May 25th, 2020

The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series (plus a Giveaway)

by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

If you're committed to writing a series, congratulations. If you're committed to writing stand-alones, good for you. If you could see yourself doing either a series or a stand-alone, welcome to the club! There are so many advantages, and so many disadvantages, to writing a series that it can be hard to decide how you'd rather tell your stories.

Stand-Alone vs. Series

Let’s look at some of the up-sides and down-sides for each option:

Readers who enjoy one book in a series are likely to stay loyal and keep reading the rest as long as you keep writing ‘em. You’re pretty well guaranteed a Repeat Buyer (or at least a Repeat Reader) all the way through to the end of the series.

On the other hand, that can be confining. You might have a story idea you’re dying to write, but it doesn’t fit in with the characters or setting or genre of your series in progress. When will you ever find a break from your current project for creating the next?

Then again, it could be easier to write faster because you don’t need to come up with completely new people and places for each book in the series -- you already know how your main characters think and talk and feel; you already know where they live and work and play.

Although, that kind of knowledge might be considered boring. If you stay focused on the same leading character/s in the same setting, it means you’re missing out on the fun of creating new people, new situations, and new worlds for any stand-alone stories you might want to tell.

How Can You Decide?

One way to determine whether you’ll be more satisfied as a series writer or a stand-alone writer (although nothing says you can’t do some of each):

Think about the authors whose books you’ve enjoyed most. It’s a pretty safe bet that some of those books were single-titles, and others were part of a series. But when you think about your top five or ten favorite writers, which category do their books appear in more often?

Sure, some authors are wonderfully prolific in both areas. Nora Roberts’ romantic stand-alones and trilogies appear as often as her alter-ego J.D. Robb’s suspense titles in the Eve Dallas series.

Michael Connolly alternates between two criminal-justice series and books that stand on their own. But most of the world’s celebrated writers are known more for their work in one neighborhood or the other.

Mostly series:

  • J.K. Rowling
  • Robert Ludlum
  • Agatha Christie
  • George R.R. Martin
  • Debbie Macomber
  • Walter Mosely
  • Philippa Gregory
  • James Patterson

Mostly stand-alone:

  • Stephen King
  • Danielle Steel
  • John Grisham
  • Elizabeth Berg
  • Michael Crichton
  • Jane Austen
  • Ken Follett
  • Gillian Flynn
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald

Choosing Your Preference

If your taste in reading leans more heavily toward one side or the other, that may be a good clue to which storytelling style you find most appealing.

You can also look at other areas of your life for clues to that same question.

Would you rather stay at the same tried-and-true hotel when you visit a familiar city, or choose a new location each time?

Do you prefer binge-watching favorite shows straight through, or watching several different shows in the same week?

When you find the Best Shoes Ever, do you buy more pairs in different colors or treat them as a one-of-a-kind delight?

There’s no wrong answer to any of those questions, nor to the question of whether you’re better off writing stand-alone books or series.

Series Considerations

If you opt for a series, there are a few things to keep in mind about the biggest bugaboo:

The Story Arc

Of course, every story has its own arc. A single book has its arc. So does each book in your series. And so does the series as a whole.

You already know how to figure out the story arc in a single novel, right? (If you don’t, ask me about my class, Plotting via Motivation.) But as important as that individual arc is to every book in your series, you also need an arc that spans from Book One to the final novel.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How do you know which book is the final novel?

If you’re happy to continue writing an open-ended series, like those featuring Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes or Stephanie Plum, that can be whenever you decide to call it quits.

If you’re planning a trilogy, or an opening-plus-sequel, or a five-book series about five siblings each finding their own success, it’s likely you know what the last one will contain. And you also know how important it is to wrap up with a satisfying arc that concludes not just that final book, but your series as a whole.

Wrapping It Up

How to "wrap things up" is one of the important topics covered in my “Writing A Series” workshop that starts next Monday. One lucky commenter will win a free registration to that two-week class!

Here is my question:

When you think about the author whose books have most consistently delighted you, at any time during your life as a reader, do you think of someone whose books are primarily grouped into a series or whose books primarily stand alone?

Is it someone you discovered as a child or as an adult?

And if you remember this compelling writer’s name (plus the name of their series if that’s applicable), please mention that as well!

Many thanks,
Laurie

Note: We'll announce the free-class winner TONIGHT. (If it’s someone who’s already registered, your $40 will be refunded.)

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Laurie

After winning Romantic Times' “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing...if not more. Since then she’s taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who’ve developed that particular novel in her classes. So far there are 48 titles -- will yours be next?



