Author Topic: Is there a limit to series length for readers?  (Read 934 times)

The Masked Scrivener

Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« on: January 17, 2020, 01:10:12 AM »
For anyone that has published a series longer than 5 books, have you come across reader fatigue? My first book series was 5 books and the read through was near 100% once they got to book 3. I'm working on a new series that could be 9-12 books, and possibly more depending on how it is received.

Now, as a reader, I've been hesitant to read any series longer than 6 books. This is probably because I like to hear from different authors in my genre, and not for lack of interest in deep stories.

So, what is your thought on this? Have you found success in long epic series or do readers drop off a cliff after book 7?
 

TimothyEllis

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #1 on: January 17, 2020, 01:26:42 AM »
My first series was 13 books long, plus a Christmas story.

It had the normal drop off until book 10, when it dived pretty dramatically. There was a drop at 6, but book 6 was a change in genre from space opera to space detective, and a change of MC. That was 5 years ago though, so you dont see either drop now. Just a normal drop off progression.

Series 2 was 6 books, but again, a change at book 3, and again at book 6, makes this hard to gauge for drop off.

Series 3 was a trilogy and has no noticeable dropoff.

Series 4 is currently 7 books, book 8 is already announced, and nine is in concept, and at the moment, I'm intending to leave it open ended as long as fans keep buying.

Series 5 book 1 is in progress now, and is planned to be 6 books, paralleling series 4.

I think when you write serials like I do, 9 books is probably the limit, before you need to start another series. But having said that, I've changed MC several times in series 4 now, including a book with 2 first person POV not the original MC, and fans loved them. But the series has a definite progression feel, even though being presented by different characters. So I'm going to play it by ear after 9. If 10 flops, I'll start a new series set a few years later.

As far as long epic series, all 5 of mine are in the same universe, in a single timeline over 3100 years, in 2 galaxies. Current WIP is book 30 in this timeline, and my core fans are still telling me to hurry up with the next book.

At the same time, my book 1 just dropped back to the 50k range again, showing I am still picking up new readers.

While long running series/universe are great, you do need to branch out and do something different now and again. Otherwise, you stop picking up new readers.

The danger is you create a core of solid fans, and then stop attracting new ones. So at some point, which to some extent I'm feeling now, having written for fans during 2019, rather than for me as I did in 2018, your sales flatline into what your fans buy, without any real spikes as when you do something completely new.

Not sure any of this helps you though.
Genres: Space Opera/Fantasy/Cyberpunk, with elements of LitRPG and GameLit, with a touch of the Supernatural. Also Spiritual and Games.



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The Masked Scrivener

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2020, 01:56:20 AM »
Thanks for sharing, that is good to hear.

My new series plan is to change MC every three books and it sounds like a more viable idea after hearing how it worked for you. I jokingly call it a trilogy of trilogies, or possibly a quadrilogy of trilogies.
 

cecilia_writer

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2020, 03:55:33 AM »
I have a mystery series that's currently at book 19. I usually have 3 points of view in each book, sometimes rotating round regular characters (in a small town) and giving the more minor ones a say every so often. Each story is a complete mystery but there are some recurring jokes etc. I don't think there's much of a drop-off and I still have a small band of loyal readers but equally, none of the books have been huge bestsellers either.
Cecilia Peartree - Woman of Mystery
 
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ashleycapes

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #4 on: January 17, 2020, 12:35:26 PM »
I'm very curious about this myself, and appreciate everyone's thoughts so far too.

One of my series is nearly at book 8 now and I think the fans are more keen for each book - but the drop-off around 6 is clear I believe. Having said that, some of the 8-book series is comprised of novellas, so they're probably fast to read and maybe don't make folks feel very fatigued?

Part of the problem I face at this point is that I'm still having a heap of fun writing that series, but I don't want to drag it down with an eventual 'dullness' should I run out of good ideas for the character.

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Lynn

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2020, 01:53:47 AM »
The way I gauge the success of a new release in a series is by how many book ones do i sell when the new book comes out. That's all that really matters to me. I mean, I always want the newest book to sell well, but getting people started on the whole series is far more useful long-term! :D
Don't rush me.
 

angela

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2020, 02:35:45 AM »
With my longest series, I see drop-off at every book, but I'm always getting new people in at book 1.

