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Five Reasons Why I Would Write Series Fiction (And One Reason I Wouldn’t)

What to read?

I’m at the library, looking for something to check out and I see a row of similar-looking spines, books all by the same author, some with numbers on them. It’s a little army of series fiction! (And almost always one of those numbers is missing!)

Five Reasons Why I Would Write Series Fiction (And One Reason I Wouldn't)

I have an irrational insecurity around serial fiction as a reader.

I feel like I have to start at book one if I’m going to start at all, and then, I wonder, will I feel compelled to read all the books in the series? What will I miss out on in the literary world if I get to the end of Adam Dalgliesh’s career?  I skip over the series and go to a stand alone instead. As a reader, I think I want the whole story wrapped up in one tidy package. And I want my literary diet to be broad. If I pick up the first Harry Potter, for example, I feel, and I’m sure that’s just me and my neurosis, that there’s an expectation that I have to read all of them. I don’t want that kind of pressure. Maybe I’m not a series type of reader? Not all of us are. But, if I’m going to be a successful novelist, then there’s some good reason why writing a series is a great idea.

Series novels are good fits for plotters who love details.

Every successful series writer must plan their little hearts out. They aren’t planning the events for 300 or so pages, they are planning for 3-8 times that amount. All that planning allows for the plot bunnies to come around to book five. This planning allows for the backstory to weave its way in and out across many plotlines. This is a complicated process and there are some authors who love the freedom that comes with many books in a series.

Series books don’t wrap things up neatly.

This is also a good thing for novelists who like to meander. Most novels have restrictions to them: that every little tangent needs to serve a purpose. But not a series. What is left undone in book 1 can be explained in book 2. If this is done well, then the reader is interested and wants to find out more.

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Series books can provide rich character arcs.

If the main character is a teenager in book one, and a father of six in the very last book, then you can assume some changes happened in their life. This long arc creates a beautiful canvas on which the author can create some interesting art. The character development itself becomes as important as the plot. And it’s this character that the reader may fall in love with and want to know more with subsequent books.

Series books can show off all the characters, not just the big stars.

Sometimes those secondary or tertiary characters are appealing in their own right. A series allows a writer to delve into their secrets and experiences. Complicated characters that intertwine together can make for some great stories. These background characters are perfect for creating new plot lines, falling in love with and making framing for a murder. What is your protagonist’s ally in the first book could be their betrayer by book seven.

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Series books do require a great deal of commitment.

Series books are challenging for the author! But the best reason of all to stick with it create a series is that once the first book is successful, the subsequent books have built-in readers. These are the fans you can reward with consistent references and hints of the past. Multi-book ideas can be a rich experience for the writer and the reader. Maybe I’ll get over my literary neurosis and commit to writing (and maybe even reading) a series.

And that one reason? I’m afraid to be tied down to one genre.

I’ve hopped around the genre spectrum to know that there’s fun in creating a fantasy world, developing a romance and crafting a mystery. It’s all the fear of missing out, see, and maybe that’s what makes me a neurotic human.

So, if you’re a reader or writer, consider series fiction.

You may find it well worth the hard work.


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Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.

Ten Signs You May Be A Literary Writer: A Very Silly Quiz

You’re writing a book and all of your hundreds of readers want to know. “What’s it about?” And you, gather them around you, adjust your cravat, look over your half moon glasses that are pretentiously hanging from a gold chain around your neck and you say, “I’m not really sure.”

Why can’t you explain? It’s because your story seems to transcend certain genres, it’s a journey or it’s an introspective. Words like “romance” or “fantasy” don’t seem big enough.

You, dear writer, could be writing literary fiction!

10 Signs You May Be A Literary Writer

But you say, “I don’t want to write literary fiction! Because I know the market for these kinds of stories! Yesterday I had nightmares that I’m locked in a room with someone reading Proust! I wish Hemingway would be more emotional!” “Sylvia Plath just needed to get over herself!”

Calm down.

 Literary writers are kind of like the zebras of the publishing world. They’re wild, unpredictable, and you can’t put a saddle on them. It could be that your writing habits have put you into the often misunderstood category of literary fiction.  I’ve created a little checklist (a tongue-in-cheek one) for your convenience, so while you’re chain smoking your clove cigarettes, go through this list. And check off what only applies to you. If you aren’t literary, then you can celebrate by going to that NASCAR event.

If you are a literary writer, then rest assured that not all famous literary writers took their own life. Some were killed by their lovers.

Let’s get crackin!

1. You may have spent a lot of time thinking about the beauty of language. This means that in the course of your drafting, you’ve thought about rhythm and tone. You weigh the length of sentences. You kind of wish you could throw in some poetry.  I know you’re optimistic and you think that some reader, somewhere, most likely an English major creating grande lattes at Starbucks, will appreciate your craftsmanship. And your hope that if more people did, then the world would be a better place. It would be. Here’s a hug.

