Friday, April 22, 2011


by Katherine Swarts.

Many readers--and authors--can't get enough of their favorite characters. Here's how to write a successful series.

You’ve published a book—and readers want more of the same. Or, you yourself see this novel as the first in a series.

Fiction series may: continue indefinitely or have predetermined beginnings and ends; present continuing stories or standalone titles; let characters grow and change or keep them perpetually the same. However, there are a few specifics for most series writing:

1. Consider practicing on an existing series first; many use multiple authors-for-hire. Choose a mass-produced series you like; study a dozen recent titles (especially recurring settings and characters); then contact the publisher for instructions.

This hint isn’t for everyone. If your tastes run toward literature rather than “pulp fiction,” you may never consider writing a series until your novel generates demand for sequels. Or, your story may simply be too long for one book. In any case, before proposing a whole series:

2. Do some planning. What is the common theme? Who are the regular characters? (See Hints Three and Four, below.) Will the series include a set number of books, or be open-ended? (If the latter, think twice about letting time pass realistically—young characters, especially, may outgrow readers.)

Even for a three- or four-book series:

3. Know characters and settings inside and out. The consistency rule (see Plot article, Hint Six) is as important for a series as for a lone book. Readers will notice if Patrick’s eyes are blue in Book Three and green in Book Eight. Make a master record for every character, even one-time guest stars; you never know when they may reappear.

4. Develop a cast of “background characters.” One to four main characters is enough; but give them families, supporting friends, perhaps enemies. This creates more people for things to happen to, keeping new plots fresh and believable. Secondary characters can also provide emergency backup, such as giving a lift to a hero below driving age. (Never let minor characters take full charge, though, especially if they’re adults and the main character is a child!)

Finally, after a series gets going:

5. Be prepared for reader input. As a regular author, you’ll get ideas and complaints from readers. Consider suggestions carefully, but don’t feel guilty about those you reject. Unless you contradict the core theme of the series or let an established person behave totally out of character, fans will forgive nearly anything. And if your writing is good, there will always be new readers to replace those who go away mad, or who outgrow the books.

Speaking of outgrowing:

6. Know when to stop. Frequently, new series installments continue to appear long after all the plots sound alike. After the first few bestsellers, editors and public want more and more: the fan buys on momentum; the publisher wants the revenue from that momentum. And the author, with a seemingly guaranteed income, is tempted to slack off on plotting, research, and editing; if fans are satisfied with the substandard, why bother with high-quality?

If you no longer enjoy writing each new book, it may be time to lay this series to rest. Don’t just announce that you’re quitting; have a fresh project ready to present. If you do a good job on the new, fans and publishers will forgive you for discontinuing the old.

Series or not, once you’ve published a few books (if not before), you’ll probably wonder: Could I do this full-time, supporting myself by writing?

Katherine Swarts - Margaret Swarts
Katherine Swarts - Margaret Swarts
Katherine Swarts is a professional copywriter and journalist, founder and owner of Spread the Word Commercial Writing in Houston, Texas. Spread the Word is certified by the Women's Business Enterprise National Council.

Since 1993, Katherine has published over 50 articles in numerous periodicals, including Carus Publishing's Appleseeds, Faces, and Odyssey; Children's Writer (on which see comments in next paragraph); and Christian Home & School. She has also prepared two anthologies for Thomson Gale.

Katherine has a bachelor's degree in English from Austin College in Sherman (TX), and a master's degree in written communications from Wheaton (IL) Graduate School. She has also studied with the Institute of Children's Literature, which publishes the monthly newsletter Children's Writer; two annual market guides; and an annual writer's yearbook.


  1. Enjoyed reading this as I've been mulling this very idea around for a few months now. Thanks for the tips! You got me thinking.

  2. I have two books with children asking for sequels, must get on with the writing of them! Still a better problem than no-one wanting to read them, so must be doing something right, even if only by instinct. :0)

  3. Good advice, and the first I've seen anywhere about sequels.

    Most of my readers have requested a sequel, and I want to do one; but it's taking a lot of thinking, as to what on earth a new plot can be. So any advice such as these tips are much appreciated.

    Thank you for sharing!

  4. @Laura, I'm glad it helped. Katherine also gets me thinking, so I'm happy she did the same for you.

    @Carole, I've no doubt you're doing something right. What's really amazing is how perfect every single cover is. Great job.

    @Carol Z, I'm so glad Katherine could help. Maybe I'll try to have her do more on the subject next month.

    Happy Easter, ladies.

  5. Two of my stories are stand-alone-cum-sequels so your various suggestions are timely and definitely something to consider. Thanks for the helpful info.

  6. When I started BAD LATITUDE (YA), I wasn't thinking about sequels. As the story neared its completion, I could see some potential for a sequel so I ripped it apart & completed a major rewrite & set up the next adventure. For the sake of consistency I DID create character lists & bios for future reference (a lucky bit of common sense for a newbie). Before BL was pubbed, I started work on the sequel, RECKLESS ENDEAVOR (a title that probably describes my writing). The core characters from the 1st book remain pretty much the same, though they're a year older & can now drive - which helps. I swapped one character out for another & added one that I'd only hinted at in the 1st book. The original setting for BL was St Augustine & that remained the jumping off point of RE but I wanted to expand the story & keep it fresh - so this time around, the 4 teenagers leave St A & sail through the Bermuda Triangle to the Bahamas. With RECKLESS wrapped up & out there for the masses, the 3rd is underway (not yet titled) & this one pushes the envelope even more. Now I'm no authority, but my goal was (is) to make sure that each adventure stands alone. This is where minimizing the infusion of backstory is important, avoiding the use of info dumps at all costs. So the short story became a book, which led to a sequel, which turned into a series - Jack Rackham Adventures, & I'm kinda stoked (shocked?) watching from the sidelines as JRA takes off.

  7. Great advice. I have bookmarked this page so I can come back and check it out when I have more time. :)

  8. @Carol, glad Katherine's articled helped. Hope your Easter was special.

    @Dave, I'm currently writing the sequel to Broken But Not Dead becasue the characters wouldn't leave me alone. I like the idea of sequels for that very reason, and understand fully where you're coming from. I'm excited by your success too! You go, guy.

    @Sheila, thanks for stopping by. Really enjoyed your blog this morning.

  9. Incidentally, the "Plot article" referred to in #3 is posted at, and the last paragraph of this post refers to a "making the full-time decision" article at

  10. Thanks for the additional information, Katherine. Loved this post. It hit home with a lot of writers. Looking forward to next month's. Blessings.


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