Much like being in combat, if alone, you better have your act together, you have to be “the whole package”, or you are going to get creamed. If part of a series, or a group, or a squad, then you have others to help you out.
What does that have to do with writing, you ask? Well, so happy you did ask.
Stand-alone can be applied to a business or an organization that is independent and does not receive financial support from another organization.
In writing, we use the term for a work, usually a novella or a novel, that does not require any companion books. In movie terms, it doesn’t require a prequel and does not get a sequel, necessarily.
This doesn’t mean that the characters are one-time use only. An example would be the famous series of novels by Ian Fleming. James Bond, the famous 007, was the protagonist in all of them. M was there, so was Moneypenny, and Q too. Each novel, however, worked well on its own. Only one or two made references to previous novels and did not require that the reader had gone through them first. Each had a full story arc. The protagonist, our friend 007, is an iconic character, and therefore hardly ever changes through the story. We read the story because we want a suave, womanizing, dangerous, violent spy of doubtful moral character, and we don’t want him redeemed or changed, thank you very much. We want him shaken, not stirred. Yes, you may groan at this, I’m OK with it.
There are many other examples of this in the literature of the ‘30s, ‘40s, ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, and beyond, such as Hercule Poirot and Mrs. Marple from Agatha Christie’s works, Jason Bourne from Robert Ludlum’s novels. Jack Reacher from Lee Child’s novels is a contemporary example of this.
Now, these books usually require a lot of work. You have to close all loops, all twists have to be explained and resolved by the end of the novel. If your character is changing, the change must be complete and very well explained. In short, it is a full journey. “The whole package” we talked about before.
These novels, usually take well over a year to write, edit, and publish.
They are also, for lack of a better word, money makers. They have to earn the publisher and the author enough to make it to the next novel, or you have to have other sources of income.
It is a very traditional way to look at novels and publishing.
Today, when indie publishing is very prevalent and accessible, many authors have discovered that a series is a much better way to make money.
For one thing, you can have several story arcs going on at the same time. You get a lot of mileage out of each character. You may have several protagonists, each with her or his own book, all part of the same general story. You may have them simultaneous and interdependent or chronological and consecutive.
This means that if a reader got “Book Three” and loved it, the chances are this person will look at the backlist to try and find the answers to some questions the characters considered answered, and make references to their “past”, that is to say, the previous books.
Also, it is a more effective way for an author to ensure income.
The author should write at least two, ideally three, of the books in the series before putting out the first one. Once he publishes the first one, Amazon and most sites will have the title for thirty days in the “New Releases” category. The promotional push the author is making at the same time will get attention to the book. If the author puts out the next book after those thirty days, this one will also be in the “New Releases” for thirty days, and now the author has been in front of all the readers looking at new releases for sixty days. The publicity efforts for the first book will help with the second and the publicity for the second will bring new eyes to the first one.
Also, of course, if the authors first or the second book hooks the reader and creates a loyal follower, then you have a core audience for all the books in that series.
I have seen series of three, six, nine, twelve, and more books.
Does this work? Well, according to Chris Fox (www.chrisfoxwrites.com) it does. Very well.
He swears by series and has several, with which he makes a pretty good living.
Series, however, have a characteristic that rubs me the wrong way as a reader. Most series imply that at the end of each novel, there will be a cliffhanger or an unsolved issue or issues, that are supposed to drive you to the next book. I hate that. I want the novel to end. Finish. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be more books in the series, as I pointed out before many authors have done a very successful series with stand-alone novels. The few series I’ve read recently, however, are joined by what could be considered a chapter break rather than the end of the story. So literally you end up with unanswered questions.
“But that’s how you get them to buy the next book.” You say. I disagree.
I read almost all (I think all, but I’m not sure) of Agatha Christie’s Poirot series. I did it because I love the way the character dealt with the mysteries and circumstances. I also loved the way she tied the whole thing in a neat bow. I was always looking forward to the next book I could get from her. No need to leave me hanging.
007? Exactly the same thing. He got the bad guy, “with extreme prejudice”, in most cases. Loved it. Yes, a couple came back, having faked their deaths or having been gravely injured rather than killed, but that was explained in the next book. The one you read ended. The End. Kaput.
So, in short, I love stand-alone books, whether they themselves are part of a series or not. I’m not a fan of the modern version of series, but know many people who are. They love to finish the book and find themselves wondering what is going to happen next. Kind of like with TV serials, I guess, but, as I said, while I understand the concept, I’m not a fan.
What about you? Do you prefer series that make you go looking for the next book, or do you prefer stand-alone? Let me know.
I hope you have enjoyed the post.
Have a great day.