Author Topic: Is there a limit to series length for readers?  (Read 241 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.
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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
 

angelapepper

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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.
 

angelapepper

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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.
I will not forget one line of this, not one day. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.
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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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