Top Image by PatternPictures from Pixabay

94 responses to “The Pros and Cons of Writing a Series (plus a Giveaway)”

  1. lrtrovi says:

    Wow, this post was like a message sent from the divine because I'm struggling with these questions right now and they've kept me from moving forward. I have a third book in a series I need to plan and realize it carries a lot of responisiblity for tying up the issues raised in the first two and keeping it all together in a nice bow 🙂 and I'm starting a new series, very different from the first, and thinking big in order to carry the characters and plot through several books. Thanks!

    • Oh, I'm so glad the timing WORKED! I think you're right about divine intervention, because it was only on Friday that I ran into Jenny on LinkedIn and she offered me her Monday slot...so it seems like a safe bet you were meant to get this post today. Good luck with the new series, and with wrapping up the one in progress!

  2. Kimberly Cockrill says:

    I guess I'm right in the middle camp. I love High Howey 's Wool series and was eager to get the next book and the next and the next. Then again, I love a good standalone where you stand the best chance of getting that feeling of complete satisfaction when a good story/character arc leave you staring at its last pages in sad-to-say-goodbyeness and wonderment.

    • Kimberly, what a beautiful phrase -- I love "sad-to-say-goodbyeness and wonderment." And as a fan of stand-alones AND series, you've probably come across a greater proportion of memorable phrases than readers who follow nothing but a few favorite authors' series because there are so many more voices on your bookshelf!

  3. Terry Odell says:

    Most of my books are either series or 'connected' books (typical of the romance genre), but I'm currently writing a stand alone loosely based on a trip I took last fall. AS a reader, if I love the characters (starting with the Bobbsey Twins back in the day), I always want more. I eagerly await the next JD Robb books.
    As a writer, I've been told "series sell" which is another reason I write them.

    • Terry, what fun to meet another Bobbsey Twins fan! I found one of their 1930s books alongside a 1990s book at a used bookstore recently, and marveled at how well the twins had adapted over the years. 🙂 And I like your description of "connected" books...that's a great way to define series books that don't necessarily follow an overall arc.

  4. Natalie J. Damschroder says:

    I've done both, and I enjoy both as a reader. Part of me wishes I could do the 20- or 30-book series of stand-alone stories (like, say, Marie Force) because those are highly successful, but I always seem to top out at 3 or 4. LOL

    • Natalie, topping out at 3 or 4 works just fine! Readers still get triple or quadruple the enjoyment, and what's not to like about that? As a writer AND as a reader, doing & enjoying both is very handy...because that way you double your fun (and others' as well).

  5. Cate Parke says:

    I think I've been reading since...I was born. Maybe before that, who knows? I read pretty much everything. If I have to sit in a waiting room for endless seconds to hours, I have something in my hands to read. Whether it's a magazine article on the quality of soil in the upper mid-west or a multi-book series, it doesn't matter. (Well, it does, actually. Give me the multi-book series every time. The authors that stand out are John Jakes series beginning with North and South or the Horatio Hornblower series, the Adriana Trigiani series beginning with Big Stone Gap, Bernard Cornwell's several series: The Saxon series, (That's not what they're called, but I can't recall the series name offhand.) and the King Arthur series...the list goes on and on. Jan Karon's Mitford series was so delightful I would laugh out loud on the Metro crossing Washington, D.C. on my way to and from work. Who laughs out loud on the Metro going anywhere in that city??? (Honestly!) I've been enchanted by J.R.R. Tolkien's Trilogy and heartbroken by Herman Wouk's Winds of War and War and Remembrance. As a young teen I began reading Thomas Costain's Plantagenet series. What I didn't realize then that I do now is that I love reading history. I love writing it even more. You're part of everything you ever read--and it's part of you. Thanks so much for the opportunity to spout off on my all-time favorite pastime!

    • Cate, your joy comes through SO vividly -- thanks for the reminders of so many wonderful series, and also of Bernard Cornwell who I've never come across; it's always nice having a new name to check out. And it was a relief to hear that, given the choice of soil samples or fiction, you'd always go for the good stuff!

  6. Paula Messina says:

    Grist for the mill. Something needed in our flour-strapped times.

    Reading a favorite series is spending time with good friends. Writing (and reading) one brings those good friends to life. I recently edited a manuscript. At the end of my comments, I noted something about the next story in which the protagonist appeared. I had no way of knowing the protagonist was a recurring character. I can't explain why I thought this. I just knew somehow the writer had more to say about this protagonist.

