How Do I Choose the Length of My Series?

Cover Art by Alison Hunt

So, I was asked how I chose the length for my series.  With War of Nytefall: Savagery being the 6th volume, I felt now was as good a time as any to explain.  Then again, there isn’t any science behind this.  As much as I organize and plan my series, I don’t really set out saying ‘it will be this long’.  The reason for that is because the plots are grand adventures that can be somewhat open-ended.  Characters drive the action, so they can always create a new volume if I see now.  So, the process goes something like this:

  1. Come up with series and write down characters.
  2. Decide on the length of series.
  3. Start character bios and realize I can add more books.
  4. Begin outlining of books.
  5. Toss a few since they don’t work.
  6. Add another because I had a cool idea.
  7. Rearrange order and junk a few.
  8. Bring them back because it was right the first time.
  9. Write the first book.
  10. Keep going.
  11. Why did the characters do that?
  12. Add a fresh volume to handle new idea.
  13. Give stern warning to future volumes that they need to behave.
  14. Eliminate one as an example . . . secretly keep them in a separate folder and bring back at last minute.
  15. Keep going.
  16. End and act like it was a smooth process while you’re shrieking on the inside.
  17. Turn jettisoned book ideas into spin-offs or cannibalize for other series.

Not the cleanest or simplest path, but that’s how it tends to happen.  War of Nytefall has gone from a trilogy to 12 books to 4 books to limbo to 7 books and finally ending on 8 books.  Legends of Windemere was similar going from 10 to 12 to 14 to 12 to 14 and ending on 15.  This is what can happen with long series.  You may find that a subplot or an unexpected pathway opens up a new volume.  This shouldn’t be forced, but it’s always a possibility.  Honestly, I see this as part of the adventure for an author.  You need to be flexible at various levels and allowing for an extra volume to appear means that you won’t strangle your story for the sake of a rigid plan.  If you can play it off as a spin-off then that’s fine, but you never know if a surprise storyline will appear.

So, how do other authors choose their series lengths?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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8 Responses to How Do I Choose the Length of My Series?

  1. I like it, Charles. It’s an honest representation of how this stuff happens. One of mine was fairly simple. I wanted to write a classic trilogy, and that set the end zones. The other one will go on as long as it entertains me, hopefully, others will enjoy the ride.

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  2. So I haven’t done a series so I don’t have experience. I enjoyed your process. Sounds like some of the same for my individual books.

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  3. L. Marie says:

    I am finally getting back to blog reading. It’s been a busy week with a project!

    I enjoyed reading your process and how the book numbers evolved as you got into the writing. I have only had two published series. For one, I proposed two books based on two characters (each starring in her own book) but it wound up being a four-book series based on three characters. For another, my co-author and I proposed one book and wound up writing three. So I can’t say I had total say over the number of books in either case. Even the number of books in a series I’m auditioning to ghostwrite is not my choice. That series is already 11 books long.

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