Series Connectivity: Umbrella Scenarios vs. Unified Narratives
If you’ve decided that you want to turn fiction writing into a career or a profitable side gig, you’ll soon find that you need to make a number of decisions about your author business. You’re not just in it for yourself anymore. Now you need to write something other people will easily find and fall in love with, and something that will pay out economically.
You’ve probably heard people say that series are better than standalone books. Like any self-publishing truth, this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone—but it’s usually a good idea if you want to maximize earnings on your books.
A reader who falls in love with one book in a series will go back and by the others, and readers who have a clear “next step” labeled are more likely to follow through with it instead of going back to your competition. But enough about that. What should your series look like, and is there any right or wrong way to write a series?
There are different ways to evaluate the styles of popular book series out there, but I've chosen one of the more distinct paths: connectivity between books.
Series Connectivity: Two Styles
When designing a series, one of the key elements to consider is the series connectivity.
This goes a lot deeper than cliffhanger vs. no cliffhanger. Some series will move book-to-book in a coherent narrative. Others are much more standalone, all installments taking place in the same setting or under the same conditions. Most series fall in between the two extremes, but knowing how to navigate and understand the pros and cons of each will help you make better decisions for yourself and your writing.
Umbrella scenario vs. unified narrative: Differences, pros and cons
Umbrella scenario series take place in the same universe, but each new book features different characters. Every book will explore the setting in a slightly different light and feature different characters in similar circumstances as the series progresses. These series don't necessarily have or need cliffhangers because each book can technically stand on its own.
This is seen mostly in the romance genre, as every book can focus on a new couple, but can happen in very different romantic subgenres, as explored in the examples below.
Pros: Readers can jump in anywhere, the series can be expanded with more characters, and each story is “complete” in itself.
Cons: The repetitive storylines can give fatigue or burnout, cliffhangers are hard to pull off, and more groundwork is required to continuously invent new characters while keeping track of old storylines for continuity.
Examples: Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon, Love Across The Lake by Everlee Whitman, The Wildsong Series by Tricia O'Malley.
Unified narrative series focus on one character or group of characters encountering different adventures in each book.
These books often follow one continuous story as it builds and winds for any number of books. While it is certainly possible for a romance series to follow a single couple down a unified path, this is seen more often in non-romance genres.
Pros: Cliffhangers make it easy to suck readers into new books, these books have less groundwork due to one lengthened story, and you have the ability to try out different plots and pursue different ideas in the same series.
Cons: Readers might not like the incompleteness of each book, planning the series as a whole can be difficult, and there’s additional pressure on the first book to be spectacular.
Examples: USS Hamilton by Mark Wayne McGinnes, Jake Noble by Wiliam Miller, Death before Dragons by Lindsay Buroker.
Keep in mind that a lot of series blend the two. It’s possible to have an overarching plot that focuses on different characters per book or have a continuous series in which the books are typically still stand-alone. Again, no hard rules here!
The Determining Factors:
There are several core determining factors about which type of series you should write.
First, your genre. Cozy mystery will usually stick to the same characters solving different plots, but alien romance hops to a different couple with every new book. Check out a few series in your genre and read through one or two books to learn what the expected style is. As a rule, romance series will pick a different couple to focus on per book, and
Second, you. If you’re overly attached to your main characters and would get burnt out deciding on a new set of characters for every new book, you should stick with something you can maintain. Likewise, if you feel more comfortable with standalone plots, that could be a good way to start.
Just remember that your readers will also have expectations when they find your books, and if you’re going too far off the beaten path, you’ll run the risk of disappointing fans who wanted something more traditional.
How do you structure your series? Share your strategies in the comments section below. If this article helped you, please let me know by buying me a coffee through the button below.