    • Paula, your flour-strapped observation made me laugh. (Always a good thing. 🙂 ) And you're right that discerning readers CAN tell when a character deserves more air-time than is possible in a single book...even if that character wasn't originally meant to appear in future titles down the road, how often do we hear writers say "I just couldn't get So-And-So out of my head"?

  7. Adite says:

    Hey Laurie, how did you know I'm working on a (web) series? Rather, trying to plot one without going stir-crazy!? My current fave series-author is Robert Galbraith. But the one author that got me reading a series was Amitav Ghosh and his Ibis Trilogy is truly epic!

    • Adite, what a perfect season to be plotting a series -- it's hard to imagine a better way to use down-time! Which probably isn't what got Galbraith and Ghosh started, but who knows what great series will take shape this year? It's fun to contemplate....

  8. Stephanie Berget says:

    Hi, Laurie. I love this post and I love series, the longer the better for me as a reader. I write mostly short series for my western romance books. My current favorite author is Jodi Taylor and her St. Mary's Chronicles series. I think there are over ten which makes me very happy.

    • Stephanie, you're sure not alone in writing in an area that isn't necessarily where you read...there's a lot to be said for that kind of versatility, because it leaves such a clear distinction between Writing Time and Reading Time! Now you've got me curious about the St. Mary's Chronicles, and at first glance I like how her site's flavor reminds me of Terry Pratchett. Good reading ahead, yay!

  9. Christine Monson says:

    Hi Laurie. I never thought about giving each of my characters- siblings- their own win. That could be fun. I had originally planned a trilogy but now I'm wondering if I should stretch the three book series out to four. When it comes to series vs stand-alones, I find that I can read both equally. Michael Crichton is the one who hooked my into reading as an adult. When I was a teen, I loved the Couples series. As a child, Judy Blume stole the show. The shoe analogy is awesome. It really had ne thinking about what I like. My favorites are in at least two or three colors. Though, I do have a few stand-alones.

    • Christine, I'm so glad you liked the shoe analogy! I sometimes kick myself for having realized how much I love a pair that comes in other colors only AFTER it's already out of stock. And it'll be cool if you can make use of siblings to extend your series...although with authors like Crichton and Blume on your favorites list, it's clear that stand-alones work equally well. Nice to have options, isn't it?

  10. DLWillette says:

    Hello, Laurie! What a nice post to read first thing this morning. So far, I've only written stand-alones, but I devour series reads. Okay, okay, as a reader, I gorge on stand-alones, series, whatever I can get my hands on. Not too surprising for a writer, eh? And I have toyed with the idea of writing a series.

    The ultimate series, imo, is Diana Gabaldon's Outlander books, but then there are wonderful stand-alones by Jodi Picoult, Liane Moriarty, and on and on. I can't make up my mind which I enjoy more. So there's my answer. I like 'em all.

    • DL, you summed up the view of just about every devoted reader there...aren't we lucky to have as many choices as we do? Good call on Outlander; the fourth book in that series is the only one that's ever made me call in sick to work so I could spend the whole day reading. But you're right about Picoult and Moriarty as well...I've got them side-by-side on my bookshelf this week. 🙂

  11. I found Jana Deleon's Miss Fortune Series and I've loved it so much I bought every book. I also love Grace Goodwin's Interstellar Brides series for something completely different. I love your classes and have taken several.

    • Cindy, I think it might have been you who first alerted me to the Miss Fortune series -- if so, I owe you for that! And thanks for the classes observation; it's been a treat for me as well seeing your books take shape. Now I want to go check out Grace Goodwin....

  12. Marcia Scott says:

    Hello, Laurie! My grandmother taught me how to read at the age of four (she was a one-room schoolhouse teacher) and I don't think a day hasn't gone by that I haven't had my nose in a book (well, maybe when I gave birth, that's one). Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie were my earlier life series and later, anything by the Nora, J. D Robb, Janet Evanovich, and shorter series by multiple authors. Kudos to your Plotting Via Motivation course. It was one of the first ones I took when I started my writing journey. I've referred back to it many times. I'm currently attempting to finish book one of my 3-book series and will be ecstatic to finally write THE END. Oh, happy day!

  13. Jack Bowie says:

    I'm a series guy at the moment, but as a long-time Ludlum reader, I was initially hooked with his early stand-alones; the Bourne series is relatively recent. LeCarre's Smiley series was great and I'm now an avid follower of Baldacci and Silva. But to be honest, it was Asimov and Foundation that really got me into reading. Can't remember how many times I've gone back to reminisce.

