Wanna Be a Paperback Writer? The Scoop on Writing Series Books

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From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Why am I writing a series? It’s dead simple. Because my agent wants me to.

Why does she want me to?  Here goes:


First and foremost:  Money.  Publishers love to market a good series because (hopefully) there is an audience built in from the first book.  The branding is established.  People who bought the first book will buy the second (assuming they liked the first.)  And in years to come, people who buy the new release at a festival or launch will hopefully go back and pick up the backlist. (I made a lot of my income from readers picking up my backlist.)

Readers get attached to the characters and want to be with them again for another adventure.  And writers?  Well, I adore revisiting the characters I came to love in the first book.  Sometimes, it’s like they’ve become my friends, welcoming me back to their worlds with open arms.  At times, I can’t believe they aren’t real. 

. . . .

You’ve heard writers declare that characters will sometimes take over a book and tell their own story.  True, some characters are the bane of my existence, ungrateful whiny creatures who permeate my brain and insist that I tell their stories rather than move on to new projects.  So before you decide to write series, make sure you like your characters enough to live another twelve round with them.


Let me put it this way.  Some genres lend themselves to series better than others.  Literary does not tend to be a genre for series books, for instance.  (Note my point on character arc below.) Where we do tend to find series books is in Mystery, Romance and Fantasy/Sci-fi.

Let’s look at those genres specifically.


Series in Mystery and Romance are different from series in Fantasy Sci-fi, because of the rules of the genres.

In Romance, there must be a HEA (happy ever after.)  The book must end with the story of the couple getting together romantically.  However, you can write a story about their friends…secondary characters who come forward to have their own stories.  (This is common in Paranormal Romance.  A vampire series may feature a clan of vampires, each of whom finds their own love in successive books.)

In Mystery, the crime must be wrapped up at the end of the book.  BUT, you can have the amateur detective or PI or same group of cops go on to solve more crimes in future books.

Example: Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple.  Sherlock Holmes.

Big plus in Mystery:  Series books lend themselves to television series! (Especially in Britain, the lucky ducks.) And you don’t need me to tell you that’s where the money is.

That takes care of Mystery.  But what about Thrillers?

For that, we need to go back to the differences between Mysteries and Thrillers.  Here’s a definition commonly used:

Mystery fiction is a puzzle story

It starts with a murder (or crime) and emphasizes the solving of the crime. The protagonist’s job is to discover who committed the crime and why.  The reader and the detective both receive the same information at the same time (anything else is not playing fair.)

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

17 thoughts on “Wanna Be a Paperback Writer? The Scoop on Writing Series Books”

  1. HA! Once again I was pulled in to a post by the title, and it’s not what I thought it was.

    I want to be able to Indy publish “mass market paperbacks[1]”. They are the perfect size for a novel, and they fit the bookshelves I built decades ago to hold them.

    The Espresso printer would waste way too much paper to make them cost effective.

    The Espresso Book Machine

    The letter size paper can easily fit two mass market books, but there seems to be no way to cut and cover the books. Glug!

    [1]The Beatles – Paperback Writer

    • Love a Beatles-inspired title. I’ve always wondered about two lines in that song.

      “It’s a dirty story of a dirty man” …is that use of dirty a British-ism I’m not familiar with?

      “It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few” …so, epic fantasy?

      • “Dirty story” probably refers to the genre of “adult” paperbacks that were popular in the 40’s and 50’s.

        As the pulp magazines faded (quite a few of which mined this territory) a lot of those publishers moved to paperbacks. The same for some of the comics publishers that made it to comic book scare days only to be put out of that business by Wertham.

        A lot of mainstream pulp and genre writers of the day (including some prominent names) supplemented their income in that market, under pseudonyms, of course.

        The category didn’t last much into the 60’s since color magazine publishing had improved to the point Hefner and Guccione’s magazines–especially the “letter pages” of the latter –killed their market. 😉

        That’s the US side, anyway.
        The UK side might be different but given the Beatles formative years that is probably what “dirty story of a dirty man” hints at.

