Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Writer Wednesday: Series vs. Standalone

I think it's probably obvious that I'm a fan of series. Touch of Death is a series. Into the Fire, which will release in January, is the first in a series. Even my MG coming out next year is a series. But is only writing series the way to go?

I'd say no. Not all my books are series, and I have mixed feelings about that. It's tough to say goodbye to characters. I like getting to spend more time with them after the first book. But not all stories need more than one book to be told. Writing a series for the sake of writing a series is never a good idea. Tell the story that needs to be told in the amount of books necessary.

In the future, I'll have a standalone published, and I'll be interested to see if it sells better because it's a standalone. What do I mean? Well, unless book one is a major success, sequels don't seem to sell as well. There's not as much hype surrounding them. I get that, but it's also sad from a writer's perspective.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer to read or write books in series or standalone novels?

71 comments:

  1. In general I prefer reading a series. However, I will often read a standalone before a book attached to a series because I already have the full story in that one book. I can read it and be done. I sometimes get tired of reading a "book 1" and then having to wait a year or more for book 2. In fantasy/sci-fi though, standalones are virtually nonexistent. Most of the time, I'm happy about that too :)

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    1. IT's tough to wait over a year for the next book. I agree.

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  2. I'd always heard series do better than stand alone. But I do think the amount of time publishers leave between series installments is a problem. I'm reading Star Cursed now and I loved Born Wicked, but I can't remember lots of things that happened. (I read the first book while I was pregnant with a baby who is now 15 months old). What I'm finding is I tend to buy more series books after they're all already out. I hate the year wait and I don't have time to re-read.

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    1. I think a lot of people wait until the series is out to buy all the books for that exact reason. It makes sense.

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    2. That said, Kelly, the waiting game can be an asset for us (As authors) to break up our marketing and being able to write the next book, whether series or stand alone. Think how frazzled you'd be if the whole trilogy came out at once.

      And I KNOW the wait was hard for just
      Touch of Death alone. Given what you've shared on your blog-

      http://kellyhashway.blogspot.com/2012/07/life-after-book-contract.html

      But you know now from hindsight that that spread out releases can help the author, even if lay readers find it a pain.

      Though given a lot of replies in this vain, I'm starting to wonder if writers are better off just writing all the books before selling book one, despite the odds, just to cover themselves. I think the slower you draft and revise, the more you need to consider
      Since you can fast draft, it might be a bit easier for you to do the book by book as it's drafted. It might take me longer so I have more to consider at least for the short term.

      It's something I'm considering with a project I do want to be a series.

      I know people lecture embracing stand alones for the practical reasons writer's have heard a trillion times. But I see it the other way, too.

      This seems to be one area where lay readers and authors will differ greatly.

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    3. I agree about writers needing that time between books to draft, revise, and edit the next book while also marketing the first one. Excellent point, Taurean.

      I started writing Stalked by Death before my agent sold Touch of Death. I didn't want to chance getting behind. And as soon as SBD was finished I wrote the final book in the series, Face of Death.

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  3. Also, can I borrow Whisper Falls when you're done?

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    1. Please, please, please let me know what you think of Whisper Falls! :). And you only have to wait six months for the next book in the series.

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    2. I'm really enjoying it, Jess. I just wish I had more time to read it.

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  4. If I'm in love w/the characters(like Stiefvater's Raven Boys series) then I can't wait for the next book! If I'm so-so and its been a long time, then sometimes I won't bother to continue a series. I do like stand alones though. Sometimes it can be a bit of a relief to read them!

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    1. Yes, I know what you mean. I do enjoy a good standalone.

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  5. I totally agree with you. Some stories are just meant to be stand alones. They have a greater impact that way in emotion, impact, and sales. It's hard for the author to make that decision sometimes, though - the whole letting go of a character thing.

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    1. Oh, definitely. I hate to say goodbye to characters I love.

