Three mistakes to avoid in a novel series

Writing a novel series certainly is a smart tactic when self-publishing fiction. After all, once readers like a character or universe, they’re likely to purchase other books in which they’re featured. Indeed, Smashwords founder Mark Coker noted that “Series writers are among the successful at Smashwords” and a quick check of the bestselling novels at will show at least a couple of books from a series in the top 20 at the same time.

Some writers, however, sabotage their series by reducing its marketability. Despite excellent writing skills, they don’t follow readers’ expectations of what a series will deliver.

Perhaps the most egregious error writers make is not ensuring each book is a complete story with a clear beginning, middle and end. Instead, they write a 210,000-word novel and divide it into three books. Readers find this very dissatisfying. While a book in a series does not have to be about the entire story arch – such as telling everything that happened to a starship in a five-year mission – it does need to tell a self-contained story from that lengthy voyage; such a story might only cover a few days or weeks of the entire five years.

Another problem that can undermine your series is requiring that they be read in order. While your character may grow and develop with each passing novel, no one book in the series should require that a reader has first pored over the one before it. Readers likely can discover your series through any individual book in it rather than always stumble across the series’ first volume. They may not realize your novel is part of a series, and if they do, they probably won’t go searching for the first volume.

A final issue with series novels is length. About 70,000-80,000 words is plenty for an individual novel. If a reader is really hooked on your series, they’ll find that word count is too little and will want more. Go longer with the word count, and you risk burning them out on your character and series. In any case, whether writing a series or not, that length is what readers tend to prefer.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.