Monday, May 27, 2013

Series or Stand-alone?

by Julie Daines

I feel like books series are reaching epidemic proportions. It's hard to find a book that's NOT part of a series.

From a marketing standpoint, I can clearly see the advantages. Hook the reader and sell three books instead of one. More book sales equals more money. The author creates a name and a brand for themselves, and everyone's happy.

Or are they?

From a reader's standpoint, I'm not sure I'm sold on the series approach. Don't get me wrong, some series are amazing.

But in writing a series there are some inherent problems, and unless the writer is unusually skilled, these problems can lead to very disappointing books.

Here are the two issues that concern me the most:

Problem 1- Once the first book is complete, if the author has done their job well, so is the character arc. The character arc is one of the main story elements that keeps a reader hooked and reading to the end. Consequently, the next few books in the series often fall flat. How many times have you LOVED the first book in a series and the rest were only okay?

Problem 2- The first book leaves you hanging because the character arc is incomplete and the conclusion unsatisfying. This is a very popular writing trick to get readers to buy the next book. But whenever I read a story like this, I have to ask myself if the author considers me a reader or a number. Are they writing to perfect the craft or to make a sale.

This is where the tricky part comes in, because perfecting the craft and selling books are both important. It's a fine and difficult line to walk. As an author, I can relate. We all want to write the best story we can, but unless that story sells, we're just people sitting in our sweatpants at a computer all day.

Do authors who write series sell more books? It's very possible that they do.

Do authors who write stand-alone books win more awards? It seems to me they do--although I haven't done official research.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer a series or stand-alone?


Bruce Luck said...

Publishers always say the first book has to be strong enough to stand alone before it can be the first in a series. If so then, as you pointed out, the character and story arcs are complete. The end, no second book.

How about series books not tied up in one character arc? Goosebumps, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, etc. drew in readers that liked the format and wanted more. Those kind of series books seems to me a thing of the past.

Katie said...

I have read several series where the first book is fantastic and the others fall flat. However, when I come across a series that I love, I find myself more enthusiastic to share it with my friends and family. As much as I love excellent stand-along books, I like the shared experience a great series creates.

Scott said...

The series thing kind of drives me crazy. I've reached the point where I think twice before reading a book one. Do I want to commit to another series when I'm already partly into several, usually somewhere in the limbo between books one and two? It's become refreshing to find a good standalone book.