    • DLWillette says:

      Daniel Silva, yes! I'd follow Gabriel anywhere. 🙂

    • Jack, what a great line about going back to reminisce...seems like that's something every writer dreams of, when hunched over the keyboard. And every reader does, too, during periods when there's nothing much to look forward to -- it's a delight being able to mentally return to worlds like those by the ones you mentioned, isn't it? (Ludlum was my first, too.)

  14. Marcia Scott says:

    Hello, Laurie! My grandmother taught me to read at the age of four (she was a one-room schoolhouse teacher) and I don't think a day has gone by that I haven't had my nose in a book (well, maybe when I gave birth, that's one). Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie when I was younger and J.D. Robb, Janet Evanovich and Brenda Novak plus multiple shorter series later. Kudos to your Plotting Via Motivation class. It's one of the first ones I took when I started my writing journey. I refer back to it often. I am currently finishing up book one in my own 3-book series and can't wait to write THE END. Oh, happy day!

    • Marcia, wow, I bet there aren't many writers who can say they were taught to read by a one-room schoolhouse teacher...that's so cool! And it's wonderful to know Plotting Via Motivation is still on your list of useful tools; it'll be a treat seeing how that fits into your upcoming series. I can't wait to hear you're celebrating the "oh, happy day" of reaching The End. 🙂

  15. Sonja Brow says:

    I like both stand alone and series, but when I find a story I love and it turns out that it's part of a series, I am overjoyed. I recently discovered Sibella Giorello and her Riley Harmon series, which I jumped into in book 2, not even knowing I had more stories to find! One of my favorite authors of all time is John Flanagan (Ranger's Apprentice, Brotherband, The Young Ranger). I love his stories because they are full of adventure and intrigue, but most of all because I have fallen in love with the characters. I ride through the pages beside them, I mourn when something happens to them, I celebrate their successes. And this is why I love a great series and mourn when it's over, because I have that many books to build that relationship and fall in love with each and every one of those wonderful characters before we must say goodbye.

    • Sonja, I like your description of finding a story you love and then realizing it's part of a series...talk about a glorious discovery. 🙂 it's fun to imagine Giorello and Flanagan reading your commenr -- can't you just imagine how happy they'd feel, knowing their characters have affected you so profoundly?

  16. morgynstarz says:

    Series, 100% for the characters I love to watch them change or hold fast. Andre Norton's Witch World. McCaffrey's Dragonriders. And on, and on, and on. As a writer, I love the challenge of digging deep into the arc that carries my own stories forward.

    • Morgyn, I like your observation about series characters changing or holding fast -- you're right, either way it's a treat to watch happening. And for those in a long series who manage to do just the right amount of each, thanks to their author's gift for balance, it's so incredibly satisfying!

  17. Charlotte Raby says:

    Hey, Laurie!! As a kid I loved reading Nancy Drew and Meg mysteries. As an adult, I loved reading the "People of the..." books written by Kathleen O'Neal Gear and Michael Gear, about pre-historic peoples of North America. None of these are actual series, but they were still connected by characters or themes. I have loved stand alone books as well, by Ken Follett, Steven King, and Jane Austen, for instance. You've given me a lot to think about! Thanks for the great post!

    • Charlotte, just seeing that lineup of names, with a few follow-ups but more stand-alones, is like watching a "Best Of" episode of something. You're right about the Gears; I tend to get them confused with Jean Auel but those were ALL incredible books. And, wow, I've never heard of the Meg mysteries -- gotta look those up. 🙂

  18. Amanda Pumilia says:

    I love how you connected writing a series to if you enjoy reading a series! I love reading series and staying engrossed in those worlds, so maybe I'd love writing a series too. I always find those characters so well-developed to be able to keep your attention, so it'd be something to really work on. Great post!!!

    • Amanda, it's fun thinking about what kind of series you'd like to write -- there are people who say "I keep my work and play separate" by writing in a genre they don't read for leisure, and people who say "I love this genre so much it's all I ever want to read AND write." So no matter which way you go, you'll be in good company!

  19. Tracey Turner says:

    Hey Laurie
    Another terrific post. I guess I'm a little of both. I love short series mostly family linked ie Anne Gracie, Chance sisters. or location based ie country town I love it when an author comes back to a series or book and writes a secondary characters story ie Rachael Johns, Something to Talk About. ' I also enjoy a good single title where I can imagine my own epilogue

    • Tracey, wow, so many series I've never heard of -- but knowing your style of writing, I'm betting I'll love every one of those. I also love the image of readers envisioning their own epilogue to a beloved story; it's hard to think of a better tribute to character who truly HAVE come to life beyond just the author's own imagination.

