Thursday, August 4, 2011

Series VS Stand Alone Books

My husband and I had our first argument in months. It went something like this:

Hubs: "NO! You have to write this story into 3 book series. The characters are too awesome."

Me: "But this has always been a stand alone story."

Hubs: (clearing his throat) "Stand alone's don't sell as well as series."

Me: Shoot. He's right. "But there isn't that much story!"

Hubs: "Oh yes there is."

Me: Shoot. He's right again. "But I don't want to write a three book series."

Hubs: Yes you do.

Me: It's so not fair that he knows me this well. 

Jeni Mawter, a successful MG author, warns: "It takes considerable ego to write a series of novels. You canʹt be in a hurry to reach the big finale, so you enjoy putting it off. A story line that stretches into multiple novels requires extreme passion, commitment, and yes, even obsession."

Best Selling author Rebecca Forster says: “Writing the first book is like having a dinner party with exciting and stimulating guests, carefully planned menu, atmosphere – but the guests get to go home. And you get to put your feet up and relax. Writing a series, the guests stay permanently. You have to think of exciting things for them to do, vary the menu, invite different guests for them to play with.”

If you follow the trends you'll see that publishers are leaning toward series (especially with the uprising of the e-reader). The idea is to hook readers with book one, then turn their wallets inside out because they have to know what happens in book 2 and 3. (Or 4 and 5, but personally if you go beyond that I WON'T finish your series.)

All the practical advice out there says to write a book that can be a stand alone, but with series potential. They want the best of both worlds. I say if you've got enough story to stretch the distance, why not?

Where do you fall on the series vs stand alone scale? What do you prefer to read? What do you prefer to write? And when is a series too long?


  1. I love reading series! Not just Harry Potter and Twilight, but other series like Elizabeth George and the Lynley series. The more you read, the more you have a vested interest in the characters - you care about them.

  2. I really hate waiting for sequels, but there's always the seriel option, like Hardy Boys or the Dresdon Files. Any book's a stand-alone, but awesome characters live on.

  3. I do love series, but I like a good stand-alone as well. Lately I get done reading a book and find out it's the first of the series and I have to wait for the rest. I hate that. :P

  4. I am writing a series... with a twist. The story centers on a 6 member team and the adventure spans a period of 2 years. Each book in the planned 6 book series will be from the POV of a different member of the team. Also, each book will have a different conflict for the team to tackle.

    Hopefully, by changing it up that way I will be able to treat each book as the 1st one.

  5. I love reading series. Once I fall in love with characters I want to keep reading about them and a series gives me that. They have to be good though!

  6. P.S. We really didn't get in a fight =)

  7. I have to say, that sounds like a good argument to have :).

    When picking out books, I usually lean towards series, but I enjoy stand alones just as much. In fact, it's better when I can read one book in a series and not be left hanging for the upcoming sequel.

  8. I don't mind serieses (what the heck is the plural of "series"?) as long as each book is a self-contained story.

    Harry Potter did that well. But earlier this year I picked up book 1 of what I thought was a series, got past page 600 only to find it was really just part one of a single 1800 page novel. I was, to put it mildly, a little ticked.

  9. I'm in the final editing stages of my second manuscript, and for pretty much as long as I've been writing, I've considered myself a stand-alone book writer. BUT, I'm thinking of making my next project a trilogy. I've started doing a lot of world building activities and it's actually quite fun. At the same time, I feel so unprepared, because the timeline and the way that information is dispersed seems so different in single novels as compared to series novels. I think once I do my research though (read the first one or two books again of some of my favorite series to see what captivated me about them) I could work it out. The one thing about series is that if a reader doesn't like the last ten pages of a stand alone book, but loved the rest of that book, they might still have strong positive feelings about that book. But if I read the first book in a series and it doesn't end in a way I find proper, it ruins the whole book for me AND I will refuse to continue the series.

    <3 Gina Blechman

  10. When it comes to writing, I like either or! If I like a cast of characters enough, the prospect of a series is very exciting. Writing-wise, however, I like to write stand-alones (just don't have the attention span... Lol!). That said, I'm like you, Crystal - there is a limit. Mine is somewhere between seven and ten books. Any more than that and I tend to get bored because it feels like the author is just continuing the series just for the sake of continuing the series.

  11. Sigh... That first line should be "When it comes to reading..." Aaaaand that's what happens when I comment so early in the morning!! :-p

  12. It depends. Sometimes when I read a book, I long to have it be a series. Other times, not. It depends on how much I fall in love with the characters. As for my own writing--I've planned both types. And the series are exactly as you said, like a dinner party that never ends!

  13. I force myself to write sequels to my children's books as the children ask for this, but I hate having to do this as I always have something new in my head that I want to complete - move on.

  14. I love the stand alone.
    I feel that there is to much pressure as a writer to write series. I think that the story will tell the writer what it needs to be. Lord of the Rings wasn't written as a series. It was broken up due to length. This is a sound reason to me for the series argument. If the story needs to be broken up, a chance is given to the writer to really tell the story the way it should be told. However, the stand alone is a breath of fresh air for the writer to flex their muscles with style and clever word play in different and exciting ways with each book. The reader will be just as exited to read the next stand alone from that writer just to see what the next book will be like.
    As for 'series writers'...where is twilight chick? where is harry potter chick? Where in the crap is Eragon boy and his unfinished story arch? Did they collect there millions and decide it was enough? Is that what writing has come to? If it is then I miss Steven King.
    Crystal I say that whether or not the characters rock in your book or not let the story tell you whether its long enough to be a series. If not? guess what, My wife has read the same book 10 times because she loves the characters and she has never expressed the need to see more story out of them.

  15. Aaron--awesome. You're completely right. Writers often want to make their millions and disappear, *pointing to self* but the mark of a true writer is someone who writes because he/she is compelled by the stories that must be shared.

    Everyone, such wonderful thoughts. Thank you for your contribution! It really does come down to the individual story, doesn't it?

  16. Great post! I guess it kinda depends on the book. I love series, but the kind when there's a clear end in sight (not where its like a random new adventure for each of the 20-something books). Where there's an end goal that their working towards through out. As for the goal, it doesn't have to be something like, "kill voldemort", but instead could be like, "get the girl", or even something not obvious to the MC, like character growth. If that makes any sense...

    However, I do like stand alone's, well, when its meant to be a stand alone. As in, the story is done, the problems are solved, people are happy.

    And finally, while I do like both, I like series better (when done right). Haha, so yeah, that was probably a bigger answer than you ever expected :)

  17. I'm definitely a stand alone kinda guy these days. I have read too many series in the past (particularly SFF) that contain so much padding and waffle, that just get stretched out more and more to try and suck the money from my wallet. I'm hoping the obvious current trend towards series will go into reverse soon.


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