  2. Further in the OP: … However, it’s easy to see that Thrillers don’t lend themselves to series as easily. If a Thriller is about a character in jeopardy, then it could be stretching the imagination to have the same in character in jeopardy over and over again. Usually, Thrillers are standalone novels.

    Tell that to Lee Child and Jack Reacher.

    • I have a different understanding of thrillers: I thought time was the key element. As she said, the crime hasn’t happened yet, but it’s going to, so you have to stop it from happening.

      Didn’t 24 work that way? Jack would know terrorists did a thing, and were going to do a thing, but he had to find out what exactly they meant to do, and where, and who, etc.?

      I haven’t watched Reacher yet (nor have I read the books), but I see no reason thrillers can’t be a series if they’re built around a character who is meant to stop bad things from happening before they happen. Working the Counter Terrorism Unit was Jack’s job, so it would make sense if he always had to do that job.

      With a thriller series what would change from book to book would be the stakes, the bad guy’s intentions, who is involved, etc. Pulp writer Lester Dent advised that for each story:


      No reason those suggestions can’t apply specifically for a thriller series.

      • Well, if you haven’t read any Lee Child, what good are you? ;-)))))

        Seriously, Time can certainly be a Thriller element, but it doesn’t have to be. As someone wrote: “In a Mystery, the hero has a mission to find the killer. In a Thriller, the hero has a mission to foil evil.”

        So, in a Thriller series, you just change the evil. With Reacher, he hobos around to different places and battles different bad guys. In the current Jack Reacher TV series, what bugs me is that the hobo hero (actor Alan Ritchson) clearly spends hours a day in the gym to get that bodybuilder physique. Something hobos are not prone to do.

        • We only see him sporadically when he’s active.
          We don’t get to see him when be goes back to his orbiting lair to regenerate between missions. 😉

          (Reacher may call himself a hobo but he isn ‘t. He has a steady income and lives frugally so he gets to travel, meet interesting people, and kill them in clever ways. He’s really a modern HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER.)

          Actually, my favorite writer of thrillers remains Alistair MacLean. He pretty much gave form to the modern thriller. I have yet to see anybody actually inventing anything radically different. Everybody from Rambo to John McClane to Reacher is a reflection of his tough guys, mostly GOLDEN RENDEZVOUS’s John Carter. (Who I always figured was ERB’s John Carter slumming back on Earth.) A seemingly ordinary guy caught in some evil plot who is anything but ordinary.

          Fact is, most tough guy action heroes are just plainclothes superheroes. Change Jack Reacher’s name to Bruce Wayne or Oliver Queen and batarangs or arrows to guns and you’re home free.

          • The recent movie, the one with the big guy, indicated he had a retired military pension. It was mentioned that he was a major at the time of some event, but we don’t know his final rank.

            • We can have some fun there.

              Typical age for a Major is around 40, which happens to be Ritchman’s age. He probably retired shortly after his “incident” because cleared or not, brilliant record or not, he wasn’t making Lt. Colonel with that loose cannon mark on his record.

              Max pay for a Major runs around $8800 a month, which adds up to $105,000 a year. Given his “heroic” record to tbat point that’s a safe bet. The 4 years at West Point don’t count towards retirement so he likely left with 20 years or so which makes his age at least 42. His pension would be around 50% or $53,000 a year. Don’t think he lasted 25 years but if he’s pushing 50 his pension would be $66K or higher. Plus whatever savings he stashed away during his career. Given his marital status and lifestyle that can anywhere between $200-500K.

              (The Army changed retirement rules in recent times but since the books predate the changes one can use the old rules. That might reduce his base pension by 20% but add in a portion based on his savings. Might be a wash. Lowest estimate would be about $42K.)

              Regardless, this drifter ain’t poor. 😉

      • Thrillers *are* pulps, modernized.
        Mostly by grounding them closer to reality. (Just a bit.)
        Where Doc Savage or The Shadow rarely broke a sweat, John McClane and his brethren get cuts, through-and-throughs, and bleed just enough to look cool. Like James T. Kirk’s shirt.

        As for thriller series, Mack Boland, Remo Williams, and the more recent Bonds are all examples of how the old formula works indefinitely. Right up to the misogynistic aspects. 😉

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