In this post, I’ll look into the options regarding timing the release of individual books in a series, trying to combine a writer’s and a reader’s insight.
For those writing a standalone book, deciding when to release it is probably easier. If you know from the start your story will take several books, you will face a difficult question: how to time the release of individual books. As I’ve learned during my journey, this is not only about release. Not at all. Your approach to working on the series as a whole will be affected by this.
I see three main scenarios – pretty much two edge cases and a middle ground between them.
Natural one-by-one release
This approach is very simple – and one I’ve originally planned to use. It means writing the first book, releasing it, and only then moving to start your work on the next book. There will be minimal to no overlaps for actual writing, though working on concept/timeline/outline might well be in progress before.
The advantage is working on one book at a time and thus lower risk of dividing your time between several projects (or several parts of a single project, depending on how you see it).
The main disadvantages are two. The first touches mostly longer books (and is the reason why I left this idea): there will be long breaks between the books – and it’s inevitable that reader’s inteest in the sequel will wane with time. At some point, the wait might be too long for people to remember you and your story when the sequel comes out. I don’t know where the line is but I estimate it somewhere around one year. Renewing reader’s interest will take additional time and money (throwin into marketing).
The second major disadvantage is the inability to ‘retcon’ the already-published installments due to shifts in character development and thus missing on the opportunity to give deeper hints – unless you have 100% of the story planned ahead and revised to a detail that major changes are extremely unlikely. It’ll put barriers on how the story can progress due to continuity.
There is another factor (possibly a third disadvantage): should your launch be way worse than you imagined, it might reinforce writer’s doubts and possibly send the writer towards the pile of unfinished stories if the doubts gets strong enough to abandon the project.
Delayed debut one-by-one release
This schedule means delaying the release of the first book until you have a good part of the whole story at least roughly drafted. By the time the debut is released, the next book should be well in work (preferably close to beta stage) and thus shorten the gap between the individual books.
The mentioned disadvantage of the previous approach turns into an advantage here: the gaps between individual books should be short enough to lower the leech of potential readers (unless you’re a miracle, there will be readers who won’t resume your story, for whatever reason). You also gain some maneuverability for returning to older passages and revising them while knowing the larger (if not whole) picture and better chances when it comes to dropping hints (foreshadowing).
The disadvantage is that your debut will reach the readers later. With millions of books published each year, the pile of potential reads grows at incredible speed and every day your book is not released might make it harder for readers to find you.
In other words, it might not be wise to delay it too much and the ‘safest’ moment might be when you have early drafts for the next two books done, which should give you some breathing space should your writing fall behind.
Delayed rapid release
This approach means waiting with the first book in series until the whole series is complete or at least beta-ready. It’s the polar opposite of the first case. You fully develop the story (including several self-made edit passes and at least one beta pass on the first books) by the time you prepare the release.
The advantages are several: you can plan the release of the whole series – and your readers will know exactly the schedule and estimated length. There will be no long waiting for the sequel if the books are released a few weeks from each other and might allow readers to seamlessly progress with the story. It could also be possible to multi-hit the marketing by focusing on the series as whole but I am speculating on this and it might be worth deeper research should you consider this option.
You’ll also have the whole picture by the time the first books is getting closer to release. Foreshadowing and continuity should be easier to pull off both forward and backward. And, once you release the first book, it’ll be close to impossible to back off from releasing the rest of the series.
The main disadvantage is same as in the previous case, only much stronger. You’re holding your cards in hand until the very end and, during that time, others might gain momentum. Whether ot not you believe that writing is you against yourself and not the other readers in style of “there are many stories like this one, but this one is mine”, time is not infinite. Each reader has a limit of how many books he/she can read in a timeframe. For some, it’s one per month. For me, it’s 25-30 per year. For some it might be one per week. Either way, your books will compete for that time. Having earlier momentum from potential ratings/reviews by not delaying the release too much should be considered: is this tradeoff worth it for you?
I hope this look into release timing was helpful. While I’ve based much of it based on my reader-side experience, I have given it thought with regards to the looming release of my own series. I will welcome your comments and insights.