Maybe you’ve got a grand idea that’s so big and full of potential that you couldn’t possibly limit all that excitement to just one book. In that case, you may want to consider expanding your idea into multiple books.
If done well, writing a series can also come with some very lucrative benefits, including greater exposure for authors and fuel for your growing fanbase.
To help you write a series that captivates readers with every new installment, we’ve created this guide to walk you through the steps of developing your “big picture” story arc, choosing your series type, and more.
What Makes a Book Series?
A book series is a set of books that share certain characteristics and are identified together as a group. They’re most often written by the same author.
In fiction, many series star the same protagonist or share common characters. It’s also common for the stories to progress from one another. However, there are examples of works in a series that can stand alone—that is, they don’t need to be read in any particular order, such as the Nancy Drew series.
Nonfiction books can also be written as a series, with different books expanding on different subtopics, such as the Who Was…? biographical series for kids.
How to Write a Series
The following steps will help guide you through the process of writing a series that fans will love.
1. Choose the type of series you want to write.
One of the first things to consider if you want to write a series is what kind of series you’d like to write. This will dictate your story’s structure and development over time.
To determine the type of series that’s best for your stories, ask yourself what you want to prioritize for your readers: the growth of your characters, the riveting plot, or the fascinating world you’ve built?
This type is most likely what comes to mind when you hear the term “series.” It follows one overarching narrative that is told in several chronological installments.
One popular serial example is the Harry Potter series: to be properly understood and appreciated, they must be read in order, and the books follow a central plot that lines up with the main character’s arc.
An episodic series features self-contained stories with a strong protagonist who readers want to follow on adventure after adventure. It’s this character, rather than an ongoing storyline, that connects the installments.
For the most part, these books don’t need to be read in order to enjoy the experience. This is a common format for mystery and thriller series.
In an interlinked series, all of the books take place in the same world, but they might feature different protagonists who may or may not be connected.
Like an episodic series, interlinked books can be enjoyed independently of one another and in any order.
One example is The Century Trilogy by Ken Follett. This series follows five families from five different countries as they struggle from generation to generation and endure three wars.
2. Map your story concept.
The amount of planning you need to do will largely depend on which type of series you choose to write.
Serials typically require the most foresight, and authors of this kind of series usually know how the whole thing will end before they finish writing the first book.
With an episodic series, it’s not really necessary to have an overarching narrative connecting all the stories, so you’ll be allowed considerably greater freedom. In this case, though, you may need to dedicate more time to making sure your lead character is someone readers will want to follow on numerous adventures.
However, assuming you choose to go the serial route (as that is the most common series type), there are a few key points you’ll want to figure out before you start writing.
- How the story starts. Think about the setting (including the time period), your character’s background, and their motivation. What do they want? What stands in their way?
- How the story ends. Sorry, but there’s no such thing as a “spoiler alert” when you’re the one running the show. You don’t need to have every last detail figured out, but you do need to know where the story is ultimately headed.
- The final climax. Each book should have its own climax, but you should also have a general idea of what the climax of your series would be (for example, the ultimate showdown between the hero and villain).
- A general plan for character development. Think about the big change(s) you want to see in your characters. Will they come of age somehow? Fall in love? Discover their purpose?
Creating an outline can help you to see and map your “big picture” so you can avoid frustrating plot holes and mix-ups.
3. Plan key plot points for each book.
With the big picture in mind, you’ll then need to figure out which key events take place in which books.
None of your books should just be “fillers;” they need to do something to move the plot forward without losing sight of the bigger picture.
This is where it would be helpful to create outlines for each of the installments, in addition to your broader outline. (Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re more of a plotter or pantser. You can use the same tips for mapping your story concept in Step 2 for each installment, and make your outlines as detailed or as loose as you’d like.)
4. Broaden your horizons.
Simply writing “Book 2” at the end of your title won’t be enough to keep readers hooked on your series. If you recycle the same storyline, settings, and tropes over and over again throughout your series, you’re not going to make many sales.
Readers get hooked on a series because they want more, but more specifically, they want what’s next. Keep them interested by taking your characters on adventures in new settings, throwing them new types of challenges (both interpersonal and intrapersonal), and even introducing some new players.
