Last week during a Twitter chat, a particular question caught my attention. The participant was wondering if books in a series have to be read in sequence in order for the series to be good.
This lead me to consider what does make a good series, and while there are several factors that play into it, for me, the simple answer is that any series that can sustain my interest over several books, and keep me invested in the characters and the world is a good series.
The next question then, is how is this accomplished? What are the key ingredients to creating a series that will keep a reader with you over 3, 4, or even 7 books?
When asked what has made Sherlock Holmes one of the most successful and best-loved detectives of all time, Anthony Horowitz (who is the author of the Sherlock Holmes Adventure House of Silk) pointed to three factors: The richness of the characters, their world, and of course, the writing! (If you’d like to read Horowitz’ full blog post, it can be found here: )
The Harry Potter books are another example of a successful series, and they work largely in part to the freshness of each book. With every new volume, Rowling introduced new characters, new locations, and new events, but she also allowed her original characters to evolve.
Another common answer that I’ve come across while researching this topic, is direction. Have you ever read (or watched) a series where the story seems to just jump off the rails halfway through, and the writing seems aimless and without direction? A successful series needs a direction, which is not necessarily the same thing as a cliff-hanger. The reader needs to believe that the plot has a definite direction, and that the author isn’t unnecessarily stretching the story just to keep it going over multiple books.
Finally, there is the matter of cliff-hangers. While leaving some questions unanswered is a great tool to get people coming back, but readers quickly get fed up with multiple dangling plot lines, or cliff-hangers that are cliched and without purpose.
Now I turn the question over to you. In a market that is crowded with trilogies and series, what factors hook you and keep you reading a series?
Rachel Seigel is a Sales and Selection Strategist for EduReference Publisher’s Direct Inc. in Ontario. She also maintains a personal blog at http://readingtimbits.blogspot.com and can be found on Twitter as @rachelnseigel.