Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A How To: Writing a Successful Long-Running Series

Over the past few weeks, I've been collecting together an archive of all those series of books that I own at least part of and I was truly astonished by how long-running some of these series appear to be - with absolutely no sign of quitting any time soon.

I firmly believed that long series were the province of urban fantasy/paranormal romance (however you want to term it at the moment!) Indeed, a fair number of these long-running series come from the pens of authors such as MaryJanice Davidson, Christine Feehan and Laurell K Hamilton. But I did notice that historical fantasy is also one for going on at length at times; crime can outstay its welcome - and, of course, in the fantasy arena we've seen some of the longest series by far if you classify by wordcount *grin*

In a recent blog post I dealt with the Law of Diminishing Returns. So today I thought I would highlight some of the long series that I think could continue for a longer period and tell you why.

Horus Heresy

This series of novels by the Black Library details the arc of story dealing for Horus' fall and the turn to chaos. I think that this series succeeds on many levels. One is the fact that different authors have been invited to write within the series, which instantly lends different characters and voices to the books being released. Another factor is the extraordinarily rich Warhammer 40k background being utilised - there are many factions, aliens, planets etc that can all be explored. Although the series is working on a large story, individual novels within the series take a microcosm of the whole situation and tell the story of individual battles, or famous characters. Two of the novels in the series - A Thousand Sons and Prospero Burns - looked at the same conflict from both sides. All of this ensures an incredibly fresh feel to each novel.


Now, apart from the fact that Terry Pratchett is a remarkably clever and witty author, I think that part of the success of this massive series stems from the fact that there are series within series. If you like the City Watch, you can confine yourself to them. Prefer Death? Just read books like Reaper Man and Hogfather. There are also standalone novels where you can get a taste for the Discworld without fully investing, such as Pyramids. Younger readers can now embark on their Discworld journey by tackling the Tiffany Aching books. As a consequence, Sir TP is more popular and beloved than ever.

Women of the Otherworld

Kelley Armstrong's series is one of those rare urban fantasy series that somehow manages to retain interest over what is now twelve novels - the reason behind this is that Armstrong uses different narrators within her world. One of the most famous is the werewolf Elena, who we were introduced to in the first two books Bitten and Stolen. After that, Elena hovers in the periphery as other women tell their tale. Characters intersect the stories of others. We see the perspective of different supernatural beings - werewolves, witches, ghosts, vampires. Armstrong is incredibly good at writing from the point of view of very different characters, so, although it is one series, it can feel like individual novels.

Shadows of the Apt

Empire in Black and Gold was published in the latter half of 2008. In the last two and a bit years we've had a further five books, with another due later this year. That kind of ferocious pace is very appealing to a person who jumps on board a series - no interminable wait between novels. Add to that some incredibly nifty cover work and a unique premise in a fantasy field that is glutted with traditional tropes, and it adds up to a feeling of great warmth from readers for Adrian Tchaikovsky's work.

Newford series

The Newford series by Charles de Lint has stretched to 23 books so far and shows no sign of ending. The secret to the success of this series of novels is that the setting is the only linking point - the city of Newford. Some characters drift in and out of each other's tales, but you could honestly pick up any of these novels, at any point in the series, and enjoy them thoroughly. This sort of inclusiveness is incredibly effective when it comes to writing a long series.

Dresden Files

It's all about the quality, this one! Although Jim Butcher has one protagonist, and a world and background that requires you to read from book one in a linear fashion, the high quality retained throughout the whole of the series is what keeps readers coming back. The pulpy nature of the story, the short novels - we're talking compulsive and addictive.

Let's hear from you! Which long series do you still read compulsively? Why do you think they are so successful? How do you feel about embarking on a series that seems endless? Have some series already outstayed their welcome, yet the author keeps writing more?


  1. Which one do I read compulsively? Mercedes Lackey's "Valdemar" series. I'm still in the middle of the reread of all those books for my blog, and I've got the newest one, and another one's set to come out later this year, and I just can't stop! Those books are like an addiction to me, and I love every moment of them.

  2. I love Katherine Kerr's Deverry series and Janny Wurts' The Wars of Light and Shadows which I think is almost ending but maybe not:) Also Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's vampiric Count St. Germain series seems to go on and on as well, but I've only read a couple of those.

  3. I'm a big Dresden Files fan, though it does feel like he keeps trying to up the ante. It would be nice to have an interlude case that relies more on tricky than on ever bigger epic showdowns.

    The Ring of Fire world helmed by Eric Flint is another interesting one, though the shine has worn off for me. Kept going by a dedicated community and numerous writers, but that same diffusion has lessened the impact and quality for me.

  4. I tend to be very averse to starting big long series. It's really a daunting task. But then, it also doesn't hurt to try the first volume, see if you like it, then you'll know you have plenty of great reads ahead of you.

    I'm only a couple into Dresden and Discworld but love both and will continue reading. I started Book 1 of the Honor Harrington series and now I'm on the fence as to whether I'll continue reading because I just thought it was okay.

    I still need to start reading Shadows of the Apt and Horus Heresy.

  5. I started Shadows of the Apt last fall and flew through the first four books, I can't wait for the next books to come out. I am really impressed how Dresden Files unfolded, I think I like the series as I get further into it. He slowly introduced different aspects of his world and set it up before setting up the big plot arc.

  6. Oh I'm with Ria, I read all the Valdemar books too.

    I used to read Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware series too, but I think I'm about four books behind on that now, though that is crime. Oh and I still need to get Jacqueline Carey's Naamah books!

  7. love dresden files just one of the best urban fantasy novels there is i can't wait for the last book...