Of all the things I’ve encountered in the ‘book business’ that lead to success, there’s one in particular that tops them all. In fact I can sum it up for you in one word – the most effective marketing strategy a fiction writer can employ:
Slam dunk, game over. There’s no question that sales of a book series will far outstrip the sales of a sequence of unrelated one-off books.
Not only that, a book series is more attractive to publishers, is easier (and more fun) to promote, and has a much greater chance of being turned into a blockbuster movie or a TV show.
One of the best examples is the series by Lemony Snickett (AKA Daniel Handler) who gleefully writes in mock-Dickensian style about the terrible adventures of the Baudelaire orphans - ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’. Notice that the word ‘Series’ is even mentioned in the title.
Handler has affectionately hijacked the often gloomy, eccentric world of Charles Dickens, with a series of children’s novels that follow the lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents’ death in an arsonous house fire. The children are placed in the custody of their distant cousin Count Olaf, who begins to abuse them and plots to embezzle their inheritance.
Readers by the million have become ‘Lemony-holics’ and are happily hooked on the stories. With each book they grow increasingly attached to the Dickensian styling, consistent characters and the greater overarching story that unfolds across all the books.
A Book Series Will Sell Itself
You see, if you can get people hooked on the first couple of books in your series, the subsequent books essentially sell themselves. The momentum carries over from one book to the next, and the readers become desperate to find out what happens next. In fact many readers, after reading just one book, will go on a ‘book binge’ and buy all of your books in one big splurge, and then wait impatiently for you to write more.
Publishers know all of this, which is why they tend to choose authors who pitch a book series over those who pitch one-off novels.
Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever write single, one-off books. But if you’re starting with just one book, try to envisage how it might form part of a series – it could make a massive difference to your chances of success.
The 7 Key Components Of A Successful Book-Series
Virtually all successful book series follow the same proven formula. That formula includes the following 7 key components:
1. The stories always involve the same troupe of strikingly distinctive characters.
2. The same main character is always featured, opposite the same unpleasant but fascinating antagonist (who is also in every book).
3. The same arresting locations and icons are repeated so that readers become familiar with them, and grow to love them.
4. The hero character has a crucial mission or quest that develops through the entire series.
5. Each book thrusts a new crisis on the hero, but the crisis is germane to each book, and resolves in each book.
6. A far greater crisis for the hero runs through the entire series, and resolves only at the very end of the series.
7. The series employs a unique, consistent meme that develops across the series – e.g. English Public Schoolboy Wizards (Harry Potter), Mock Dickensian Gloom (Lemony Snicket), or Teen Vampire Romance (Twilight).
Readers become strongly attached to a series that follows this formula, because it is a ‘brand’ which they can identify with, fall in love with, and become evangelists for.
High-Profile Examples Of Genre-Fiction Series Success:
Author: Stephanie Meyer
Series character: ‘Edward Cullen’
Teen Vampire in ‘Twilight’
Book sales: 116 million copies
Author: Ian Fleming
Series character: ‘James Bond 007′
Book sales: Over 100 million copies
Author: JK Rowling
Series character ‘Harry Potter’
The Boy Wizard
Book sales: Over 450 million copies
Author: Agatha Christie. The world’s best selling author
Series character ‘Hercule Poirot’
Murder Mystery Detective
Over 2 billion copies of her books sold, including ‘Poirot’ & ‘Miss Marple’
Author: Lemony Snickett (Daniel Handler)
Series character ‘Violet’ (& The Baudelaire Children)
Orphans suffering an unfortunate series of events
Book sales: Over 65 million copies
Author: CS Lewis
Series character ‘Lucy’ (& The Pevensie Children)
‘The Chronicles of Narnia’
Book sales: Over 120 million copies
*Sales figures from Wikipedia
The Power Of A Series Goes Beyond Mere Book Sales…
It’s no accident that all the pictures above are from blockbuster movies or TV shows based on the books. The fact is, when you create a successful book brand with a SERIES, with a central cast of characters and a hero whom readers can grow to love and care about, this opens up other opportunities too.
Think movies, TV shows, video games, posters, toys, t-shirts, graphic novels – the works.
‘Lemony-holics’ and ‘Potter-holics’ are now found in every corner of the earth. The Harry Potter series made JK Rowling the first ‘book billionaire’.
By choosing to write a series, you could be one step closer to joining her.
Note. This post about book series writing is an excerpt from my eBook ‘Ten Simple Strategies for Bestseller Success’ that’s included as a free bonus to my mini-course Twitter For Authors.
If you have a favorite book series, or an experience to share, or you’re writing a book, please do leave a comment below.
Article by Jonathan Gunson
Author / CEO Bestseller Labs