Four Key Elements of a Successful Romance Series

by Robin Lovett
published in Writing

Voracious romance readers love a series. When you read something you like, you want more! It’s human nature. And traditional publishers love signing a series. They want to know that a book they invest enough in to publish will produce more books and more readers.

But feeding that hunger is the tricky part for us as writers. Making one story last, and morph and transform into multiple books has a whole host of challenges. I love reading a series. As soon as I get a shiny new idea for a new story, immediately I’m thinking—how can I make this into a series?

Which brings these big questions: what’s the theme of the series? What world will it take place in and who will characters be who live there? What goal will everyone be working toward? What will the overarching plot be that will connect the books together?

The Theme

Usually a story idea comes to me with a theme. Some baser challenge that the protagonist will face to varying degrees and levels in each book. It changes and grows, or more like worsens as the hero gains mastery. It’s not the same in each series, but the basic theme is the same.

In my current Dark Romance series, the theme is revenge. The hero in each book is out for retribution, and he goes about it in different ways. The series is about the consequences of revenge, what happens when you go after it? The hero ends up learning more about himself than he does of finding actual revenge and—because it’s romance—how love is far more healing than any revenge will ever be.

The World

The more intricate the world, the more deeply immersed the readers will be, and the more likely they’ll want to come back. This applies as much in contemporary setting as it does in a fantasy. The world isn’t just about the place. Sure, the location and setting matters, but it’s more about the people and the community. The goings on and the personalities, the mysteries and what’s happening around the main characters and the plot. That’s what keep us engaged in a fictional universe.

Show the reader how each character relates to the struggle of the heroine, and how they are affected by it. The minor characters will all have something to contribute to the hero’s theme, either by thwarting it or helping it. The more other characters are involved in the theme, the more we want to see what they’ll do next and what effect it will have on the heroine.

A Goal

Every hero has a goal, but so does every series. Something that unites the world and the plot and the characters. No two people will have precisely the same goal, but their goals must intersect, whether it’s by helping the hero, or by having contrary goals. They must relate to each other. Then every character interaction will contribute to the building of the world and deepening of the intricacies of the series.

An External Plot

The series must have an overarching plot. No matter how minor. There’s some external force that ties all the books together. Something that from the beginning of book one we’re looking forward to finding or learning. Each character will have their own subplot, but they all must tie back into the major series arc.

This seems like a lot for romance, doesn’t it? Aren’t they supposed to be just standalones that have one couple fall in love? How can you have a series that keeps going through multiple books if

Romances that end on a cliffhanger—where the romantic relationship doesn’t end with at least a happy-for-now—are not well received, generally, by the romance reader who expects her HEA. There must be some resolution of the romance. Frequently, romances are in a series of what we call standalones. This means each book has a different romantic couple whose HEA we’re looking forward to at the end of the book.

Most romance series have a cast of characters who are introduced in book one, or as the books progress. In book one, you may meet the hero or heroine or even the whole romantic coupling for the second book. As the series progresses, the seeds for the next book’s romance will be planted.

The best ones are when the romance is planted for multiple books ahead of time from book one. I had a lot of fun chatting with Gabriela Pereira about my series releasing this summer, about writing romance, loves scenes and anti-heroes, in a podcast. Check it out if you want to learn more.

Writing a series isn’t easy. There’s a lot to remember and to plan ahead of time. But it’s worth it—for the writer, the reader, the publisher.

Two points of caution for new writers:

  • If you’re working on your very first book, the temptation to follow the rabbit hole of other books in a series can hold you back. Set up the basis for a series, but don’t obsess until it distracts you from finishing your first book. Getting the first one done is most important. The rest will come later!
  • If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, don’t get so attached to a series that if it doesn’t sell, you don’t know what else to write. If the first book doesn’t sell, be ready to let that series go and write something new.

Robin Lovett writes contemporary romance, and her next series of dark romances will release through SMP Swerve summer 2017, beginning with STRANGER. She loves to chat on Twitter @LovettRomance and every Sunday evening you can find her with other romance writers at #RWChat. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency.

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