f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Series vs. Stand-Alone: Part I

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Friday, June 09, 2006

Series vs. Stand-Alone: Part I

Here's a random stab at something. (Based on my own experiences and what I see from others.)

First-time novelists approaching the debut novel often take a kitchen-sink mentality. They're so psyched that they're going to throw everything they have at it. The energy, the enthusiasm is at its peak and the world they create seems limitless. So limitless, in fact, that as they get a little more level-headed about what one novel can actually contain it seems obvious that the logical next step is to plan a sequel and even a longer series.

I did this with Ezekiel's Shadow. I had pretty grand intentions to write (linked) novels based around each of the characters from the writer's group. And I see many, many, many proposals in which there's a paragraph explaining books 2 and 3 that will follow. (Or sometimes, to my dismay, books 2 through 15.)

The landscape of CBA and book publishing is changing, I think, and so I'd like to spend a couple of days talking about the pros and cons of series vs. stand-alone as you are writing.

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My first thought isn't a demand, but it's a pretty strenuous suggestion: Your first novel needs to be able to stand on its own.

I'm sure there are circumstances where you could get away with a serialized story as a first-time novelist...but you're only creating roadblocks for yourself. Publishing, in some ways, is very much about managing risk. I think I've said before that publishers want most of the risk to be on the author's part and author's want the risk to be on the publisher's part. Making a publisher sign a five book series is certainly pushing the risk to the publisher's side--but so much so that many might balk.

You can certainly have a series in mind, but I really think your first novel needs to be able to read and enjoyed on its own merits without needing to read anything else. Relentless by Robin Parrish, which is going to start hitting shelves in a week or two, is a strong example of this. It works on its own and yet it opens doors that Robin will explore later in what will be a trilogy.

If you only read Relentless, you're going to enjoy a bullet-paced, whirlwind suspense story. If you stay with the trilogy, it'll be a much richer, fuller experience. But the key is that both work.

That said, do you even need a series or follow-up? Next week we'll spend some time looking at all sides of the issue, trying to suss out when series work, when they fail, when to do one-offs and what the market seems to be telling us.

Have a great weekend. Go global and watch soccer. I'm pulling for the U.S. and...Les Elephants of Côte d'Ivoire.

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Go to Part II in our discussion of series.