I've had a look at a bunch of series, mine and others', and at this point in indie publishing, my analysis is that one 12-book series is about as financially viable as 4 trilogies or 3 quadrilogies, assuming all sell equally well. A couple of 5-book series, though, would be better.

In real life, nothing is ever equal, but the only reason to quit a series that's doing well would be if you can work on something that will be more popular, and at least 3 books or longer. 

A sweet spot, financially, is 5 books.

Creatively, it depends. Over my series of 11 books, I've only covered a few months in real time, so I can certainly keep going with books of a similar scale, and my characters aren't going to age out anytime soon. Plus I enjoy writing this series, as long as I take a little break every few books to do something else.
« Last Edit: January 18, 2020, 02:37:48 AM by angelapepper »
 
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TimothyEllis

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2020, 02:44:23 AM »
A sweet spot, financially, is 5 books.

Yes, but the expectation is 2 trilogies. So 6 is better, or you leave people feeling a bit short changed.
Genres: Space Opera/Fantasy/Cyberpunk, with elements of LitRPG and GameLit, with a touch of the Supernatural. Also Spiritual and Games.



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dgcasey

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2020, 04:47:31 AM »
I think some of us are conflating "series" with "serial." I think a lot of readers would get tired of a "serial" at around the 4-6 mark, while a series can go on forever as long as the writer keeps coming up with new and different situations for their characters.

Lord of the Rings, is a serial. Jack Reacher is a series. Interworld is a serial. James Bond is a series.

I am writing a series that I hope will go on for dozens of books, in the same vein as Goosebumps. But, I am also finishing up a serial (Wyndweir) and have another, completely different trilogy in the planning stages.
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The Masked Scrivener

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2020, 04:55:50 AM »
I think some of us are conflating "series" with "serial." I think a lot of readers would get tired of a "serial" at around the 4-6 mark, while a series can go on forever as long as the writer keeps coming up with new and different situations for their characters.

Lord of the Rings, is a serial. Jack Reacher is a series. Interworld is a serial. James Bond is a series.

I am writing a series that I hope will go on for dozens of books, in the same vein as Goosebumps. But, I am also finishing up a serial (Wyndweir) and have another, completely different trilogy in the planning stages.

Interesting point. What would you call The Wheel of Time? Is the defining aspect of a serial is that it has an ending, or does it need to be a certain number of books (ie 4-6)?

As a reader I don't think I've used serial, except with the Green Mile by Stephen King. LOTR was a series in my mind. I wonder how many readers use this terminology.
 

angela

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2020, 06:14:52 AM »
A sweet spot, financially, is 5 books.

Yes, but the expectation is 2 trilogies. So 6 is better, or you leave people feeling a bit short changed.

Perhaps in your genre, yes.

I wrote a romance trilogy a few years back, and I think people would have gone for 5 books.

I guess it depends on the whole serial / series type of thing, and how stand-alone the stories are.  With the Bob-iverse books, I enjoyed it as 3 books. Then again, I'm sure if Mr. Taylor  had had a plan for 5 books, it would have been good that way.

The 5-book sweet spot I refer to is financially. It's about the cost to sell the first book, at current advertising rates, and the typical sell-through versus drop-off rates.
 

idontknowyet

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #11 on: January 18, 2020, 06:22:49 AM »
J D Robb is working on book 50...

I really think it depends on your audience and the strengthen of that series.
 

Crystal

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #12 on: January 18, 2020, 06:32:02 AM »
IME 4-6 books is the sweet spot. After that, you start to see drop off on new releases. And you suffer from not having a new, fresh entry point for readers. But it may be worth it if book one sells/responds to advertising very well.
 
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dgcasey

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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #13 on: January 18, 2020, 07:19:21 PM »
Interesting point. What would you call The Wheel of Time? Is the defining aspect of a serial is that it has an ending, or does it need to be a certain number of books (ie 4-6)?