  20. Eldred Bird says:

    When I started writing my first book, I never intended to write a series. By the time I was done it was obvious this was only an introduction to the characters. There was so much more that could be done with them. But with book three releasing soon, my brain seems to want a break from these people for a little while. I just started working on a stand alone book in a completely different genre. Let's hope this one doesn't decide to become a series too by the time I finish it.

    • Eldred, you've done a great job of summarizing the pros & cons of writing a series -- talk about a perfect description! It'll be interesting to see what happens with the upcoming stand-alone, whether "doing both" is a viable option for you or whether you're destined to be an "all series, all the time" writer. Either way, there'll be readers grateful for whichever option you go with. 🙂

  21. Laurel Dennis says:

    I read both but mystery series really got me reading as an adult. JA Jance and her Beaumont series was the start and now I lean toward Nevada Barr. I currently working on an open ended mystery series. I'm also working on a single title historical woman's fiction, a long time project. Oh, the choices are so many.

    • Laurel, what a perfect exultation / lament for every writer (and, heck, every reader) out there -- "oh, the choices are so many" really sums up the glory and agony of choosing what to start next! I can sure see why both Jance and Barr are favorites; the fact that they each do sustained series as well as stand-alones here and there makes 'em both appealing to every kind of reader.

  22. Great article and so many valid points for both. I like to think I have the best of both worlds since my Small-Town Sweetheart series for Harlequin has a little of both. Each story is a stand-alone so I can create new characters and give them their own HEA while the setting is the same small-town. I can bring in previous characters for cameos plus I can bring in characters such as the town busybody. I guess the stories I write also reflect what I enjoy reading such as Brenda Novak's Whiskey Creek or Melinda Curtis's Harmony Valley series.

    But I confess, as much as I love writing in the current world I've created, I do have other settings that call to me. I keep getting ideas for a story set in Seattle, a far cry from the central Vermont setting for Small-Town Sweethearts. So many stories and ideas and me wishing I could write faster!

    • Carrie, I hope you get to write the Seattle story as well...but not until you've wrapped up the Small-Town Sweethearts! And you're right about the advantages of combining stand-alones into a series, so readers who come in on Book Three won't feel like they missed important information...but generally WILL get the idea there are earlier people they'd like to know more about. 🙂

  23. Hey Laurie! I've never entertained the thought of writing series though I love reading them! I've read Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cover series twice - loved it. I read Susan Mallery's and Barbara Freethy's series -love all of them. But when I look at what I usually read most, it's standalones. And that's what I write. Though I love knowing the characters already in a series, I love the newness and surprises I get from reading a standalone book. The creation of brand new characters and venues and plots is my favorite way to write and read. I believe I find comfort and familiarity in reading a series that's well-written though. For me, it's all about changing it up as far as my reading goes. But as far as writing goes, I haven't broken out of my comfort zone and tried a series. Maybe one day.

    • Patti, for a writer who enjoys the "newness and surprises" you get from creating stand-alones you've absolutely chosen the right path. Nothing says you can't write a series at some point if you feel like it, but there's sure no reason you need to do it, either. Sticking to your comfort zone is a Good Thing for any author who's creating books they and their readers enjoy!

  24. Karen McDaniel says:

    As a young reader, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House on the Prairie Series, J.T. Edson and Louis L'lamour both had western series, Agatha Christie of course. I was less impressed with the Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew; even then I felt they were too childish. I loved being able to dive into a world and tried to find sequels, not always easy when my main resources were whatever books my older brothers purchased or deigned to select for me at the library.

    As a teenager I discovered Robert Heinlein and Piers Anthony, who wrote both series and stand-alones, and Isaac Asimov, who wrote EVERYTHING.

    As an adult, I still prefer series. J. K. Rowling and her alter-ego, both series; J. D. Robb's In Death series (but not her series as Nora Roberts, they don't have the same feel); John Sandford's Lucan Davenport and Virgil Flowers series, and a score of lesser known mystery writers who I periodically scan for new releases.

    It doesn't seem to matter what genre, if Book 1 grabs me, I read to the end and keep wanting more.

    Gosh, I wonder what that says about me as a writer...