5. Explore secondary characters.
Another way of keeping things fresh while expanding your series is by exploring secondary characters. While not every character in your story needs their own character profile and back story, you should definitely consider adding depth to your sidekicks. After all, where would Harry be without Ron and Hermione?
In addition to creating new challenges for your characters, you can also consider introducing new antagonists to keep things interesting. However, just make sure that doing so serves your storyline or character development in some way, and that you’re not just trying to fill space.
6. Leave some open loops.
Naturally, leaving a few open loops throughout your series will keep readers curious and interested. If you’re writing a serial, you don’t want every book to be self-contained, wrapped up neatly, with all problems resolved, because readers will lose the incentive to eagerly jump to the next book.
However, as with everything, be careful not to overdo it, or leave all ends untied until the finale of your series. This can create confusion, inconsistencies, and even frustration for readers, and can discourage them from continuing the series.
Instead, for serials, try to plan the books so that each seems to lead naturally to the next, with most of Book 1’s questions resolved somewhere in Book 2, and Book 2’s issues resolved in Book 3, etc. Of course, you can still leave the settling of your main conflict to the end (your good vs. evil, man vs. self, or whatever main conflict your series is rooted in).
7. Make each book satisfying on its own.
No matter which type of series you choose to write, you should make sure that each book satisfies on its own. You should always aim to write the best story you can; don’t write Book 3 just because you need something to bridge the gap between Book 2 and the finale in Book 4.
To make sure each book can satisfy on its own, ask yourself whether each installment has its own complete plot, with unique conflicts.
For example, every Harry Potter book has its own self-contained adventure, while still contributing to the overall narrative arc that leads us to the final battle between Harry and Lord Voldemort.
8. Know when to say goodbye.
This is another rule that applies to all types of series. Even if you can keep churning out new challenges to throw at your characters, and even if you have an extremely loyal fan base, you need to know when it’s time to wrap things up.
Your fans may be temporarily heartbroken when you announce that there won’t be a Book #1,000,000, but in the long run, it’s better to end on a strong note and leave readers with a satisfying, high-quality finale that they won’t soon forget.
How Do You Start a Series?
Some authors end up writing a sequel or multiple installments after they’ve published their first book and see that there is a big demand for more.
More often than not, however, authors know whether they’ll write a series before they’ve completed Book One.
(Of course, this can involve some risk, since you might end up committing a lot of time to writing sequels for books that never quite take off.)
In any case, to start a series, you’ll need an overarching idea and a general plan for what will happen in each book, which is where your outlines will come in handy!
How Many Books Should Be in a Series?
The only rule for a book series is that there need to be at least two installments. There’s no upper limit!
But again, you shouldn’t keep writing just for the sake of adding new titles to your list. There should be a purpose for each book, with a clear storyline that is not only satisfying on its own, but that contributes something to the series as a whole.
Publication Timeline For a Series
There’s no rule for how long you should wait before publishing the next book in your series.
You don’t want to make your readers wait decades for the next installment, but at the same time, you want to allow each book (especially the first few) enough time to gain some steam and build anticipation before you shoot out your next book.
If we take the Harry Potter series as an example, J.K. Rowling released 7 books over the course of 10 years, leaving 1–2 years between each installment.
Stephanie Meyer’s popular vampire romance series Twilight was published in four installments over four years, with a new book released every year between 2005 and 2008.
However, unless you have the star power of Bradbury or Atwood, we wouldn’t recommend this approach. You should aim for a new release every couple of years until your series is complete.
Writing a Book Series
Writing a series certainly isn’t for every story or writer, but if you think your idea can be turned into multiple books, then go for it!
Make sure each book you write is the best it can be and that it adds something substantial to the series as a whole. Your fans (both old and new) will thank you!
What is your favorite book series? Share it with us in the comments below!
If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:
- How to Write the Setting of a Story: 4 Tips for a Memorable Backdrop
- How to Write Character Arcs: Adding Depth to Your Story’s Players
- Character Motivation: How to Craft Compelling Characters with Drive
- 17 Best YA Series to Read Now
As a blog writer for TCK Publishing, Kaelyn loves crafting fun and helpful content for writers, readers, and creative minds alike. She has a degree in International Affairs with a minor in Italian Studies, but her true passion has always been writing. Working from home allows her to do even more of the things she loves, like traveling, cooking, and spending time with her family.