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  6. I think it depends. If there's another book in me about a particular set of characters I'd go ahead and write it. But a series for the sake of a series, even after I've exhausted all plot ideas for those characters, I probably wouldn't do it. I think that sometimes authors write a series because it is smart business wise to have "franchise" characters, so to speak. And if I could write multiple books that were fresh and engaging that involved the same characters, I certainly would.

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    1. And then there's the companion series. You just reminded me. That's an alternative I'll talk about another day.

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    2. I love the idea of companion series.

      You can still be in the same world. But use different characters when you've exhausted what you as the writer can do with the ones you started with.

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    3. Yes, and you want to write a companion book for Rum, right?

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    4. Well, Rum's story is more the sequel/companion book to Gabriel, even though Gabriel's not in it. There is a book I'm toying with that's between "Gabriel" and "Rum" but with different characters, but that's a long ways off.

      Outside Rum's story that I've started, I'm trying to work on a non-Gabriel/Rum book to stretch myself. I don't want to be typecast as only able to write one kind of story or certain characters over and over.

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  7. I agree with you, Kelly. I finished writing a 4-book series (unpublished) a few months ago. I was deeply sad, but I've developed ideas for spin-offs with the other characters because I couldn't say goodbye yet without telling the end of all their stories. But the eBook I'll be coming out with is a standalone and so are all the other books I plan on sending to The Wild Rose Press. I'm interested to see how they do, because I am new; Hurricane Crimes will be my debut. Personally, I think a series can build more hype than a standalone because readers anticipate the next book. :)

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    1. That's a good point, but sequels are tough to market. You have to actually keep pushing book one and trying to get more readers.

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  8. My YA Ruby's Fire is a sequel to Fireseed One, and though it was hard to write, lots of people say it's even better than the first book. Obviously, I'm thrilled to hear this. And it tempts me to write a third book in the Fireseed series. That said, I wrote standalones before this. I'll probably write a variety. I do like launching into a new set of characters in a new world.

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    1. I assumed there would be a third in the series. *hint, hint*

      It's nice to mix it up. Definitely. :)

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  9. I really appreciated the thoughts you shared on this topic on my blog a while back, Kelly, and I'm glad to see you going even deeper on it here.

    As a writer, I prefer to write series, too. Like you said, it's hard to let go of characters and you want to develop them to their fullest potential.

    But having said that, I find that the later installments of a series never sell as well as the first. It's a big time investment that might not pay off in terms of tangible results, but you have to do what makes you feel happy creatively, right?

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    1. Yes, you're absolutely right. Like I said in a comment above, you have to keep marketing book one to try to get new readers for the series and hope they stick with it. It's tough to market sequels.

      And yes, we have to do what makes us happy. :)

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  10. I guess I'm on the other side of the fence. I've recently been disappointed in several series' as a reader. I get tired of the characters being put through hell to barely make it out and then the next book they are right back in the middle of hell. I also can't stand series where the characters never seem to grow - they just make the same mistakes over and over. I've quit a few series' because of that.

    I am currently reading a three book series that I love and am waiting anxiously for the final book. So I can't say I stay away from all series books.

    As a writer. I'm on the fence. I have readers asking me for sequels and I do have ideas for sequels for almost every single book I have out. But I find when I'm finished with a book - I'm finished. With the world and the characters. I don't have the urge to get back into the world.

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    1. Wow, really? I get so attached to my characters, like they're real people. I hate saying goodbye, but I guess I know what you mean about knowing when it's time to say goodbye.

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  11. Stand alone, series...it doesn't matter to me, but I do hate waiting for the next book in a series to be out...I remember waiting for the next book in J.R Ward's series, it was torture.

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    1. I think that's why so many people wait until the entire series is out before they buy book one.

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  12. My brain seems to be geared towards series. Usually, the stories I think up are too big to fit into a single book.

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    1. I never actually plan for a series, but I discover as I'm writing if more books will be necessary to finish my journey with the characters. Weird, right?

