Should You Write a Series or a Stand-Alone?

The phrase publishing trends gets thrown around a lot these days. What genre’s up and coming? What’s phasing out? And in that same breath, you almost always hear the word standalone, series, duet, etc. Because part of your marketing as an author (and part of your enjoyment as a reader) depends on how this is presented to the masses.

A standalone is going to stand on its own. You won’t need any prior information before reading it, and you won’t be lost. It’s a story that you pick up, read, devour, and put away. For the most part, standalones don’t have cliffhangers, and they don’t leave you wondering what’s going to happen next (though some very famous standalone books do in fact just end leaving readers devastated and questioning life for a solid month before finally making up their own ending).

Series are books that are linked together, they typically involve either the same couple as the first book or secondary characters who then get their own book.

A duet is typically a two-book series that focuses on the same main characters and will often include a cliffhanger leading into the next book. I always think of duets as reallllly long standalones that an author just cuts in half. Obviously, that’s not always true, and there is so much more that goes into writing it than just going, meh, I’m going to end here.

In fact, I think most people would be surprised how much an author will stress, lose sleep, and obsess over what choice to make. Because let’s be honest, sometimes we love our characters and want to continue writing them, other times the story feels finished, so a standalone makes sense.

But, a lot of times it’s not until after the book is released that you go, oh no, oh no, they want JEFF’S STORY! What do I do? Or, they want a spin-off. What happens to Karen? Then you start getting emails, did Karen really die? You’re messing with us, right? Karen’s alive. OMG, you’re bringing back Karen! Meanwhile, your characters name was actually Kara, and she is in fact… dead.

What do you do? How do you navigate the tumultuous waters of indie publishing? Is one better than the other? And does it matter?

It matters.

It does.

But what also matters… is your own personal preference and writing style.

Let’s start with books that are linked in a series.

This typically means you are going to need to introduce secondary characters that are strong enough to carry on the rest of the series once the main characters fade back into secondary ones. Your introduction matters, you want readers to be curious about Jeff and Karen. You want them to obsess over that next story, you want them grasping for more, and on top of that, you have the pressure of not letting them down.

With a series, you have this ongoing buzz that you absolutely need to keep the series relevant. The last thing you want is a book that does amazing — only to wait too long to release the next, or fail on the second book.

My belief is that each book should get progressively stronger as the series goes on, not weaker. As an author, you allow the series to age (like a fine wine) with each book making the reader fall more and more in love with the characters. The characters in the series need to come across as real. As a family or group of people that truly exist. This is what a series is all about. It’s almost nostalgic in when you just want something really good to read — you know you can always count on Jeff and Karen’s family.

Regardless of the publishing trends, I truly believe a series will always sell well if you do them the right way. The worst thing you can do is decide you are going to write a series without actually plotting a little bit. Who are the next few books about? How do they link together? How are you going to keep the momentum going sales wise? Are they up for pre-order? How much time between releases? These are all the things you need to think about when planning.

And then you have the people that don’t intend to write a series and it just happens (*raises hand*). That’s great too, but the minute that switch is flipped, your job as an author is to make sure you bring the best reading experience possible to readers. Don’t just randomly put Jeff and Karen together first because it’s the easiest. Make sure that you’re challenging yourself and giving them a story that is ten times better than the first book.

The last thing you want, as a series writer, is to have a reader say, “Book one was the best book by far, and by book three I was using it as a coaster.”

With that being said, I don’t believe that standalones are less stressful, I almost feel like there’s more pressure with a standalone because you get one chance. ONE CHANCE to create this epic book and if you fail well… coasters may be in your future.

Standalones focus on one main couple (secondary couples often make appearances as well). The main couple carries this entire story. They are your arc, they are everything that makes this book good. And your entire release depends on them being able to adequately crawl into readers hearts and set up camp.

Standalones are often branded differently than series for obvious reasons. They carry all the weight on their shoulders, and as an author, you have to make sure you hook your reader and make them care about the characters, which is a lot of pressure.

So what’s better? A series? A standalone? In my book (hah! see what I did there?) it totally depends on the reader’s mood. I don’t believe that series are better than standalones and I don’t think standalones are what you should aim for. As far as what’s trending right now, I’m seeing a huge trend going back to duets. Two books, or possibly three books.

You have to look at it as a reader… and one thing that always comes to mind is time and money. Do they want to invest that money in you as an author for thirteen straight books? Or would they rather just try you out with one book, the risk isn’t as high, and the reward may be that they then go and grab your longer series because they liked what they read.

It’s all about making sure the time spent on you as an author is worth it — and that you feel you got a return on your investment — a good time and an escape.

I don’t think series’ will ever be dead just like I don’t think standalones will ever be a thing of the past. And as a voracious reader, I will say that I read both, and I love having the option of both. So, if you are an author be sure not to pigeonhole yourself into just series or just standalones. Give your readers variety. I speak from experience. At one point I had three ongoing series, and I hadn’t done a standalone in two years, and I truly did notice that not only was I not getting new readers but even the older ones were like, “oh wait, Kevin’s book is out? I thought he was in prison?”

It’s important to have variety and to make sure, whether you’re writing a series or a standalone, that you give your readers what they deserve — a quality, time-consuming, soul altering, reading experience.

***

About Rachel Van Dyken

Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of Regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor. 

She keeps her home in Idaho with her Husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers! 

Want to be kept up to date on new releases? Text MAFIA to 66866! 

You can connect with her on Facebook www.facebook.com/rachelvandyken or join her fan group Rachel‘s New Rockin Readers. Her website is www.rachelvandykenauthor.com.

1 reply
  1. avatar
    Ian Miller says:

    I completely endorse Rachel’s view, and as a warning to others, let me tell you about how I got it all wrong. I started off writing my futuristic “War and Peace”, which started off with an alien battle fleet entering our solar system. Oops – stories need balance, and humans have no show, so, it was a mangled battle fleet. Still more balance needed, so I introduced a character who had been involved in the mangling. That needed about two pages of backstory (not good, I know) but this was a stand-alone book. Except I could not get it published. What I did not realise was that newbies can’t get anything over 100k words accepted.

    Anyway, not to be discouraged, I thought about the backstory, and thought that would make a great book. That actually grew because to make it realistic, I had to put in more “adventures” for the hero to make it plausible, and it ended up far too long. I found out about the length issue, so I decided to split it, then I decided to try self-publishing so I called it a trilogy because it was split into three books. However, having made the covers and self published, I went back to the original. Oops – is it part of the series? I decided it wasn’t, so I did a lot of editing and self-published that, then realised the primary problem of book 1 was not resolved so far, so yes, a fifth, which i tried to make it plausible as stand-alone, but the last chapter, where everything gets explained, really refers back to book 1.

    So, my message to all – don’t do this. What happens is that perfectly good stories just end up confusing people.

    Reply

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