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Why You Should Be Writing in a Series


by Tom Ashford

I have two favourite authors, both fairly prolific. On one hand I have Stephen King, who very rarely writes in a series – and that’s what I like about his books. They’re usually isolated stories – chunky nuggets of horror from beginning to end. But on the other hand I have Terry Pratchett, a British author who’s most famous for his sprawling series of Discworld novels – forty-one in total, plus various accompanying books. And that’s what I like about them – that the characters and universe of his stories build up over time, into something almost organic.

Most indie authors – not all, but most – seem to write in series, even if the books within those series can be read on their own. If you’re new to the self-publishing industry you might be asking yourself why that is. After all, there are plenty of big name authors who only write standalone novels – Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, etc. Well, here are three Bs to keep in mind: Brands, Backlists and Box-sets.

BRANDS

Well, you could argue that even though authors as well-known as Stephen King don’t write in brands and franchises, they themselves have become brands. If you enjoy a Neil Gaiman novel you know you’re going to enjoy his next one, even if all the characters and stories are different. You can see this in full effect by looking at the current rush to adapt every story Stephen King has ever thought of into a feature film – Pet Sematary isn’t a brand, but Stephen King is.

And people love brands. Harry Potter. James Bond. Fast and Furious. The twenty film strong Marvel Cinematic Universe (with between three and infinite more films still to come). Look at the way we consume content on Netflix. We don’t want episodes drip-fed to us over weeks and months – we want to gorge and binge on the whole lot the second it becomes available.

So how can you take advantage of that consumer behaviour in regard to writing books? You’ve guessed it – by writing them in a series. It’s easier to get readers to buy a book in a series they’re already a fan of than convince them to try something new.

BACKLIST

But that’s not the only reason. As you might have gathered from your indie author journey already, having a sizeable backlist to encourage read-through is all important. It helps turn a low or even negative click-through-rate into an overall positive, as people buying (or downloading for free) your advertised book go on to buy your others. Writing in a series not only makes it potentially easier to build up that backlist, but it removes yet another barrier to making that read-through happen. Your reader doesn’t need to take a gamble on a fresh story when they already know they’ll enjoy more in the series they’re already working through.

It also makes it easier to direct your reader to the next book. Take Amazon, for example: you can link multiple books in a series together so that they have their own page. Let’s say that someone downloads my book, Blackwater: Vol. One. With just one click on the series link at the top of its Amazon page (just below the title and reviews), they can see – and with any luck, buy – the other books in the series. That’s easier than scrolling through my author page to see which of my other books might appeal to them.

BOX SETS

And if none of the above reasons have you convinced, here’s one that might: it’s an easier way to make money.

Let’s say you have three books in a series priced at $3.99 each. There’s decent royalties to be got there, but it also requires three points of purchase – three opportunities for your reader to decide to save that money or spend it someplace else. But combine all three books into a box-set and suddenly you have an $8.99, maybe $9.99 product to sell… one that looks like a bargain to your reader, and has only that single point of purchase.

That helps with advertising, too. Turning a profit when marketing a book, even one at £3.99/$4.99, is hard. You need to get a very cheap cost-per-click and a decent conversion rate in regard to people purchasing your book. But those risks are offset when marketing a box-set by its higher price – you only need two people to buy a £5.99 box set on a £5 a day advert and you’re turning a profit, even before you take into account any read-through or page-reads from Kindle Unlimited.

So there you have it: three reasons you should be writing in a series. Of course, there are plenty of indie authors who find a lot of success writing standalone books and, personally, if I’m buying something new then a standalone is often what I’ll go to first. But there’s no doubting that writing interconnected stories, or at the very least connecting your standalone fiction and non-fiction books together, is the easier path to follow.

Have you found writing a series to be easier than standalone books? Or are you more successful when penning isolated stories? Let us know in the comment section below!

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford

Tom Ashford is a professional copywriter, author of numerous dark fantasy and sci-fi novels, and the Head of Content at the Self Publishing Formula Blog. His books include the Blackwater trilogy and the Checking Out series.

He lives in London with his wife, in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. Find out more about Tom here.