Friday, September 23, 2011

Why are Publishers Interested in Series?

My editor in India who has been interacting with me for a story I am doing for an Anthology brought out by the Publishing House, tells me that most publishers (in India we don’t have agents, we submit directly to publishing houses) are looking at series. Stand-alone or one off books, especially in the Children’s category are not a good proposition.

Her belief is that single books have a tendency to get lost or disappear inside bookshops. Whereas a series has a great marketing potential. Series are great for attracting visibility. Series also have an advantage of allowing the main character to create a bond with the readers. It also has a better recall value. She told me that though writing is a passion for writers, publishing is a business and publishers look for the market value of the book as at the end of the day, they do want to make a profit. Series have better profit making abilities than single books. A series also ensures that  a writer does not disappear after writing just one book.

Her words resonated with me. A series has many advantages. Once a character is created and a setting is built, and both have struck a chord with readers, a major burden has been lifted from the writer’s shoulders. Now, it’s up to the writer to capitalize on this advantage by upping the stakes and increasing the tension and ensuring that the reader do not move away  and stick to the next lot of books featuring the same characters.

Another advantage of a series is that once a reader interest is invested in both the character and story, then the chances of them picking up the next  few books in the series are very high.

Though  series are my editor’s firm favourite, she is of the opinion that the series should not be a long one: a trilogy is most preferred. As for long series of 5 or more parts, it’s difficult to keep a firm grip on the plot and characters.

I have noticed this trend every where. Most writers are either writing or planning a series. What about you all? Are you of the same belief as my editor? Do you believe that series have better chances of being published than single books?Are any of you planning a series or have written them?


  1. All the above makes sense from a marketing point of view but if you're not a genre writer then even writing a sequel is usually rare. I wrote a sequel to my first novel but if I'm being objective really it's just one big book in two parts and even though I left it open-ended I never intended to write a third part and I have no plans to write anything other than a standalone novel ever again. In fact if I can say what I have to say in a novella I'll be more than happy to stop there.

  2. Maybe it depends on genre. I don't think many woman's fiction or literary fiction books would make a good series at all. I think Childrens' and YA are great markets for series. Readers there get hooked on characters and not the author.

  3. Great post Rachna, this gave me a lot to think about. Although I'm not writing a series myself I think your publisher has a lot of good points. I mean, it makes sense. I think series are most popular for children and young teenagers because they're young so become more attatched to characters. I think the fantasy genre is also good to have series because fantasy usually has extremley devoted, hardcore fans. I think writing a series would be great, you get to write about characters you love again and again the only problem there is would be living up to the standards of the last book each time and if you get bored and no longer want to write the series - you can't exactly drop out because both the publishers and readers will be expecting the next book. All in all I think writing a series is a great opportunity, makes for great marketing, just that people should be very prepared first that they will be writing this story and the characters for a long time so need to make sure there's more than enough room for a range of exciting things to happen to them.

  4. A friend (who is also a writer) and I met for coffee recently and were discussing this! We knew the general reasons, but hadn't delved into real specifics. Thanks for sharing this; I'll have to pass the link along to her.

    Have a great weekend,

  5. This is great news for me! I'm releasing the second installment in a trilogy very soon. Maybe someone in the industry notices. Thanks for the post. Very informative and enlightning.

  6. You know what? I hear what your editor is syaing. Series allows readers to grow and get to know a character. If the series is strong, a writer has a guaraneed audience for each book in teh series. Harry Potter is a great exaple. However I think it depends on what genre you write I don't think literary fiction, which is what I write works as a series. Generally series do better ini crme/mystery of fantasy genres.

    A writer has to stick to what he or she wants to write, it's hard enough getting one book done.

  7. @ Jim..I have just finished a standalone book and edited a collection of stories.I know that it will be a hardsell to pitch them to Publishing houses. But, I would gladly write another standalone book. Every story cannot be made into a series.

    @ Tabitha..yes, children and YA markets are high on series. For Women's fiction or Literary fiction, its not a problem if a writer doesn't have a series to offer.

    @ summed it up so well. If a writer is planning a series, there should be room for lots of exciting things to happen in each individual book. Series have great marketing potential, that's why they appeal to publishers.

    @ Karen...A confession..sometimes I really envy writers who write long series. Its definitely easier for them to find publishers than writers like us whose book is a stand-alone book.

    @ are lucky. Many publishers prefer a Trilogy. It has a great marketing spin-off and at the same time is better than a very long series, where the publishers fear that the writer may not be able to offer something new to the readers in each successive book and may actually turn off readers.

    @ DU Okonwo..yes, series indeed have that advantage. They allow readers to get to know a character. Series do not work for literary fiction. You are absolutely right: crime/mystery and fantasy genres are great for developing a series and MG and YA audience are better for series.

  8. I'm starting with a trilogy, and I agree with just about everything your editor said. 3-5 books makes for a great series. Longer than that an you will loose your audience, or die before you finish. Wheel of Time is the most obvious example at 11 books and a dead author. 3 more books have come out by someone else just to finish story lines.

    Writing more than one series also gives you multiple entry points. If you have one big 14 book series, your only entry point is book one. If you have 4 trilogy's, you have 4 entry points for new readers who will go explore your other works. This is big for business as well, and success as an author.

    There are exceptions like Harry Potter at 7 books and there are countless single story authors that hit it big as well. But the numbers show that writing series has the best track record. At the end of the day, its up to you as an author to decide.

  9. Hi, Rachna, this was certainly an encouraging post, as I have written two different books that I envision as part of a series--a trilogy for one; four books for the other. I'm working on a stand-alone, as well, but I love the idea of a series for the very reasons you stated: The characters and settings are all worked out; you just need to up the ante in the ensuing plots. Great news that publisher s are looking that way.

  10. Very early in my writing, I decided this was the way to go for me. I've written my romance novels with stand-alone sequels and I've done the same with my YA books. Now if only I could dedicate the time to getting them edited and put on the market.

    I agree with the points your editor makes. Readers are definitely inclined to read the next story if they are invested in a compelling character.

  11. I've heard this said by other agents and publishers. Series are also easier to write because everything is already set up and the writer doesn't have to agonise over new characters etc. I wrote the outline for a book 2 in only 2 days whereas the outline took me a month for the first book--it's because of all the world-building and character set up I had to do.

  12. I immediately thought of the famous English childrens author here, Enid Blyton. She wrote many childrens books. I myself loved them as a child and looked for her name when wanting to read another book. I am unsure just how many she wrote, but it was many. I pray you do very well.
    Sr Crystal Mary Australia

  13. Series work well when it comes to books. Whether it is a continuation of a previous story or a different one entirely, it's easier to market something as "from the author of ..."

  14. Not sure. :-/

    I have two books that are planned to be the first books in two series. Doorways is book one of four. WiP2 is one where the series can go on for a long time, as each book happens in the same cast, but with different characters, so they're free standing. WiP3 (Guardian) might be a series. WiP4 is not. It all depends on the type of story written, for me.

  15. I have wondered at the prevalence of the series, too...
    Good thoughts, Rachna!

  16. I like series books, but sometimes I worry that ti pigeonholes and author. As writers it's tempting to keep exploring a story through more books, but I really respect authors who can get a vast tale told completely in a single volume.

  17. This is very encouraging for me to hear because I have a YA series in mind. Now only if I can get down to sitting and writing out at least two of the four books in the series!