I should think the defining characteristic would be, can I pick up book 4 without reading any other books and still follow the story? I can pick up any volume in the Jack Reacher series and know what's going on. I don't have to start with the first one. Can I pick up book 7 of the Wheel Of Time set and read it without reading the first six and know what's going on? How about Game of Thrones? Or even Harry Potter? I may be able to pick up the fourth Harry Potter book and read it, without going through the first three, and I might find it an enjoyable story, but I will probably be lost on some of the plot points.

Goosebumps is a series that can be read in any order. The Alex Cross novels can be read in any order, but some of the threads do run through all the books. I can read any James Bond novel and I'll be able to get into it.
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Writer

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #14 on: January 18, 2020, 09:45:43 PM »
I start seeing significant enough drop off after book 4 that I don't like to continue beyond book 6. Sometimes I go a little longer as an experiment but I usually regret it, because books 1-4 of a new series generally sell so much better for me than books 7-10 of an old series.

As an example, here's numbers (rounded to the nearest 1k) from some of my older series that've been out long enough for readers to funnel through:

Series #1:

Book 1 - 20,000 sales/borrows
Book 2 - 13,000
Book 3 - 9,000
Book 4 - 9,000
Book 5 - 7,000
Book 6 - 4,000

Series #2:

Book 1 - 17,000 sales/borrows
Book 2 - 9,000
Book 3 - 7,000
Book 4 - 6,000
Book 5 - 5,000
Book 6 - 4,000
Book 7 - 3,000
Book 8 - 2,000

On the other hand, here's one that would've been worth continuing longer (too late now, it was pubbed in a different era). Its later books pulled numbers better than what I could get from early books in a new series, without the extra ad costs that'd come with a new series. Only time that's happened to me, though. All my other series have the opposite problem - continued too long.

Series #3:

Book 1 - free
Book 2 -60,000 sales/borrows
Book 3 - 45,000
Book 4 - 32,000
Book 5 - 25,000
Book 6 - 17,000
 
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UnicornEmily

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #15 on: January 24, 2020, 10:37:05 AM »
I find this topic very interesting.

Here's my experience with series length.

Series 1: 12 books.  Complete.  I see pretty much the same sell-through between books 2 and 3 as I see between books 2 and 12, so the length didn't hurt it.  I planned for it to be 12 books long from the start, and I wrote book 1 to be standaloneable, so I think most people who go on to book 2 do so with the expectation that they'll be reading the whole series.

Series 2: Will be 18 books, and currently has 6.  It was originally going to be 12 books, but the fans love it so much that I decided to commit to it being 18 instead.  Every three books is a satisfying pausing point, so I could stop it at any point after a given three-book mini-arc if I wanted to.  It's my fans' favorite series, though, and I've already bought the cover art for all 18 books, so I'm sure I'll be continuing it.  Sell-through between books 1 and 2 is slightly lower now than when I only had 2 or 3 books in the series, but sell-through between books 2 and 3 and books 2 and 6 is exactly the same.  Anyone who goes on to book 2 seems to want to read all the rest of the series (yay!).

Series 3: Will be 3 books, and currently has 2.  The first book was written as a standalone, but fans wanted more, so I finally wrote the second book in a trilogy that they've been begging for, and I'll be writing the third book this year.  I don't know whether making it a longer series would hurt it or help it, but I know that for creative reasons, I won't be writing a book 4 in this series.  I will instead write a second trilogy that has the same branding but is officially the start of a brand new trilogy, and those two trilogies will be easy to read in either order.

Series 4: Will be 3 books, and currently has 2.  Even though it's a series that a lot of my readers love and say is my best, the sales are weak, so I won't be expanding it past the original arc, which I was tentatively thinking of doing.

Series 5: Will be 5 books, and currently has 1.  I can't say anything yet about sell-through, obviously, but the sales of the first book are good and the fans seem to love it and keep asking for a sequel.  I suspect five books will be optimal for it, from both a storytelling and marketing perspective.

Series 6: Will be 6 books, and currently has 3.  The first three books are a complete arc, and the next three books will be a complete arc with new main characters, so I'm pausing it for the moment in order to work on other series for awhile.  It's not one of my better-selling series, which is why it's not a priority to write the second arc right now, but because I really want to, I will write the second arc when I have time for it.

