Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Post - Steve DeWinter - Inherit the Throne

How Long Should A Series Last?

McDonald’s sells approximately 4.2 million hamburgers in the United States every day. Not because they have the best hamburgers in the world, but because people know exactly what they are going to get when they go to a McDonald’s.

As consumers, we love the familiar. We don’t like surprises and we most definitely don’t want to be disappointed. Life’s too short! We want to know what to expect before we start.

Readers feel the same way. According to the latest PubTrack Book Buying Report, 33% of respondents said they bought a book because of author loyalty. Quite the eye-opener. A full one-third of readers base their book purchases on whether they liked other books by the author or because the book is part of a series.

I was recently at ThrillerFest in New York (an annual convention for thriller writers and readers) and met several new authors who had just published, or were about to publish, their first book in a series. Many of them mentioned that they had submitted the book as a standalone to publishers, but were encouraged to expand their book into a series. When I asked how many books they had planned for the series, most responded, “As long as people keep buying them.”

This is not a bad thing, in and of itself, but the author has some responsibility to keep the series fresh and exciting for an indefinite period of time.

This brings me back to the title of this post. How long should a series last?

I guess that depends entirely on the writer. If they continue to entertain readers, their series will have a long and fruitful life. If not, well then, I guess it won't.

For my series, Hired Guns, I set a limit of six books. I did this for two reasons. One, I wanted to craft a larger story that covered the entire series so that the burning question from the first book would be resolved in the last book. The second reason I limited my series is that I didn't want it to drag on indefinitely.

Marathon runners run vast distances without being able to see the finish line. But even though they cannot see the finish line, they know where it is and maintain the pace and direction needed to finish the race. They already know what to expect before they take that first step.

Runners will never begin a race without knowing where it ends. The same should be true for writers. If a writer has no idea where the finish line is, he or she runs the risk of heading in the wrong direction with their story and wandering aimlessly around.

I didn't want Hired Guns to falter and slow down, or worse, become lost. So I gave myself a finish line. And I am heading straight for that goal with each book.

Will Joe and Kat, the main characters of Hired Guns, ever get a second series?

If they do, they better have a darn good reason to run their next marathon.


  1. Very insightful post! I often wonder about the open-ended series, usually because I lose steam after about book 4 or 5, and no matter how much I love it I don't usually keep moving forward. I guess I'm in the minority in liking stand alone novels. I do buy books because of author loyalty, but I also buy things I've never heard of because I always enjoy a good surprise!

  2. Thanks for having me on your blog Donna.

    I know just how you feel Alexandra. I have a ton of standalones in my Story Nursery but have also been forced (nicely asked) by my readers to think about an ongoing series, which is still just as fun, but I need to make sure that I don't let it fall apart and do my best to keep each book in the series as strong as the first.