    • Karen, what fun remembering the Little House series -- I'm amazed at how well it works not only for children, but also for adults. (A few years ago I re-read them and marveled at things I never noticed as a kid.) As for what following any series whose first book grabs you says about your writing, I'd say it means you appreciate the importance of a great opening story...and rightly so. 🙂

  25. Ruth Dell says:

    Hi Laurie,

    Many thanks for your interesting post. I love the way you always present both sides/viewpoints of the subject under discussion.

    I enjoy reading stand-alone novels, and also series.

    As a child I loved mysteries- I devoured several Enid Blyton series with glee eg The Secret Seven books and later the Famous Five books.

    In my early teens I was hooked on the Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene and Hardy Boy mysteries by Frank Dixon.

    In recent years I have found I enjoy reading books which focus on relationships. I enjoyed reading my way through Karen Kingbury’s Baxter family series and the Mitford books by Jan Karon.

    I would love to write a series!

    • Ruth, I'd forgotten about the Karen Kingsbury and Jan Karon series -- isn't it a treat to find books that cover the same people / setting without falling into either the romance or mystery or fantasy genre? Your phrase about "focus on relationships" is perfect, and a series is sure a great way to expand that focus over years and years and years!

  26. Meg says:

    I loved Suzette Haden Elgin's "Mother Tongue" series, and Jean Auel's "Earth's Children" series, but I think it's more because they were brilliant women, and their series were about topics already of interest to me, than because they were series per se. Also, in both cases, each book could have been enjoyed as stand-alone. Oh - I enjoyed also Armistead Maupin's "Tales Of the City" series. Same reasons.

    • Meg, great point about liking those books not because of their stand-alone or series status but because of their authors' topics -- that DOES make an enormous difference in how well a story works for the reader, doesn't it? Come to think of it, if a topic is fascinating enough, most of us will put up with less-than-stellar writing...which makes it all the more delightful when that's included. 🙂

  27. Jenny Hansen says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Laurie. I have a series that badly needed these insights to be finished.

    P.S. I just approved several comments so you might want to take one pass from the top.

    • Jenny, I'm so glad this helped with your series -- it's nice to see you getting SOME reward for having offered me this date! And thanks for the tip about going back to the top; it's fun finding names I missed earlier. Whenever you get the chance to head back to your series, here's wishing you the best of luck with it!

  28. I started out writing series books and then gravitated to standalones, but the readership is much higher for the series books- not sure what that says about my writing! lol

  29. Hi Laurie,
    Thanks for your article. It made me think. As I have been revising my current WIP, I have envisioned a series of 3-5 books, if the first one is successful. After reading your article, though, I'm not sure I really mean a series. My favorite author is James Herriot who wrote the All Creatures Great and Small series about an English country vet. I think his books can each be read as stand alone books in that you don't have to read one to understand the others. However, there is a story arc that runs over the course of the series. My novel has its own story arc which, of course, is resolved, and the stories I have thought of to follow it would not link through a continuing plot. They would be related through characters and place. My current protagonist is a teenager and the subsequent stories would be about her aunt as a teenager, then her great-grandmothers as young women. Would you consider that a series or a group of stand alone novels with the same setting? Thanks again.

    • Christine, the project you're describing could be marketed as a series OR a collection of stand-alones...and because you can make a case either way, it'd be good to let the publisher decide. Usually a first novel is acquired as a stand-alone, often with "series potential," but that's less of a risk than buying an entire series from an as-yet-unknown. So you're in a very good position!

  30. Thank you for this post!

    As a child, I read Beverly Cleary books, Henry and Beezus, Ramona etc., and then as a teenager went on to Agatha Christie and her Hercule Poirot series, although they are all good.
    Currently, I am in love with Melissa Yi's medical crime series.

    I am in the middle of a one-off time travel trilogy, working on book one, but in the middle of that stepped a very dark novel stand-alone(I think?!?) novel that demands to be written.

    With the time travel, I have the story arcs nailed but am struggling with the 3 book arch. And then, of course there is the single title, which is just an outline and a couple of scenes right now. But I feel like I need to write it.

