yet also a cliffhanger with some new information. However, as Wendy Percival notes, this approach can frustrate your readers, especially if the next book is not out for a while. It’s a personal choice which style of ending you want to use, but once you’ve picked, it’s a good idea to be consistent in the next book. Readers do appreciate familiarity. Lucienne Boyce reflects, "One challenge is to make sure each novel stands alone, so that someone who picks up the third might be tempted to go back to the first and second. It’s not always easy to know if you’ve got it right. Some readers start mid-series, but then do find they want to read the earlier novels to catch up. However, it’s probably true that most series are best read in the right order."

Picking up a thread from another story is a great way to link your books, attracting readers to pick up the next one. How about you - have you got a favourite series?

Find out more

Lucienne Boyce has a SilverWood author page and you can also find out more on her website. She’s active on social media and you can sign up to receive her newsletter Scriblerus.

Read about Wendy Percival’s genealogy mysteries on her author page, connect with her on social media and sign up for her newsletter via her website.

Planning a series?

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