4 Tips for Planning a Series
Series are more popular than ever. We’re in the age of binge watching television shows and instant gratification. Not so long ago in TV-land, you would only get one episode per week of your favorite show. If you missed it, you’d have to wait for it to re-run. But technology and audience demand have changed, so now you can watch a whole season, one episode after the other—sometimes multiple seasons. Following TV trends, planning a series can be beneficial for writers too.
Looking at Trends
Fiction is trending hard towards series, because readers want the intimacy and the involvement in their favorite characters’ lives. In the past, a trilogy was the gold standard. But now, audiences are looking beyond those three books into five or more. And this is the same no matter what genre you’re writing in. J.D. Robb writes two books a year in her In Death series, which are futuristic crime novels. There are fifty-four books in the series to date. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (men’s adventure fiction) has twenty-six novels. Contemporary romance author, Brenda Novak’s Whiskey Creek series is at ten books. Historical romance author Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, which was picked up by Netflix, has eight books.
Thinking about putting all those words down on paper can be pretty daunting, but you don’t have to be George R.R. Martin and have eight hundred page books, like his popular Game of Thrones series. However, you do have to plot out a few things when planning a series.
Plan Your Genre
First of all, you need to decide on a genre you’re going to write in, because the story tropes have to meet the readers expectations, not only in page length, but also in frequency as to when they will be published. Fantasy fans are used to waiting two years or more between books. Most other genres are content with a book a year. Romance readers want at least two books a year from a new writer.
Plan the Type of Series
Next, you need to decide what type of series you would like to write. If you are a planning a series that will be ongoing, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mystery/comedy series (twenty-eight books and counting) your series will be character driven more than plot driven. The readers will be turning the pages to see what trouble your main character is getting into. The story should center on that journey while giving enough scenes to the main character and the supporting cast so that the reader feels like they’ve visited with old friends once they’re done with the book. Every book in the series should be written as a standalone novel that can be read apart from the other books in the series. For maximum enjoyment, however, the reader will want to read the books in order.
If you’re planning a series where you have a definite beginning and an ending, like Robert Jordan’s fourteen book Wheel of Time fantasy series, you need to have mini plot arcs for each book and then one large series arc. The readers will keep coming back because they will want to know who wins in the end and who fails. In each book, there needs to be either a mystery to be solved or relationship to evolve so that each book is a satisfying read, but every book has to further the plot of the main story arc. Missing a book in this type of a series, would confuse the reader. Seed in clues for the overarching plot in every book, and readers will set up chat rooms and social media pages to discuss their theories while they’re anxiously awaiting your next installment.
Plan How Many Books
Finally, you need to decide how many books you want to write in your series. If you’re unsure, start plotting a trilogy. You can always spin off the trilogy into more books, either using supporting characters like Diana Gabaldon did in her nine book time travel romance series, Outlander. She started out with Claire and Jamie as the main protagonists. As the series went along, she spent more time with their daughter Brianna and her husband Roger, as well as other minor characters. My own series, Three Sisters Ranch, started out as a cowboy romance trilogy following the lives of three sisters who have returned home to save their family’s ranch. But the demand for more books was so high, I spun off another trilogy about three more sisters who boarded their horses at the Three Sisters Ranch. My readers enjoyed seeing their favorite characters from the previous books as well as meeting new ones.
Having a series makes it easier to sell more books because of the binge watching trend. You will get readers who are invested in your next book and by publishing a new book in the series or a related series, you will eventually gain readership and a following.
USA Today bestselling author, Jamie K. Schmidt, writes erotic contemporary love stories and paranormal romances. Her steamy, romantic comedy, Life’s a Beach, reached #65 on USA Today, #2 on Barnes & Noble and #9 on Amazon and iBooks. Her Club Inferno series from Random House’s Loveswept line has hit both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble top one hundred lists. The first book in the series, Heat, put her on the USA Today bestseller list for the first time, and is a #1 Amazon bestseller. Her book Stud is a 2018 Romance Writers of America Rita® Finalist in Erotica. Her dragon paranormal romance series has been called “fun and quirky” and “endearing.” Partnered with New York Times bestselling author and actress, Jenna Jameson, Jamie’s hardcover debut, SPICE, continues Jenna’s FATE trilogy.