Series 7: Will be 18 books, and currently has 11.  I saw a lot more sell-through between books 1 and 2 when I had only four or five books in the series, and the difference in sell-through between books 2 and 3 and between books 2 and 11 is about half, so there's a noticeable dropoff in the middle.  Not in any one particular place, but usually somewhere in the vicinity of book 5.  Unlike my other series, this one is a serial with cliffhangers, so I think my readers are more willing to continue a long series that ends in satisfying pausing places than a long serial that has cliffhangers.  (Which is understandable because I would feel the same way.  This story just can't be told in any other structure than the one I'm telling it in.)  On the other hand, this world is SUPER fun to write in, so I have no problem with the fact that I've committed to 18 books.  (Grin.)  There will eventually also be a spinoff trilogy and a companion series set in the same world with brand new characters, but I might use different branding for the companion series to see if that works better.

Series 8: 3 books.  Complete.  I can't say anything about sell-through yet because I'm waiting to release it until I have finished book 1 in a second trilogy that is set in the same world.  I am thinking I will release all four of those books on the same day.

My takeaway from this is that I probably always want to have at least one series of 10+ books going, but it's probably better not to commit to a series being 10+ books unless I'm sure I'll want to write that many regardless of how well it sells.  Most of my planned series after this point are trilogies.

(By the way, hi!  This is my first post here, since I just heard about this forum, but a lot of you probably know me from Kboards.)

 
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Crystal

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #16 on: January 24, 2020, 11:02:09 AM »
I start seeing significant enough drop off after book 4 that I don't like to continue beyond book 6. Sometimes I go a little longer as an experiment but I usually regret it, because books 1-4 of a new series generally sell so much better for me than books 7-10 of an old series.

As an example, here's numbers (rounded to the nearest 1k) from some of my older series that've been out long enough for readers to funnel through:

Series #1:

Book 1 - 20,000 sales/borrows
Book 2 - 13,000
Book 3 - 9,000
Book 4 - 9,000
Book 5 - 7,000
Book 6 - 4,000

Series #2:

Book 1 - 17,000 sales/borrows
Book 2 - 9,000
Book 3 - 7,000
Book 4 - 6,000
Book 5 - 5,000
Book 6 - 4,000
Book 7 - 3,000
Book 8 - 2,000

On the other hand, here's one that would've been worth continuing longer (too late now, it was pubbed in a different era). Its later books pulled numbers better than what I could get from early books in a new series, without the extra ad costs that'd come with a new series. Only time that's happened to me, though. All my other series have the opposite problem - continued too long.

Series #3:

Book 1 - free
Book 2 -60,000 sales/borrows
Book 3 - 45,000
Book 4 - 32,000
Book 5 - 25,000
Book 6 - 17,000

Yes, even with 90% sellthrough between books--which is very good--reader loss adds up over a long series.
 

cuberoute

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2020, 04:12:07 PM »
I wrote a ten-book series and in retrospect seven would have been better. Readthrough was about 90% from book #2 onwards but still losing 10% per book adds up. For every 1000 who complete book 1, only 387 remain at book #10.

Reader fatigue is real, especially if you're telling a long mystery over a series. Readers get tired of being drip-fed the greater plot. Reviews start showing up with "finally we learn more about X".

I put them all in audio too, which was expensive and the same drop-off is there. Then the first book or first boxset becomes incredibly important in terms of reviews and you end up pouring marketing dollars there to get new readers.

A long series can mean you get exhausted by the end. The readers then can be jarred by the new series you put out because you've trained them on only one series.

I've been writing a series recently which I planned for nine books but now I'm thinking seven and one of the reasons is my own investment with the story.

On the financial side of things, long series can not be worth it with the drop off. Sure, a 1000 people bought book #1 but with only 387 on book #10, it's not looking good.

On the good side, a long complete series can be loved by readers. They lose their minds when they discover something they love and it's long and it's complete! People will gorge themselves on your work.

A long series can also make advertising much more valuable because you know each reader is worth $25 in royalties at least or more and spending $4 to acquire a single reader can be very worth it.

