Series – a winning strategy

Three authors offer their advice on writing a series as an important element of success for self-published authors.

Some time ago, I wrote a post titled Writing a Series – Backwards. In it, I featured three of my novels, Unravelled, Lies Told In Silence, and Paris In Ruins and how I had written the second and third because readers wanted to know the backstory for certain characters. Those requests prompted the creative juices to flow.

After the 2021 HNS North America conference, and inspired by a session on writing a series, I reached out to a few authors for advice. M. Louisa Locke, Jane Steen, and Derek Birks were most generous with their time. I’ve pulled together a few tips from those conversations. You will notice that most of these tips focus on selling and promoting your books.

  • To write a successful series, you need to be clear on its overall story arc. More on this later.
  • Writing a series is one of the best ways of promoting your books because any marketing you do spreads across the series rather than one novel.
  • Once you have several books in the series, put your marketing dollars on the first and latest books. For example, discount the first, market the latest and secure sell-through on the other books.
  • Create ‘boxed sets’ to give readers a bargain and sell more books.
  • For cover design, create a consistent look to reinforce the series concept.
Consistent cover design helps sell a series.
  • Consider ‘permanent-free’ on the first book in your series.
  • Apply for a BookBub promotion on the first book in your series. Leads to follow through sales on subsequent novels, as long as those novels are already available.
  • Write blog posts and other articles about the time period of your series.
Author Jane Steen adds insights on the gilded age.
  • Free novellas like a short-story prequel can be a good way to bring readers to your series.
  • The best way to sell books is to release another book.

Because another project has taken over my time, I have yet to put these ideas into action. However, the end of the year is looking like an opportune time to do some serious planning.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website

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3 Responses

  1. HI, I’ve enjoyed your articles for a few years now. Always helpful! I wondered if you could tell me the overall consistency of the covers of your books. As you said, perhaps you didn’t know to plan for that, but I’m wanting to understand what it is, that I DO see consistent…it’s something like the saturation or the hue of the colors that looks antique. Not sure, that’s why I’m asking.
    Also, I have a designer for Book one who will not be designing for my other 3 books in the series. Do you see that as a future problem? Thanks

    1. Hi Ruby – thanks for stopping by. I may have explained in an earlier post that I wrote my novels without having a series in mind. That meant that each cover was designed for a particular story. For Unravelled, the designer proposed several women and I chose the one we ended up with because I loved the red dress and the way she was standing at a window. The dress and hat suggest a time period around 1930s/1940s which was appropriate. The designer added the backdrop of letters and postcards that also signify a certain time period and that connect with the letters that feature in the story.

      For Lies Told In Silence, I asked the cover designer to use the photo of my grandfather who fought in WWI. We worked with various backgrounds until I sent her a photo I’d taken on a trip to France that was well suited to the story’s setting. Like Unravelled, this one also has a sort of faded look to the overall image. With the soldier on front, there is no doubt that the story will feature war.

      Time and Regret was published by Lake Union. They chose the woman in red and also chose to echo the colouring of Unravelled. Once again, the reader knows that this will be a story of war and again there is a muted sort of background. I think Lake Union liked the idea of echoing a look from Unravelled.

      For Paris In Ruins, I went back to the original cover designer. At first I asked for a cover that didn’t show a woman’s back (or in this case two women). However, the images we came up with didn’t work, so the designer ended up proposing the beautiful arch and positioned the two women – with two distinctly coloured dresses – looking out over the city. The rather gloomy colours were intended to suggest a story involving conflict and loss.

      I wasn’t planning on writing a series or I might have been more deliberate about choosing a consistent look for the three connected stories. The designer also created consistency with font styles for the titles and for my author name.

      For The Admiral’s Wife, I worked with a different designer. The setting is Hong Kong which is demonstrated by the panorama of Hong Kong’s skyline, the red junk sailing in the harbour and the curling motifs un each corner. The designer found the woman in the black dress with the pearls going down her back – and I loved it! I think she suggests elegance and wealth which are relevant to the story.

      In your case, I think you can give your next designer directions on the look you want to have for your subsequent covers so that they tie together. Hope that helps.

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