2. You’ve incorporated some unexpected imagery or comparisons. I would have said metaphor, but I didn’t want you to squeal like a fangirl at a Taylor Swift concert. Just because you love a good metaphor, doesn’t mean you’re book is literary, it just means that you’ve put thought into it. This is a good thing. It’s what writers are supposed to do. But if you are overly obsessed with the green light in The Great Gatsby,  have a character you’ve based on George Orwell because of his role in society or think it’s a victory when your reader asks, “what the hell does that mean?”, then you could be literary.

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”

― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

3. Your book is far more about the human condition and big ideas. If you’ve ever discussed your manuscript and said the phrase “a struggle between this foreign sounding word and that foreign sounding word”.  If you have babbled for a good fifteen minutes about the concepts and never mention the characters, then we might need to get you started on pipe tobacco and buy you a tweed jacket with elbow patches. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in writing abstract meaning. Look on the bright side, your high school English teacher will love this. You should quiz her.

4. Your characters do get from point A to point B, but they take a long, long time to get there. Before you panic, take a moment and think. You probably do have good reasons to have your characters go off on tangents about what they did as children while they are standing in line at the Piggly Wiggly. But if your story’s big climactic moment is, after 250 pages, choosing paper over plastic, then, honey, we need to get you cat.

5. You want your MFA to count for something. Of course you do. I’ll take an order of fries with that burger, please. No, wait, never mind.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

6. You have nightmares trying to categorize it on Kindle Direct. Your book not really a mystery because you reveal the killer on page 82. Your book is not really a love story because she dumps him at the altar and your book not really fantasy because the aliens were just a metaphor. Let’s just admit it: this book is literary. Now, maybe The New Yorker is a better venue for you. Don’t wash that holey sweater. We’ll need it for your author photo.

7. Your brother asked how many explosions your book had it in and you stabbed him with the cheese knife. How are you going to serve your Wensleydale now?

8. You’ve lost writer friends over your stance on structure. “Three Acts? That’s totally predictable!” And then you launch a tirade that Stephen King’s On Writing could be a little bit self-serving. You once hit someone because their idea of a great book has the number 50 and a color between black and white in it. And the longer you do this, the more you understand why writers drink themselves to death. Their friends are idiots. Let’s calm down. We have J.D. Salinger on the phone. He wants to meet you for drinks. See? You feel better already.

“He stepped down, trying not to look long at her, as if she were the sun, yet he saw her, like the sun, even without looking.”

― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

9. You find the expectations of specific genre too confining. And while you may be an Agatha Christie fan, or have a crush on Lovecraft or cry in your share of Harlequin romances, you’ve decided that you’ll take your favorite parts and twist them up. Marketability can go out with the window with all the vampire fiction as far as you are concerned. Your stories are beyond genre. Yes dear, put down that feather and quill. If your books can’t be categorized into a specific genre, then there’s a reason. You’re a literary writer and all the Chardonnay in the world can’t change that.

10. There are phrases in your books that require Google translator and your thought is, “come on, readers! Why are you so freaking lazy? You should just know Latin!”

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Scoring: For every one of these ten signs that you agree to, give yourself one ounce of caviar. If you have more than six ounces, you’ll need some champagne and a friend. I’m on my way over. If you have zero points here or zero ounces of caviar, then you are not a literary writer.

If you are not literary, then your stories are probably solid, balancing both action and character development. You tell your stories simply enough without any of your characters resembling Frasier Crane. You probably can explain the story itself to a prospective reader who can say, without any dirty looks from you, “Oh! It’s a thriller!” (Or a mystery, or science fiction, or fantasy, or a romance.) Your books are easy enough to find on a store shelf. And your genre choice helps your reader understand what to expect. You may not have fretted over every single word for its poetic weight, but you write well. But you don’t need caviar. Chips, salsa and beer will do fine.

The world needs literary fiction.

We need to have unpredictable, meaningful, symbolic stories that remind us that the good guys don’t always win and that not every ending is happy. So wear your literary label with pride!

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” You can do this. I believe in you!


Did you like this post? Then you may also like:

What’s Your Real Genre? (A Silly Quiz For Writers Who Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously) or,

Are You An Ethical Author? Take This Quiz full of Taylor Swift & Zombie References!


Katharine Grubb is a homeschooling mother of five, a novelist, a baker of bread, a comedian wannabe, a former running coward and the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day. Besides pursuing her own fiction and nonfiction writing dreams, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook, an international group for time-crunched writers that focuses on tips, encouragement, and community.