Personally I'm glad I wrote a ten-book series. I'd never done that before. I learned a lot about writing long-form series. It made me a better writer. I'll probably never do it again however. Even the nine-book series I've been planning might be better at seven. They end up at nine because that's three box-sets and three arcs across the series. But seven is good, too. Two three-book boxsets and a finale and then I move on.
 
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The Masked Scrivener

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #18 on: January 25, 2020, 12:41:12 AM »
Even with reader drop off is a longer series worth it when you consider a new release, say book 12, will help sell copies of book 1 through 5? Is the time to write and produce a later book worth it for the purpose of promoting the earlier books?
 

okey dokey

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2020, 08:40:04 AM »
Think Nancy Drew.
Over 500 books in 9 series.
Think the Hardy Boys.
Perry Mason
Sherlock Holmes
Etc.
Create likeable memorable characters.
Readers will come.
 
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Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #20 on: January 25, 2020, 10:02:04 AM »
I think readers generally drop off when (a) the stories become boring and/or (b) it becomes too expensive to keep up.  The latter can be out of the author's control but the former is not.

I think too often audience fatigue is blamed when really it is writer fatigue that is the cause.  I've seen this a lot with television shows.  The number of viewers decreases and fan fatigue is blamed when really the blame is on the writing staff who couldn't keep writing compelling stories.  If audience fatigue was a real problem, you would not see some shows go on for years and years and others for a couple seasons.  If audience fatigue was real, then you probably wouldn't see any show continue for more than a set number of years.  Do you ever get bored with compelling stories?  Probably not.  You probably get bored when they start recycling previous stories or rehashing plot threads or going back to the same well over and over again.
 
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Crystal

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #21 on: January 25, 2020, 11:27:10 AM »
I think readers generally drop off when (a) the stories become boring and/or (b) it becomes too expensive to keep up.  The latter can be out of the author's control but the former is not.

I think too often audience fatigue is blamed when really it is writer fatigue that is the cause.  I've seen this a lot with television shows.  The number of viewers decreases and fan fatigue is blamed when really the blame is on the writing staff who couldn't keep writing compelling stories.  If audience fatigue was a real problem, you would not see some shows go on for years and years and others for a couple seasons.  If audience fatigue was real, then you probably wouldn't see any show continue for more than a set number of years.  Do you ever get bored with compelling stories?  Probably not.  You probably get bored when they start recycling previous stories or rehashing plot threads or going back to the same well over and over again.

That's apples and oranges though. TV is kind of a mess these days in terms of profit. But TV shows still make the most money from live viewers, watching ads as the show airs. They make way, way less from a single view of a re-run or a stream.

But putting an old season on Netflix, or DVD, or reruns opens it up to a new audience, that often brings viewers into the new season. That's usually how TV show viewership grows over the years.

I'm not sure if this is true anymore, but it used to be TV shows ONLY made a profit if they got to 100+ episodes, because all the profits came from syndication (shows were pretty break even at release), and they couldn't get syndication at less than 100 episodes. Each play of a syndicated episode was whatever, but with Friends on channel 5 every weekday, at 6 and 7:30... well, that adds up (for example).

Historically, TV has been very hit driven. Now, with streaming... it's murky. What makes a success for Netflix or HBO? How do they decide if a show makes a profit? Who knows.

So... yeah... look at TV if you're going to use a TV strategy of discounting early parts of the series heavily to bring people into the later books. But look at books if you're looking at books.

It is as cuberoute said, even if you have an unheard of 95% sellthrough, you still lose forty percent of your readers between books one and ten. And you're not going to have 95% sellthrough. But each sale of book one is worth more the more books you have. It's a trade off.
 
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idontknowyet

Re: Is there a limit to series length for readers?
« Reply #22 on: January 26, 2020, 02:19:52 AM »
All of this is assuming that book 1 in your series will sell more than the last book. That isn't always the case. I guess you could all it a hobby of mine to watch romance authors and how their careers are progressing.

There is one author I can name that the first book in her series was in the 5k-10k range. Now the  books in her series spend the first week of their release in the top 100. I believe she is over 15 now in her series. She is doing  spin off series as well which are doing very well.