Series vs The Stand-Alone

So, I'm finishing revisions on my latest WIP. Naturally, it's brilliant, as are all of my unpublished manuscripts. But I'm seriously thinking this might be the one. And as I'm getting ready to send it to my beta readers and start investigating publication options, one nagging question keeps pestering me. Is it completely stupid not to write a sequel?

As is, the story stands alone. It all concludes nicely. But so many successful YA books these days come in a trilogy or set of some kind, which has made me consider altering the ending and opening it up for another book or two. Then my inner artist, Mademoiselle Crabbypants, gets her knickers in a twist because the story really is very good the way it is. And she reminds me that there are plenty of popular stand-alones on the YA shelf.

Just, you know, not nearly as many.

I am, as you can see, conflicted.

So I'd like to open this up for discussion. For a first-time YA author, is it easier to get published traditionally with a series vs. a stand-alone? Alternatively, if going the independent route, do you have a better chance at success with a series or a single?

Really. Please. Tell me what you think.

46 comments:

Matthew MacNish said...

Personally, I prefer series. If something is good, I want as much of it as I can get. But that could also be due to the fact that my love of reading was initially sparked by Tolkien (although, if you could ask him, he'd tell you LOTR was one book).

That being said, I'm not published, so I can't speak to which might be easier. I think getting a book sold might be easier for a single novel, but obviously if a book sells, a series would end up with more total sales, almost automatically.

Elizabeth Duncan said...

You could write two versions and discuss with your agent/editor.
However, you're the author. Do you love the setting and characters? Want to spend a whole lot more with them? If so, choose series. Write the first book as series opener, then do proposal for next two so publisher can buy package. Series builds readership. Readers get caught up in the characters' lives and can't wait to see what happens next. If they like the setting, they'll be keen to return.
(I am just finishing book 4 in my series, the Penny Brannigan mysteries published by St. Martin's Press.)

Leslie Carmichael said...

I'm of the opposite camp. I don't like trilogies. With a trilogy, there is always a "middle book" in which, usually, very little happens. All they do is prepare the way for the third book. And I do dislike starting a book and only realizing near the end that the damn thing is Book One.

I like books that feature characters and settings from the same universe, but are neither trilogies nor series.

In my opinion, all but one of the Harry Potter books could stand on their own.

Both of my published books are stand-alones. They have endings, and they stand by themselves. But that doesn't mean they couldn't have sequels.

My advice is, write a stand-alone and give it a satisfying ending. Don't leave your readers hanging. A stand-alone still has the potential to become more than one book.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I prefer stand-alone books with the potential for a sequel. Plus, they're easier to query.

I often find the first few books of a series are gripping, but by the time the author gets to the final book, it feels like she got bored of the series and couldn't wait to start on her SNI. This is especially true if there are more than three books to the series.

Laura Pauling said...

I like both. And I don't think either way is better than the other. I think the advantage to series is that they get noticed. And you have a built in audience for the next book.

But if you feel your story is complete then don't feel you have to. You can always write a companion novel later. I don't think it's a deal breaker.

Anne Gallagher said...

As an indie author, I am writing a series. HOWEVER, all my books are stand-alone. If you like one, just read one, but if you like series, read them all. Reader choice.

I know nothing about YA, but I think if you like your book the way it is then leave it that way. If you don't want to do a series, then don't. If going the traditional route, I don't think agents/editors care very much if you have the next in a "series" only that you have another book in the works.

Deb Marshall said...

Hmm, I'm not sure which is easier, it might depend on the book, editor, agent. If there is potential for a sequel I would say in the query or cover letter. There is certainly many series in both middle grade and young adult coming out. Not sure on the indie side of it whether it's self publishing or going with a small publisher.

Good luck and congrats on finishing!

tracikenworth said...

I've heard the cons of both. Some agents/publishers want series and some want stand alone. I would consider leaving it as a stand alone but keeping the idea of a sequel open, just in case it's suggested. Right now, I'm working on books that "could" be a sequel, but each one is a stand-alone and you don't have to read one to read another. This way if one doesn't make it, there's a chance another will and none relies on another to "make" it. Hope that helps.

PBuff said...

I love both series and stand alone books. And while I am in the process of finishing up my own first book to a trilogy, I'll try not to be biased.

I think you should write from the heart and do what you feel is best for your story. It is a part of you and the image/feeling/creative outburst you want to present the world. Don't bother with marketing it to fit other people's tastes. Only you know what works best with your story. Only by doing that can you create something truly worth creating. IMHO

PBuff said...

Congrats by the way! :-)

Barbara Kloss said...

I'm like Matt - I prefer a series.

