Posted by: Phil Anderson | September 15, 2014

Book Debate: Series vs. Stand-alone

Last week I took a market research trip to the YA section of a local bookstore and wrote about what type of covers caught my attention and piqued my interest. Another thing I noticed on that trip was the disparity between the vast number of series books and the few lonely, single, one-and-done books.

Why are stand-alone books so rare? Can a YA novel succeed without being part of a series? Is telling a single, self-contained story a lost art?

Obviously, series are popular with YA readers for a lot of reasons. If you love the characters and are drawn into their world, you want to know more about them and what happens next after the story ends. There’s also an expectation of consistency and a level of confidence, so that if you love the first book you are likely to enjoy the rest of the series as well.

Writers like series for many of the same reasons. Authors fall in love with their creations and want to revisit them. A lot of time and creativity go into world-building and character development, and it’s economical of both time and mental energy to continue on rather than starting over. There’s also the relative ease and comfort of working with familiar fictional friends versus exploring new relationships.

It seems that publishers also would rather release books in a series rather than individually, and it makes good business sense. If a book is popular it follows that its sequels will also sell well. A book series cross-promotes and markets itself; each volume is an advertisement for every other installment of the series.

But books in a series are not guaranteed success. As in movie franchises, a sequel is rarely as good as the original. A series needs a compelling reason besides sales figures to continue on. Subsequent books often struggle to build and expand upon the first volume without losing sight of what made it successful.

There is an appeal for me in stand-alone stories. Sometimes I’m not willing to accept the implied commitment in starting the first book of a twelve-part series. I think that occasionally its best for a writer to focus on a well-told story rather than diverting from that to develop potential-laden characters and set up future conflicts.

My first book, Pirate Journey, is a one-volume story. People have asked if there will be a sequel, and the answer is “no.” I never intended for there to be more to the story, and I don’t feel compelled to describe what happens next. Besides that it’s a story about pirates, so (spoiler alert!) very few characters survive.

On the other hand my current work-in-process, Conquest of Theran, is a four-part series, designed that way almost from the beginning. I couldn’t tell that whole story and fully explore the themes in just one book.

What about you? Do you enjoy an individual book that you can read and then move on to something else? Or do you prefer immersing yourself in an epic saga spanning several volumes? Leave a comment and let me know your opinion.

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