How many books makes a library? More than one? More than one hundred? Is there a cut-off? Let’s try something simpler – how many books makes a series?
Two? Three? Four or more?
As far as book retailers go, a series is a logically related collective. The books within don’t have to be chronologically ordered, or even have the same characters from book to book. So two is an acceptable number. Actually, you can define a series with one book in it, even though it looks silly.
Technicalities aside, why would an author want to write a series?
My First Series
I began writing Adaptation on my pathetic little PDA. Every time I hit the save button, it got slower and slower until it was just too hard to continue. I moved to the laptop. It saved quickly but, after a while, it got slower and slower and… hey! What gives?
It was just getting too long. I looked at my plan, did the math, and realised that the total word count would be daunting, simply too big to digest, too cumbersome to edit. I had to split it up out of necessity.
So it turned from a single whopper of a tome into smaller, digestible installments. That changed the game somewhat. Loading and saving was faster, it meant I could concentrate on a single portion (Part 1), and I could begin to release the book into the wild world without having to wait for the whole shebam to be completed.
So that’s a good thing, right?
Kind of. There’s more to it. Each part must be self contained, still having a beginning and a middle and an end, that’s right, an end. Here’s the gag: The beginning doesn’t have to start where the last book left off. And the end is necessarily a non-permanent thing. It has to be open-ended, otherwise there’s nowhere for the next book to come out.
Ending with a cliff-hanger demands that the story continue. Great device! Wait, but that means your protagonist is left huddled underneath a burning building for 12 months while you type out your next manuscript. Poo.
You probably don’t feel it as a reader, but there’s a genuine pressure to get the next one finished. It’s not only for the author’s state of mind. The audience wants a conclusion as well. They want questions answered. They want to know, and they want to know now!
One of the best things about a series, from an author’s viewpoint, is that you have a clean break, an opportunity to regroup, reassess. It’s like breaking up a marathon into stages so you can mentally prepare for the next leg.
While characters and setting may not shift a lot, the feel of the book can. Depending on what theme you’ve chosen to write, it may change from being lighthearted and innocent (Think early Harry Potter) to dark and hostile (think later Harry Potter).
Premise can change between books in the series, and this is an excellent way for the author to get some exercise. Exploring the same premise across an entire tome would be exhausting and, while the premise may get a thorough workout, it may get over-worked. How many different ways can you explore the pains of lost youth in a thousand pages?
Having a series keeps things fresh, keeps an audience happy, keeps an author sane.
…Things Stay the Same
The flip-side, and there is always a flip-side, is that you haven’t a chance to change the past. You’ve made your plan, plotted out you series, released your second book and – oh, wouldn’t it be grand if Bob didn’t go fishing with Bert, rather he stayed behind and the bayou monster gobbled Bert up, then the police wouldn’t be suspicious…
Nope, too late. You can’t change things now. Bob was there and saw the whole thing. Bummer. Sure, you can make mini-edits to your ebooks, but they’re out there, in the wild, being read.
So, in effect, you need to have your series locked down fairly tight before you go releasing, but if you wait until you’ve written your series before you release – there’s the issue. It’s a bit of a tightrope we walk.