One of the recurring questions I heard this past year at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference was “is your novel a standalone or a series?” Now, personally, my novel is part of a series, but this had me wondering – is one better than the other? Will my work be shunned if it’s not a trilogy? If you start writing series, do you have to continue writing series or vice versa?
Now, I’ve searched the Internet to no finite answer. There never seems to be a definitive answer to my writing questions, does there?
When I look at my bookshelf, it’s safe to say that the bulk of the series’ that are on there, have been commercially successful. Whether the Harry Potter books, Nora Roberts’ Inn Boonsboro Trilogy or the Shopaholic series, they’ve all done tremendously well in sales. To me, it all comes down to the characters. How compelling are they from Book One to Book Twenty (if you’re Stephanie Plum)?
A Completed Story
Since I primarily read contemporary romance, my preference is to have the love story complete in one novel. However, that’s not to say that I don’t like coming back again and again to focus on different characters. Nora Roberts does this extremely well. She sees a couple’s story to completion, but entwines them in the remainder of the series so that you feel you’re getting a snapshot into the ‘ever after’ that you never get to see in a standalone.
Breaking out of the Comfort Zone
With each standalone, an author must craft a unique, distinct character and plot. Easy for some, harder for others. The beauty of writing standalones is that you constantly get to explore a new voice. There’s no way that this doesn’t strengthen your writing chops. I recently attended a workshop by Zsuzsi Gartner whose collection of short stories was a nominee for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize. She had everyone in the class look at the same picture and pick a point of view from which to write. Afterwards we raised hands for who wrote in first person, third, etc. How many people wrote in the p.o.v. that they always lean towards? 100% of us. That floored me. It goes to show that the majority of us stick with what is comfortable, what we know.
If we don’t explore new characters, new voices, are we improving? This is more for the newbie authors such as myself. In no way am I implying that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or J.K. Rowling were the worse for wear writing primarily series. No, no, no – blog hate, please don’t start now! But, when, for instance, J.K. Rowling wrote the Casual Vacancy, I’m curious how that felt for her as a writer. I can’t imagine that it didn’t stretch her to the uncomfortable zone, which, as we’ve seen recently in HBO’s Girls, is ‘where the magic happens.’
I’m still figuring stuff out, but I’m curious on your thoughts. Which do you prefer to read, standalone or series? Anyone know if sales are better in one than the other? My research on this is patchy.
So, what do you prefer? A standalone novel or a killer series? Please comment below.