    • Alexandra, thanks for the memory of the Beverly Cleary books -- weren't those wonderful? And you've now got me curious about Melissa Yi; it's always fun hearing about authors I haven't yet encountered. Talk about a fascinating decision of whether to complete the trilogy or postpone it until finishing the time travel...it's handy that you could easily make a case for either option. 🙂

  31. Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for the article. I'm currently writing my 'one-novel-that-has-to-get-out', but, it keeps growing. It's like it can't keep its arms inside the car windows as I speed along. I didn't want to write a series. I wanted to focus on the BEST story I could write and then start another.
    Currently I am keeping notes of the arms as I chop them off just in case I have to sew them back on, or, I decide to Frankenstein them into living breathing stories on their own.
    I grew upon Trixie Belden, as a teen leapt to Sydney Sheldon, Wilber Smith, Joan Collins, and moved on to Baldacci, Connolly, and fell in love with Jasper Fforde.
    The kind of story I am writing is something that Dan Brown or Katherine Neville would favour, Historic facts mixed with fiction with the bonus of danger.

    • Jacque, wow, talk about a bunch of enjoyable reminders -- Wilbur Smith and Katherine Neville are names I haven't thought of in ages, and Trixie Belden is one I just unearthed during a massive bookshelf-cleanup...good reading while waiting for hard-copy book availability to resume. And I love your arms-out-the-window imagery -- you're smart to keep them handy for possible sewing later!

  32. Hi Laurie! I love curling up with a familiar protagonist or cast of characters; it's like visiting with old friends. Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch, Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta, Linda Castillo's Kate Burkholder, and the casts of Outlander and Harry Potter are just a few who've gathered on my bookshelf over the years.

    • Ange, what a kick imagining Harry and Kay and Kate and Jamie and Hermione and all the others literally gathered on -- or, well, around -- your bookshelf. Wouldn't it be fun to see how they react to one another? And, hmm, now you've got me thinking about doiing the same type of gathering with favorite characters from older, as-yet-unpublished titles...it'd be an amazing reunion. 🙂

  33. Jenny Hansen says:

    It's busy in our comments section today (YAY!) I just approved a few more. 🙂

  34. Rowan Worth says:

    While I love a great single title read, I'm a total sucker for series and continuing characters. Nothing makes me happier than when an author adds another "chapter" in a favorite character's life--or expands the lives of beloved secondaries with glimpses back to former main characters to bring us up to date on their lives/children.

    That said, nothing is more irritating than a book that is nothing but a set up for a series. I was very disappointed in an author I adored when I read a book of hers that was clearly the big-name-leads-into-a-multi-author-series hook. Her main character wandered through her book around an extremely weak plot "bumping into" characters (one per chapter) who were clearly the main characters from the other books in the series. It read like an outline expanded by the back-of-book teasers. And no, I didn't buy the series, either.

    People want to be able to step into the worlds of the characters they love. As a child, my favorites were always the series--from Enid Blyton's FAMOUS FIVE and SECRET SEVEN or Arthur Ransome's SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS to the BOBBSEY TWINS/TRIXIE BELDON/NANCY DREW/HARDY BOYS...As I got older, it was Anne McCaffrey and Andre Norton. Then Rick Riordan's PERCY JACKSON...David Weber's PATH OF THE FURY and HONOR HARRINGTON... And into the romances--All the classics, from Nora Roberts to all the pen-names of Jayne Ann Krenz (who does a great job of linking her historicals through her contemporaries into her fantasy/SF). Right now, I'm hooked on Ilona Andrews (a husband/wife team)--they do an amazing job with continuing characters, characters spinning off to their own series, multiple character arcs and series arcs, and even redeeming what seem to be irredeemable bad guys for their own series. Shannon McKenna is another author with great series out there--recurring characters, and overarching and interwoven story arcs.

    • Rowan, talk about a treasure trove of recommendations -- I've gotta start taking notes, and rejoice that our local library system opens up again tomorrow! And, boy, you're SO right about readers feeling cheated when all they get is a "commercial" they had to pay for...good for you on putting an end to that whole thing by skipping the rest of the series. (Wish I had a skull & crossbones icon.)

  35. Jacquolyn McMurray says:

    I'm reading a series now with our seven-year-old grandson called Ready Freddie. The series follows a 1st grader through the year and then the author (a 1st grade teacher) was clever to follow Freddie to the 2nd grade. In the past few years, my favorite adult series is Kerry Lonsdale's Everything series.

    • Jacquolyn, what fun to discover new series for children with your grandson -- I never even realized that of course there'll be new favorites (as well as some classics) for every new generation! And now Ready Freddie and Everything are BOTH going on my gotta-check-this-out list. 🙂

  36. amusinglymags says:

    I love it when I see Laurie has a post here. It always gets my creativity flowing and sparks new ideas. I have always preferred series as you really get to grow with the characters, but man they can get frustrating when you have to wait so long for that next book to be released.

