Indie Corner Series and Indie Writer


Vision 72


Indie Corner

Series and the Indie Writer


J. A. Marlow


Copyright © 2013, J. A. Marlow, All Rights Reserved




Series. Most of us have our favorites. Worlds, characters, and long story arcs we love to go back and visit time and time again.


In the recent publishing past, there was a depressing phenomenon known as the "Three Book Death Spiral" caused by "Ordering to the Net." In the old days, this was a real fear for any writer wanting to write in a series. The major bookstore chain ordered 10,000 of the first, but sold 8,000. Second book came out so they ordered 8,000 but sold 5,000. By this time book 1 was out of print. Third book came out and they ordered 5,000. Both previous books are out of print, which makes it hard for new readers to jump into the series, so the sales of book 3 plummet even further.


The penname of the writer is tarnished thanks to bad sales, and the series is dead. But, for the writer, it could get a lot worse than a dead series. Sometimes the only way for the writer to get published again was to write under a new penname so that the name wasn't attached to bad sales at Nielsen Bookscan. For a more detailed description, read Holly Lisle's post on the subject.


And yet, readers love series. This is seen quite often in mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, and romance. Readers actively hunt out new series to dive into. Series allow readers to invest time and energy into a specific setting and/or characters over a longer term.


With the Indie world, the "Ordering to the Net" problem doesn't affect us. Why? Because we can keep our books out there for as long as we want, allowing the series to find and develop its readership. Even if the story is in a narrow niche.


This is a very good thing. As I said before, readers love series. The Indie movement has brought a rebirth of the series. Some writers are finishing old series that were killed by "Ordering to the Net" in the years previous. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "The Fey" and Kris Nelscott's "Smokey Dalton" series are perfect examples of this.


For others, it means we can indulge in bigger stories than occur in single stand-alone books, even if the subject matter is niche. We can afford to do these types of stories because they will have a shelf life measured in years and decades compared to a few weeks on a physical bookstore shelf. This is opening up the field to the types of stories never seen before under the old system. Readers are finding new types of series, and the evidence is pointing to them loving it.


Many writers have found that their series outsell their stand-alone books by a wide margin. Not only are we providing readers the type of reads they want, but it's helping to provide a living for the writer. Russell Blake in the past has said that his series outsells the stand-alone book 4 to 1. I personally, can attest to about the same ratio.


Series are back with a vengeance, and they are all over the genre map. For the smart Indie, a few good series has become a must.


So, you've decided to begin writing and publishing a series? Consider the following points:


1. Type of series. There are many types of series, but the big two are open and closed series. You will need to decide which one you want to write. A closed series will eventually come to an end, such as with a trilogy or Harry Potter's 7-book series. If it is a closed series, indicate this in your promotional information, including the title, book description, and cover elements. If you choose an open series, consider how you can keep the reader's interest engaged over a long period of time.


2. Basic plan. I'm not talking about outlines here. What I'm referring to is a basic direction for the series, no matter which type you choose to write. Do you have ideas for several books? In what order will they need to be written? How long can you sustain the ideas surrounding the characters or setting without starting to repeat ideas or grow stale? How can you end the series, and do the books you have in mind support that ending?


3. Don't give up too early. Sales of series typically ramp up after the third release. In some genres, like mystery, that number can go up to the sixth or seventh release. Be prepared for this. Do not give up on the series after only the first couple of books. Some Indies recommend having the first three ready and releasing them close together, as the books will build the momentum of each other. The reader can immediately sink their teeth into a long meaty story.


4. Consistency. Don't let the reader forget about your series. The best way to do this is by having regular releases in the series. Try for at least one a year. Added bonus: the new release will spark a surge in sales for the other books in the series as new readers find it thanks to the "New Releases" category at book retailers.


5. The long-haul. Before you embark on a new series, be sure the idea is enough to interest you. Can you picture yourself writing this series a few years down the road? If not, you may want to reconsider the idea. Or, consider making it a closed series with a set number of books, after which you can move on to a different series. TIP: Having different series can help with series fatigue, as you are not working with only one every moment of your writing life until you just want to kill every character in it.


Series are reemerging not only among genres, but also in length. Today, there are series of anywhere from short stories to novel lengths. Let your imagination flow. If you love to write series, then the new world of the Indie is just where you want to be. By all means indulge in that love!


Your readers will thank you for it.