March 24, 2022

On Finishing a Series with your Readers in Mind

Heather Day Gilbert

I've concluded a couple of my series at this point in my author career, and I've found that each final book presents its own challenges. On March 14, 2022, I'll be winding up my bestselling A Murder in the Mountains Christian mystery series with Book 4, False Pretense.

It's a delightful—yet somewhat daunting—experience to have readers contact you, asking when the next book in a series will release, and my readers have been actively asking about A Murder in the Mountains' finale since Book 3 released in 2017.

Readers play a critical role in my all of my indie (independently published) series. In the case of False Pretense, I sent out a couple of polls and my readers actually helped me choose the best title for it.

I think there are other ways authors can seek to please their readerships when winding up a series. If you're an author coming up on your grand finale book, here are some ideas to keep in mind:

1. Bring in readers' favorite characters for a final goodbye.

A good series will make us feel close to the characters—including the side characters. Think of Hastings in Agatha Christie's Poirot books, or Reepicheep the mouse in The Chronicles of Narnia. We need to see how their stories end, too.

For instance, each book in my Hemlock Creek Suspense series followed the romance of a sibling in the McClure family. In the final book, Deadlocked, I wound up both sisters' trajectories (married, jobs, etc.), as well as steering the brother into his happily-ever-after relationship.

In False Pretense, I'll be pulling in all my readers' favorite side characters. For instance, I'll show what happened with the boy my main character was fostering at the end of Book 3, and I'll also reveal the highly anticipated backstory of a tall and extremely mysterious German character who has appeared in every book.

2. Work in feedback from reviews and make the last book stronger than all the rest.

Book 1 in my Murder in the Mountains series, Miranda Warning, was published in 2014, and at this point, it has 898 reviews on Amazon.

I've read every single one.

Of course, as you would expect, some are simply from haters who will never pick up another of my books, but many of the well-reasoned ones have given me a clue as to things I can strengthen in following books in the series.

For instance, I don't do a villain's point of view at the start of chapters anymore, since several readers found that confusing in Book 1. For False Pretense, we stay solidly in my main character's head.

My readers also appreciate that my main character (Tess Spencer) has a great relationship with her in-laws next door and that she's in a healthy marriage. Both of these family aspects will be heavily featured in Book 4.

3. By this point, your characters feel real to you because you've spent so much time with them. It's the same for your readers, so make sure you get the details right.

Many authors keep spreadsheets or notebooks with details on all the characters in a series (often called a "series bible"). For instance, what color hair/eyes does each character have? How old are they? What's their favorite restaurant, book, or song? What is their MBTI personality type, etc.?

Before starting my latest Barks & Beans Cafe cozy mystery series (with ten books planned in the series), I took a tip from mystery author Tonya Kappes. She buys a black address book and uses it to organize details on the characters from her series by name.

This made a lot of sense to me since I'm not great with spreadsheets—I'm one of those old-school authors who uses a physical calendar instead of my phone calendar. So, it made sense to have a physical "little black book" with all the details I've included in the series. Otherwise, I'd have to go back and search my previous files for the specifics with each new book I write.

But no worries if you're on your final book and you didn't keep a series bible. Just be sure to go in check that the details from previous books match up with your latest. It'll take time, but it's well worth it. Trust me, your loyal readers will notice if someone suddenly jumped up a few years in age or if their hazel eyes switched to bright blue.

4. Set up a preorder and get buzz going early for your final book—at least three months in advance, if possible.

I love being able to tell readers the final book they've been waiting for is coming out, and I'll link them directly to a preorder page on Amazon (which includes the book blurb and finalized book cover), or at the very least, I'll link to the book on Goodreads (which doesn't have to have the cover, just the blurb). I make sure the upcoming release is something my readers can share with friends and order early, if they use Kindle. I also drop the cover art to my newsletter readers as soon as it's finalized, and I often share a teaser excerpt to my newsletter readers pre-publication, as well. This is also a great time to share graphics featuring author endorsements you've received for your upcoming release on all your social media outlets.

5. Once the book is out, don't look back. Keep moving forward with your next series.

Let's say that final book doesn't bring in the 5-star reviews or the income you'd hoped for. You can't waste time looking back and wishing you'd done something differently—the book is published, and it's already been read. Instead, look ahead to your next series and make that one stronger than the last, based on your reader reviews and input. Know that your loyal readers will continue to follow you (unless you jump to a completely different genre) and feel encouraged that you now have a completed series to market. You can even make it into a boxed set(s). In 2021, I boxed my completed Hemlock Creek Suspense series and got a Bookbub deal ad on it, and that set alone accounted for almost a third of my income that year (Note—I'm in Kindle Unlimited).

Here's hoping that your grand finale books will be everything your fans have been hoping for! Can you name an example of a series finale that felt completely satisfying to you? Comment below!

Award-winning novelist Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing mysteries and Viking historicals. She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love. Avid readers say Heather's realistic characters—no matter what century—feel like best friends. When she's not plotting stories, this native West Virginian can often be found hanging out with her husband and four children, playing video games, or reading Agatha Christie novels. 

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