    Personally, I struggle with the whole planning/plotting out full length books so I’ve never even considered really biting off tackling a series, but it’s on my bucket list.

    ~Margie

    • Margie, good point about readers getting frustrated when the next series instalment takes too long; that's why some won't even start a series until they know it's complete. And I'm always impressed by writers who HAVE a bucket list -- that's a great way of making sure the craft will always stay intriguing, challenging and fun because anytime it starts to feel like "same old same old" there's something new waiting to be undertaken!

  37. Wow, this has been a fabulous day of hearing about favorite authors' books -- and some great observations about series!

    There'll be more of those starting Monday in my Writing A Series class, for which the free registration prize goes to random-org's pick of #9 from 33 commenters. Congratulations, Christine Monson, and send me your email address at Series+owner@groups.io so I can get you your invitation.

    Meanwhile, thanks to everybody who made this such a fun day -- there's NOBODY I enjoy hanging out with more than writers & readers.

    Laurie, who'd be hard put to pick which one of the two I enjoy more....

  38. Sarahbeg says:

    Loved the write up! could do with tips as well. Hope you can check my blog someday. thanks.

  39. Sarah Andre says:

    Oops! Late to the party!
    Hi Laurie- great post. When I began writing I had no interest in carrying on with the characters and wrote a stand alone, but bowed to CP pressure and began a series with my second novel. It's certainly easier, given I know my characters and I'm just developing a new plot. What's harder is to think ahead to the next book(s) and drop seeds into the present one, given I'm such a card-carrying pantser!

    Great to see you here!

    • Sarah, it's always nice to see a fun party still continuing. 🙂 And you've provided a great look at why somebody might want to switch from stand-alone to series...as well as why they might rather go in the other direction. But, either way, congratulations on taking a major step for a card-carrying pantser -- I bet you'll do it beautifully!

  40. dholcomb1 says:

    I read both.

    I think it can depend on a publisher, too. Some may want a series proposal, and you can be cornered into committing to that if it's a chance for a contract.

    denise

    • Denise, being "cornered into a commitment" might be one of the most compelling reasons to write a series! That'd be an interesting question for series writers: how many of them got started because of a publisher's demand, when otherwise they would've stayed with stand-clones? Hmm...

  41. jeannenicholas says:

    I'm writing a series. finished book one, half of book two, and the outline of book three, but its an ongoing series...not a trilogy. And I have about six books ongoing that are stand alone but could be continued with at least additional adventures. My favorite authors were Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan series, and Jean Auel Clan of the Cave Bear series. Their books were excellent examples of each one could stand alone but knowing the series was there was epic. I also love specific books within each series and tend to grab that book and read over and over. Is that a stand alone wannabe? I also enjoyed Wheel of Time series until the author decided to let someone else finish (boo). Those books were heavily dependent on the continuation of the series to find out how the author tied up the loose ends. I'm a series loving woman. My shelves of books however are eclectic and include a ton of stand alone books. But I really think that's just happy accident of trying new authors. Once I find a writer that I love to read, I devour all scraps they've ever produced.

    • Jeanne, what a great line about devouring all the scraps a beloved author has ever produced...isn't it a joy discovering obscure bits of writing that haven't made it to the easy-access sources? Even if the writing is the same quality as everything else that author's done, ti feels a whole lot more precious!

  42. Michael Mock says:

    Coming in late on this one, but yes: I have ideas for both standalone books and series. And, not surprisingly, the authors that come to mind as consistently enjoyable generally do both, though looking at my mental filing cabinet I don't seem to have any favorites that are known for open-ended series... or, well, there's one (Modesitt's Recluse series) but it's less an ongoing series than a collection of single books and duologies or trilogies all set at different points (historically and geographically) in the same world.

    • Michael, it says a lot about consistently enjoyable authors that they're comfortable (AND able) with both series and stand-alones. That's the mark of a writer who's at home with all kinds of stories, and that makes their work a lot more varied -- to the point where we never get tired of reading 'em. 🙂

  43. Laurel Greer says:

    Writing and reading series is the best! One of the series that stands out to me that's from years ago is Jessica Bird's Moorehouse trilogy. One of my favourite Special Edition reads that made me want to write1 for the line.

    • Laurel, what a lovely tribute to a writer whose series inspired you to create your own for the same line -- I hope one of these days you two wind up at a Harlequin party together! I've still never met the author who made me choose Special Edition (she lives in England), but we had a nice chat via email. And who knows when you'll hear "you inspired me" from another writer in the chain?

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