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I'm an aspiring author. Though I am fairly certain of the answer to the question below, I figured I would make sure, or at least collect opinions, since I have not 'been there.'

My question is this: In the event that you are writing a series, is there a disadvantageous number of books you can publish in that series?

Some series are trilogies. Some contain seven books, some four, some five, and some just seem to go on with no end. Is there a disadvantageous number of books you can have in a series? And if so, why?

Thanks in advance.

P.S. I am aware that it can be a bad idea to write more books in a series simply because the first book was successful. This question is aimed more at planned series.

  • I am not sure that this question fits the format here as you are asking people to provide their opinion on a subject. Delivering a series strikes me as neither inherently good nor bad as a story can be a success or failure either way. – James Oct 8 '14 at 18:03
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    I assume that if there are many books in a series, the author is trying to milk the audience and generally the work will get progressively worse. There are very few series that I can think of that were equally good or even better all the way through. – Kit Z. Fox Oct 8 '14 at 18:05
  • @ James Hmm, good point. I guess the question is a bit opinionated. Should I just delete it, or can I somehow make it answered? – Thomas Myron Oct 8 '14 at 19:22
  • @KitFox The Belgariad and the Malloreon (5 each). Harry Potter (7). CJ Cherryh's Foreigner series (15 and counting). CE Murphy's Walker Papers (10). Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series (10ish). Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope mysteries (4 and counting). Shall I go on? – Lauren Ipsum Oct 8 '14 at 21:24
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    @KitZ.Fox It really depends, if the series is not planned and the author just keeps writing, I agree it feels like milking. But in planned series like Harry Potter, it seems to work quite well. – Xandar The Zenon Apr 16 '16 at 20:29
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The number of books in the series is irrelevant. What matters is whether you still have story to tell.

JK Rowling planned the Potter series to have seven books; Harry's arc is finished. GRRMartin originally planned for four, but he's got so much to say that he's expanded to at least seven (and eight wouldn't surprise me if he lives that long). David Eddings's Belgariad was written as three books, but the publisher broke it somewhat arbitrarily into five. CE Murphy's Walker Papers needed 10 books and a novella to complete Joanne's story.

Conversely, I thought Carol Berg's Transformation was a perfect standalone, and I disliked the second and third in the rai-kirah trilogy. I thought the concepts introduced were boring and obscure, and didn't add anything.

So it doesn't matter how many books are in the series. It matters whether the characters still have interesting things to do, and whether we care about them doing those things. That can take one book or twenty.

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    A longer series can be at a market disadvantage if there is an expectation that earlier books have been read (even if that is just perception) since it discourages readers from jumping in late. Writing a good standalone book in a series without depending on prior knowledge (so newcomers will enjoy it) yet rewarding familiarity with the setting/characters (for the fans) and not spoiling earlier works, such is more challenging than just writing a good book. However, the benefits to the reader can also be greater for a longer series. – Paul A. Clayton Oct 8 '14 at 23:41
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    Also, if one defines series more by setting than by characters, it can be difficult to exhaust the interesting possibilities of the setting. It is perhaps more likely that the tone of the series will become tiresome to the writer or another setting is a better fit for the stories that the writer wishes to tell than that the setting has been drained of interesting material. – Paul A. Clayton Oct 8 '14 at 23:41
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It seems to me that there are two numbers that I would avoid: 1 and 2.

There are duologies, but they are rare. I don't remember ever having encountered one personally. To me a two volume series feels like neither fish nor fowl. It is not a finished, rounded whole like a single-volume novel, nor does it have the appeal to live in an alternate universe for a significant stretch of time. A duology is like an aborted holiday, where someone got sick or you had to take care of a threat to your business. Certainly there are great things to be done with two volumes (lovers of symmetries as well as black and white thinkers will have great ideas, I'm sure), but the sense of incompleteness remains for me.

So what about the one volume series? That's the series that did not sell, or that sold its second volume to a publishing house that went brankrupt, or that the author did not have the stamina to see through. Some of the best books I have read are of this kind, but as an author I would avoid this.

  • The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through by Stephen Donaldson and the Vows and Honor Duology from Mercedes Lackey are both excellent. They are each a self-contained pair (although Lackey's is part of her entire Heralds universe, so it fits in with like 25 other books). – Lauren Ipsum Oct 9 '14 at 10:15
  • Dang, I even had Donaldson's books on my shelf for years, but despite several attempts at reading them I could never finish that series. But that wasn't due to it being two volumes, I admit, rather the story or writing put me off somehow. – user5645 Oct 9 '14 at 10:50

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