How Long Should A Series Be?
These are my insights gathered over years of writing series. Your stories are different. You are different as a writer and as a person. You have different goals, different marketing strategies, a different view of success. Please use the insights that you feel apply to you and discard the rest.
As Long As It Needs To Be
I’m a pantser, a writer who writes by the seat of her pants. Sometimes, I’ll start a series with the intention of it being X stories long and the series becomes X+12 stories long. That happens. I write as many stories as I have to write to give readers a satisfactory end to the series.
But my ideal series length at this moment is five.
That’s because I’m self-published so I know my publisher (me – grins) will give me those five stories to run with. It is because my current favorite marketing strategy is to price the first story in the series, after a few years of being published, at permafree. And it is because, in cyborg romance, I see readership of a series dramatically drop off after five stories.
That might not be your ideal series length.
How You Publish
If you work with a publisher, talk to your publisher about their preferred length of series. Ask them what their process is i.e. when they evaluate the success of a series. Look at the series published by writers at your level (the successful AND the struggling series). How many stories are in those series?
The big New York traditional publishers often evaluate the success of a series after only ONE book has released. When I write for them, I plan for only one book to be released in the ‘series.’ My best case planned-for scenario is three books.
Mid-sized and small press publishers might have a bit more flexibility…or they might not. They might see readership drop off after three or five stories.
If you are indie or self-published, you have flexibility but you might still want the series to be profitable. You might want to have the funds to publish future stories.
Different niches have different preferred series length.
In cyborg romance, my niche, the preferred series length is at least five stories. Readers have to invest in the world. They want to stay in that world for a while.
In contemporary romance, that length might be three stories, the much talked about trilogy. 50 Shades Of Grey was, originally, three stories long.
Duets were very popular in 2020. Those are only two stories long. Most of those were contemporary romances.
Look at the top selling writers in your niche. Are their series similar lengths?
I have nine core stories in my first cyborg romance series. Most series readers start with Story One and read from there. This is especially true for cyborg romance readers.
This means there is only one entry point for those nine stories.
BookBub and many other promo places prefer to promote Story Ones in series. I only have one story I can promote with them for those nine stories.
If I had split the series into two, I would have two entry points, two stories I could promote.
I could have done this because there were multiple entry points within the series. Each story had a standalone romance. There were different stages in the series (the escape, the rebellion, etc), different natural starting and stopping points.
If there are no entry points, other than the first story, it might be best that the series remain whole.
Ensuring Readers Follow You Into The New Related Series
There is always a risk in splitting a series. Readers might not follow us to the new series.
I worried about that also. But when I started my new cyborg romance series set in the same world, I saw almost no drop in readership.
Because the covers are very similar. They look like the same series. And I added the excerpt for the first story in the second series to the back of the final story in the first series. The two series were unofficially linked.
There are benefits to having a longer series, however.
Some booksellers, like Apple, send out notifications about a new release in a series to ANYONE who has ever downloaded or purchased any book in that series. That means more stories in the series might result in a greater number of readers notified.
Your promotional strategies around your series will likely be a big factor in deciding how long it should be.
I like the permafree first in series marketing strategy. That works for me, for my readers, and for the types of books I write.
This means that, of course, I can’t have only one story in my ‘series’ or I’d be giving away all my stories. (grins) Two stories in a series likely doesn’t make sense for this strategy either.
How did I derive five stories as my target number? I think of permafree as sampling. Many booksellers sample 20% of a story. These booksellers have done their research and they know that’s the best sample size for most stories. If the first story is 20% of a series, that means there are four other stories in the series.
If a favorite marketing strategy is box sets/collection/omnibuses, the number of stories in a series might depend on the price points and size of completed series omnibuses (which sell VERY well in some niches). Amazon caps the 70% royalty rate at $9.99. If your individual stories sell for $2.99, that works out to a three-story omnibus, a trilogy.
If your stories are in KU (Kindle Unlimited), you might want to figure out how to maximize your free days. A free day on two story series, for example, might be more profitable than a free day on a one story ‘series’.
The Longer Series
If you do decide a longer series is right for you, I would strongly suggest you create, if you can, possible ending points in it.
As I mentioned, my 9 story long series had several ending points in it, places where I could stop the series and, with a little bit of finessing on that last story, make the shortened series satisfying for the reader. There would be enough resolution to make them happy.
This gives you freedom and flexibility. You could pause the series for a bit if it requires, for example, time to build readership or if you wish to write something else. Or you could end it.
Making The Decision
When I looked at all the above factors, it was clear to me that five stories in a series was my target. I don’t always hit that number of stories but that’s what I aim to reach.
Your situation is different. Your target number of stories might be different. You might also have considerations I don’t. There is no one right answer. There is only the right answer for you.
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About Cynthia Sax
USA Today bestselling author Cynthia Sax writes steamy Cyborg, Alien and Contemporary Romances. Her stories have been featured on TV, in Star Magazine and on numerous best of lists.
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