Why You Should/Should Not Write a Book Series


It’s been a year since I left teaching, and I miss it. One of the things I miss the most is my student writer’s club that met every Thursday, Rough Writers. We’d get together and plan events, do writing exercises, and most importantly, critique each other’s ongoing writing projects. What I got a kick out of was how often students, who generally were writing their very first project, usually a book, wanted to start by writing it as a series. The conversation usually went like this:

“It’s a series about teen vampires.”

“Oh, yes?” I would ask. “A series? How long a series?”

“Five books. Maybe seven. And I am starting with book three.”

That always mystified me. Why start with a series? Why wouldn’t you know how long the series was going to be. And why, oh why, would you be starting in the middle of the series? But I never tried to tell them they were making a mistake. Instead the objective was to encourage them, let them learn as they went along, and hopefully they would find the right path.

Since I started writing I have written three book series. The Champion Series was three books, including The Champion, The Heretic, and Elijah. The Foundation Series (which technically is still ongoing, but is somewhat dormant) is two books: Salome’s Charger and The Key of Solomon. And the series I am working on now, the Heretics Series, is four books. I was originally planning on it being five books, but I am getting tired of the series, so I intend to wrap it up, even if the last book is somewhat longer than the other books have been. The books in that series so far have been: Soul Survivor, The Serpent and the Dove, and The Overcomers. I’m about to start on the fourth book.

So here is the one reason why you should write a series:

The Characters.

I started writing my Heretics series because I had the idea of combining characters from the other two series as an offshoot, emphasizing a minor character from the Foundation series, Connie Simescu. When I am writing a book that I think I have done a good job on, I have a bittersweet feeling when I end the book because I have to leave the characters I have grown to know and love. And if you develop a following, you may get reviews from readers who ask–nay, literally beg–you to bring back characters that they have grown to love. That’s a good thing, and it’s probably the only real reason to write a series. The story goes that Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings because he was deluged with requests from readers for more stories about hobbits. So when I say characters, that’s a general statement. It could include a world that you’ve created, or a town, or some other universe that the reader lives in for the time the read the book.

That being said, here is the biggest reason why you shouldn’t write a series:

Commitment.

It’s the same reason why I encourage beginning writers to start by writing short stories. Write a short story a thousand words long. You mess up and it’s not a big deal. On the other hand, write a book 70,000 words long. It takes months, possibly years. You mess up, and it is a big deal. Write a series….

You get the picture. It’s like getting married. Or buying a house. Or any major commitment. Commit in haste, regret in leisure.

If you’re just getting started, trust me: start small. Write short stories. There are markets for them out there. As I speak, I know of several contest for short stories that are available right now. Some of them are free, or relatively free. If you think you’ve graduated from short stories and are ready to move on to novels, fine. Be aware that the absolute minimum length for a novel is around 50,000 words. Most run 70,000-90,000 words. And Hemingway made it a habit after writing his rough draft to cut it by 20%.

But I digress.

As I mentioned, don’t plan on writing book series unless there’s a demand for it. Don’t do it on a whim. Don’t do it because it sounds like it’s a good idea. Do it because the readers want it. Because they will pay you for it. Okay?