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Saying Goodbye: How to Close Out a Book Series and Tease a New One

A book series coming to an end is bittersweet—but there are ways to keep the spirit of the story alive well beyond you write "the end." Here, New York Times bestselling author Karen White shares how to close out a book series and tease a new one.

They say that all good things must come to an end. As children, we learned this on weeknights when we were told to stop whatever we were doing because it was bedtime. Or on those long summers spent sleeping in, and family vacations, and doing nothing in particular that always seemed to end too soon with the first day of school.

And now it’s time for another ending, another goodbye that reminds me of what it was like to hug my grandmother for the last time after a summer visit, knowing it would be another year before I saw her again. Although this new ending I’m facing doesn’t involve real people, it is no less poignant.

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Way back in 2005, I was taking a shower when the character of Melanie Middleton popped into my head. I was in the middle of writing another book, but had been absently toying with the idea of writing a series. I hadn’t settled on anything yet, until that fateful moment when I met Melanie.

I knew from the start that she was Southern, borderline OCD, had had a difficult childhood, and could see dead people. I have no idea where this last part came from, but I was intrigued enough to continue letting Melanie talk to me long after my shower and even as I returned to work on my other novel.

By the time spring break arrived for my children (then in elementary school), I’d had another revelation: Melanie was from New Orleans. It made sense, of course. I’d lived in the city for four years during college, and it was the perfect setting for this series: great architecture, lots of history, and plenty of ghosts. We traveled to New Orleans for the family’s spring break vacation so I could reacquaint myself with one of my favorite cities and to begin building the world that Melanie would inhabit. I returned home and eagerly began to write the first chapters of The House on Prytania.

Then in August of that year, New Orleans was hit with the catastrophe now known as Hurricane Katrina. I was devastated for the suffering of the people who called New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi home, many of whom were friends and family. I knew that the series I’d begun spinning wouldn’t be a good fit for an immediately post-Katrina world. I had to come up with another great historic Southern city full of beautiful buildings and, of course, restless spirits. It didn’t take me very long to choose Charleston. And what a great choice that turned out to be.

My publisher originally asked for two books—although I’d wanted to make it a trilogy. But the series was so different from the rest of my novels, which were straight Southern women’s fiction, that they weren’t sure my readers would be interested in reading about an OCD real-estate agent who sees dead people. Happily for me (and my readers), they were wrong.

White, 11:4

I immersed myself into writing the newly renamed The House on Tradd Street which was published in 2008. I was already busy writing the sequel, The Girl on Legare Street when my publisher asked if I could write two more books (in addition to the two already scheduled). Since I was already deeply involved in the lives of Melanie, her annoyingly charming sidekick Jack Trenholm and the ever-increasing cast of characters—not to mention the house and city—I eagerly agreed.

Following The Girl on Legare Street came The Strangers on Montagu and what was supposed to be the final book in the series, Return to Tradd Street. Except a funny thing happened when I typed The End. I didn’t want it to be the end. And, judging by the number of emails I had been receiving from readers, they didn’t want it to be the end, either. So, just in case, I wrote an epilogue that made it clear there were many more stories to carry the series forward if my publisher wanted them. Happily, they did. Three more books were contracted and The Guests on South Battery and The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street were published.

Then it was time to write the final book and to end the series for good. Seven is a good solid number, I thought. Surely enough pages to introduce characters, shake them up a bit, and then give them the hope of a happily ever after. To tie up loose ends and fade out with a happy sigh.

Saying Goodbye: How to Close Out a Book Series and Tease a New One

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Except as I got closer to finishing The Attic on Queen Street, it became clear to me that neither I nor my readers were quite ready to say goodbye. However, I’d already reached the conclusion that the series had come to its inevitable end. But that didn’t necessarily mean that all the characters had. There were more stories and adventures in store, but perhaps not starring Melanie and Jack. That’s when my publisher and I agreed that it was time for a spin-off series.

It took me less than five seconds to know that New Orleans would be the perfect setting for a spin-off, and that Nola Trenholm, Jack’s daughter and Melanie’s stepdaughter, would be the ideal character to lead the new series. I have heard from enough readers to know that Nola is a fan favorite and, coupled with the fact that her first 14 years had been troubled ones, she was the perfect choice. With the introduction of new character, Beau Ryan—a New Orleans native—in The Attic on Queen Street, I was eager to launch these two into the first book of the new series: The Shop on Royal Street, to be published March 2022.

Settling on Charleston for the original series now seems serendipitous. I can’t imagine Melanie and Jack living anywhere else but on Tradd Street. And now I have a whole new city for their grown daughter to restart her life.

I’m happy to say I’m not having separation anxiety. Maybe because Melanie has a cameo appearance in the first book (with more from Melanie, Jack and other characters from the Tradd Street series coming in the next book). Those characters have been as much a part of my life as my real family for the past 15 years. That’s a long time to get to know someone which explains how very hard it’s been to say goodbye for me and, I know and appreciate, my readers.

At the same time, I’m so excited to launch the next adventure with Nola and Beau, and allow Melanie and Jack—and a whole host of restless spirits—to live happily ever after. And I know my readers will agree.

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