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    2. Hehehe I thought I was weird for thinking so big all the time. :-P

      Actually, the story I'm working on right now was supposed to be a standalone. I wrote the rough draft as such, but when I re-read the draft for my rewrite, I realized I'd actually started writing a sequel without realizing it. Go figure.

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    3. lol At least you figured it out instead of writing a 500 page book first. ;)

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  13. I love both reading and writing series. I love big stories and every second I can spend with my favorite characters is a piece of gold. It's great to go deep to the story and show new sides of the characters.

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  14. Young readers and publishers like series for all the reasons you mentioned. I have always preferred stand-alones. Maybe it is the allowancing the reader to conjure what might happen later, or the extra care a good writer will take to make the story complete in its own way.
    Having said this, I must confess that many of the stories I've written as stand-alones could be part of a series. They just don't have to be.

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    1. There's nothing wrong with that. I really enjoy both. Standalones are fun and knowing a story is complete in one book is refreshing.

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  15. I agree that some books just need to be stand alone. I have a manuscript that could absolutely support a sequel, but I kinda love the way it ends now (without everything tied up into a neat bow). I enjoy a series, but only if the characters demand to have their story told (like Harry Potter or Percy Jackson).

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    1. You know I love Percy Jackson. :) Have I mentioned I didn't meet Rick Riordan at BEA. :( Oh, I'm opening old wounds. Sorry.

      I agree, Sarah. I'm not all into HEA endings. I like hopeful better.

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    2. I'm going against the majority here. I loathe endings that are overly bleak and hopeless. But it's on a book by book basis.

      I can respect why a story ended like it did. That doesn't mean I have to like it.

      Nor does it always mean I regret reading it.

      As a writer, I still don't the ending to be contrived and done without care. But I personally don't like endings that are so ambivalent that I feel the characters went through "Hell" for nothing!

      Obviously, some stories lend themselves to ambiguity more than others.

      That said, Kelly, I imagine Gabriel avoided that apathy you and others have to less bleak endings (Whether books are series or stand alone), since it's not ambiguous, (no spoilers to ending, please)

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    3. I never include spoilers. No worries. I don't like bleak endings either, Taurean. I like hopeful but not all wrapped up perfectly. Does that make sense? I think the reason for that is that life is never wrapped up perfectly. It feels more realistic to me.

      I think you're good with the ending for Gabriel. :)

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    4. That's good, as far as Gabriel's concerned.

      I know what you meant. But I feel in general you have to know your limits to deal with them in terms of how far you go.

      But I do feel some writers use the "Real life" excuse too loosely at times. Yes, life isn't neatly wrapped up, but it's also not ambiguous at every turn either, you know?

      After all, in real life there are things called luck and coincidence, but that will look trite and "overly convenient" if we wrote that in our work.

      In books (Barring "Frey-esque" exceptions that backfire anyway...) everything HAS to have a reason and meaning to being there. Real life's NOT always like that.

      So I take issue with YA and adult novels especially that like bleak ambiguity to the umpteenth degree, because just like adverbs and making setting come to life, you can take "real life" too far and readers still feel cheated or left out of the experience you're trying to give them in the first place!

      I'd argue that showing the bleak ambiguities and pains of life can be just as jarring for readers as going the other way and making things too neatly wrapped up.

      Sometimes the "Making our characters suffer" advice is taken too far, and I don't mean that simply on terms of sex or violence, or other similar subject matter, but the overall approach.

      That's why there's a noticeable difference between books (Or film and television) covering similar territory.

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    5. I really think you have to go with the ending that best fits the story, whether that be wrapped up nice an neat, hopeful but not all wrapped up, or bleak.

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  16. A series does allow the writer- and the reader- to revisit old friends, of course...

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  17. I love reading connected books and revisiting characters from previous books. But I do get your point. If the first book is not a big hit, subsequent books would not be too.

