SFFMP 45: What Does It Take To Write a Series People Want to Buy?

Update: Sorry for the incomplete episode. The entire show is now on there!

Tonight our stalwart hosts discussed the changes to Kindle Unlimited, uploading pre-orders directly to stores, and what we’ve learned about writing in series. This was the meat of our show and we each shared three things that we’ve done (either intentionally or inadvertently) that have helped our series gain traction and attract diehard fans. We also talked about when it makes sense to abandon a series that just isn’t performing, open-ended episodic series versus ones that have a clear overarching storyline, and how to develop characters that keep people coming back for more.


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  • Good midsentence cliff hanger. When do we get the rest of the talk?

    As someone getting ready to release his first book I do wonder how much of the advice you give does apply to me. Between family and work it’s going to take me a while to hit that three plus books out marker. I must admit though that I’m taking the long view and intend to release wide.

    • SFFpodcast

      Oops, sorry, guys! I’ll check with Jo! He grabs the audio files.

    • SFFpodcast

      Edwin, you could chat with Moses Siregar III someday. He’s kind of in the same boat. Released his first in 2012 and the second just this year. Epic fantasy. He did novellas of the first third of each book to try and get something out in between. Maybe we can even get him on the show. I know he did pretty well with his first novel back in 2012–not sure he’s had time to market the second one much this year.

  • Phaedra

    Did the podcast get cut off? The audio version is shorter than the youtube version. 🙂

  • Thanks for another really useful and informative instalment!

    So to sum up, here’s what I’m taking away from this:

    Some factors that help sell a series are –

    1) Unresolved, on-going “will they/won’t they?” romantic sub-plot.

    2) Unanswered plot or character questions. For example, slowly ‘drip feeding’ a popular character’s back story and hinting at future revelations.

    3) An over-arching plot that spans the whole series.

    4) Visible, emotional and intellectual growth of likeable characters that readers root for as they struggle to overcome the challenges that change them. “If you want readers to care about what happens next, then they have to care about who it’s happening to.”

    5) A large setting, not all of which is seen from the beginning. Places only mentioned in one book can be explored in the next, maintaining intrigue and recognition and keeping the landscape of the story fresh.

    6) Cliffhangers (just so long as you’re ready to follow up pretty soon after, maybe no more than a month later)

    7) Characters who, perhaps especially in a fantasy setting, have traits and personalities which render them believable and relate-able.

    8) Spice the story with humor – if you can do it. If humor doesn’t come easy, best leave it alone.

    9) Professional, branded book covers and appropriate, targeted categories and key-words for the online stores.

    10) As you build a readership, listen to them, get involved in a conversation with them and find out exactly what floats their boat, which characters they love and hate and what their pressing questions are about what might happen next.

    Currently, I put butter on my bread as a freelance copywriter but I’ve just finalized a business plan ~ after ready Lindsay’s blog front to back! ~ which involves a mix of self-publishing fiction for some works and pursuing agented traditional publishing for others, whilst continuing to produce short fiction for the on and offline ‘zines.

    I’m just completing the final line edit on a steampunk novel, which I’m aiming to publish either before Christmas or early in the New Year. That will be followed by another two novels to make a trilogy and backed up with short stories. This is really a Middle Grade/early YA series and so I know I’ve set myself a challenge with that. I’m going to go KU at first with this to give it the best start in life and then look at non-renewal and broadening my market reach if it takes off.

    I’m also preparing a Weird West novella series which will go out next year, too. There are six planned out so far.

    I’ve also roughed out a Victorian ghost story/paranormal series which will most likely end up a bit steampunky as I tend in that direction.

    And I am working with my editor on a real world YA about a young Ojibwe woman, set against the backdrop of the struggle for Native fishing and Treaty rights in Minnesota. That one will go the traditional route and may take another year to complete.

    According to my business plan, in three years, when I reach my 50th birthday, I’ll be making a reasonable living (I have a very humble interpretation of what qualifies as a living!) from fiction alone and will be able to wave farewell to commercial copy writing forever (yes, please!)

    Do you think there are better and worse times to release your first book? Just before Christmas maybe good, right? Or does it not really matter in the long run? I’m also thinking with the novella series to complete three before I release any so that I can then get that funnel up and running pretty quick while I write the rest. Make sense?

    Wow, this has turned into a mega-comment. Time to stop.

    Thanks again, you guys are great!

    • SFFpodcast

      Thanks, Austin! Hah, your show notes are much better than mine. Maybe we should hire you. 😀

      Good luck on all of your projects! I’d probably avoid right before Christmas unless I was releasing a book in an existing series and already knew I had readers who would buy it. Even though it doesn’t make much sense (who gives ebooks for gifts?) authors go a little crazy in the 6 weeks leading up to Christmas, and they schedule mad promotions and run sales and really try to get those pre-holiday eyeballs on their books. The trad publishers are doing a lot of promo and releases then too. I might wait until mid-January.

      • Hi Lindsay,

        “who gives ebooks for gifts?” – good point! Okay, I’ll schedule release for the New Year. Gives me a bit more time to get my sales package together – and be confident that I’ve got the second book of the trilogy well underway before the first goes out, which feels like a good idea.

        Thanks for the advice! 🙂