    Nas

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    1. Well, on that note, how does the "Readers wait until all books are out before reading a series" thing work?

      If lack of sales EARLY ON prevents the series of properly concluding, then that strategy some readers use becomes a danger rather than an advantage, for either the lay reader or the author.

      Again, I feel needs of the author versus the lay reader don't always line up.

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    2. Taurean, that can definitely be a problem for the author. You're right. We rely on readers to read the first book and subsequent books as they are released to ensure future books will continue to be published.

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  18. For me it is a case by case basis. I love series, but I also enjoy stand alones. If HP was a stand alone I would have been devastated as I needed to know way more about the characters (I'd still like more HP books).
    ~Jess

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    1. I'm with Jess. It's a case by case basis for me, too.

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  19. You said it perfectly, Kelly: "But not all stories need more than one book to be told." As much as I am a fan of series, there are so many incredible stories that can do justice in just one book whereas others need a bit more time.
    I'm actually trying to think about other books now in my head where I can imagine a series being made but hasn't been done yet. It's hard because most authors know where and when they should end their story.
    I have so many ideas for standalones and one for a YA series that I've been working around in my journals. It's fun to play with both and to know that even if we can only tell one story with one book, there are other opportunities for us to be creative with series if we choose to pursue that path.

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    1. Great point. A lot of stories do have the ability to be series, but also don't have to be. The author can decide.

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  20. I enjoy reading both, but have never written a series. Been thinking about it though. Maybe one day.

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  21. I think the series is a publisher/agent thing, to be honest. There are stories and authors who've got a hell of a character, and a story, which takes more than one book, or maybe it didn't, but since readers today don't read the longer books it's easier to pitch a series of books. Having said that there are some characters whose author did I wished had a part two, and three. One of my favorite books to read is Scarlett, a book by Alexandra Ripley. I love, LOVE, rereading that book. Go figure. I know I didn't really answer your answer, but it was a great question.

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    1. lol But you did answer. And I agree that long books turn me off (to reading them). I don't have a lot of free time.

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  22. I like reading both series and standalone. I also like novelists, like Stephen King and Clive Barker, who find a way to tie seemingly unrelated novels together somehow.

    I'm currently writing the first of a trilogy but I also have plenty of ideas for standalone novels too. Must get some of them written.

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  23. My first book was a standalone, because it was based on a true story -- and I told it all. That's it, folks!

    My second book was also a standalone, but I've already had two emails from teen readers who want a sequel or spin-off. I'm flattered, but I can't see that happening. Still, it goes to show that when readers love a character, they don't want to say good-bye.

    My next book is part of a series, and I have several manuscripts waiting in the wings with series potential. But I think there is something to be said for the one-and-done.

    Leave them wanting more, right?

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    1. You're right. It is good to leave them wanting more. I've read other series that stretched on for nine books when I thought they should have stopped at three. There is such a things as dragging things out and losing readers because of it.

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  24. I prefer reading standalones, but there has been exceptions of course: Gennifer Choldenko's 'Al Capone' series has been a lot of fun. Each book is read on its own. It begins and ends as a full story. But the characters might go on to another adventure in the next book. (Then again, when I was so much younger, I loved reading the Enid Blyton series: Faraway Tree, Wishing Chair ...)

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    1. I love when books are more series in that they have the same MC but the stories are all completely different. Murder mysteries are great for that.

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  25. I like both, but I prefer standalones. With series sometimes I have book 2 or 3 from a gift or book sale, but I don't have the background knowledge of the first book. Also, I don't finish many series.

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    1. I'm so guilty of reading series out of order for that reason. My library is famous for carrying parts of series but not all of them. It results in a lot of unfinished series for me if I don't enjoy the books enough to buy them.

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  26. I tend to read more standalones. But a well-done series is a thing of beauty! It seems so hard to write series, I applaud you for doing it.

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    1. I really do enjoy a good standalone. And thanks. Series can be tricky.

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