If I read a book, and like it, it's easy to pick up the sequels. I already know the characters and setting and the author, and trust them. I'm already invest emotionally. I've also read that publishers like series for that reason, too. If a person likes a book, they're more than likely to purchase 2 more, because that initial Am-I-Even-Gonna-Like-This-Author phase is done. Even if you DO read an awesome stand alone (say, Anna and the French Kiss? :D ), the author was contracted for three stories that follow the same vein... Obviously, not all contracts are that way, but it seems to be happening more often than not.

The issue is, though, if you plan on writing a series, agents will advise you NOT to write books 2 & 3 (or 4, 5, &6) because they anticipate so many changes/edits/influences on the book 1 plot that, if you write 2 & 3, your already-written sequels will be forfeit. I have a few agented friends that have had that happen to them.

That being said, you can make your ending go either way, but I've still heard agents say write something else while "shopping" that first book. It was for that reason (and a few others...), I decided to go the independent route. And yes, also as Matt said, if a book sells, a series would have more total sales automatically.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I think the genre plays a role. There are a ton of trilogies and series in the fantasy/paranormal realm, but not so much in contemporary I think.

If the book wraps itself up nicely, then I don't think there's a need for a series. However, maybe you could shift the focus to some of the minor characters in the book and tell their story? Just a thought.

Landra said...

While I enjoy series, I think that if the book stands well alone leave it be. It would probably be easier to sell a stand alone in the current market conditions.
Ultimately it really depends on how you feel about the world you've created. I think a stand alone for YA that rocks the socks of the audience would be a great way to start out though.

Robin Reul said...

I am personally a fan of stand alone books vs. series. Rarely has there been a series I've read where I felt like each book was on par with the ones before it (there are a few exceptions, of course.) Also, because there is a lag in publishing time between the books, by the time a sequel comes out, I've already forgotten the details of the one before it and in order to enjoy it properly I need to go back and re-read the other(s).

Sales-wise, my agent did share with me that editors really love when they pitch them an author with a potential series, because they can be guaranteed a steady stream of work (and sales) from that author. My brain just doesn't think like that, however. Maybe one sequel, but certainly not three, four or five sequels. Yikes! At the minimum, I'd be longing to dive into new characters and worlds!

SHANNON O'DONNELL said...

I agree with Stina that singles with series potential are probably easier to query. As a reader, though, I love a good series. LOVE. That does not take away from my enjoyment of a stand-alones, though. It's a tough call. :)

Rachna Chhabria said...

I love both a series and stand alone books. I have heard that for a YA and MG books, series have better chances. I have written one stand alone book (MG) and am planning a MG Trilogy. I too am undergoing a conflict.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I like both, but as far as what's easier to get published? No idea. I think if the agent/editor wants to take your stand-alone and turn it into a series, they'll have no problem expressing that opinion to you. :)

StaceB said...

I agree with points made by both Leslie and Stina - I like stories about different characters in the same universe, and I think that even a book with a satisfying does not preclude the option of it becoming a series. I also enjoy a good series (if it's GOOD).

I think you would be hurting yourself to force your book into a series if it isn't really part of one.

Angela Ackerman said...

I think a lot of it depends on genre. Most series I see in YA are fantasy and paranormal, which is what yours falls under. My feeling is that really what it comes down to is the world building--if the world is amazingly creative and the characters are compelling, publishers want to capitalize on that pull, and bring the reader back for more. (And you have both!)

That said, I think Leslie has a point--there are some trilogies where book 2 is really a filler book (not always a bad thing). To use an example from your picture, I finished reading The Scorch Trials and found the book to mirror the first book in many ways (but it was still well worth reading!). I haven't read book three, so I can't fully say it's a bridge book yet, but it seems so after reading it.

There are some books that are amazingly complete on their own, and this is always a good thing! I do think there is always room for expansion that doesn't 'have' to mean creating a series. Sequels that stand alone which feature a different time or place, or different characters...these can be very successful too.

My feeling with all series is that the best ones are comprised of books that do stand alone in every sense, but when put together, add pieces to a greater whole. I don't always like reading a book where only some of the pieces are filled in, or there's a cut off right in the middle of an event at the end of the book. In fact these often make me angry to some degree because of the huge time gap between books. I am an instant gratification kind of girl! LOL

I agree with Stina and Shannon--marketing a book as 'a stand-alone with series potential' (if one is thinking they could create a series) is the way to go with most genres. The main thing though is to have an open mind about it. If you think it's one book but the editor sees series potential, a writer needs to strongly consider this as a possibility. :)

Ange

Brooke Johnson said...

So, here's the thing. If the book you wrote is a standalone novel, if you would have to stretch or change the ending to make it into a series, or if you have no idea how to make it into a series, then you shouldn't. It should stay a standalone.

However, if you intend for the book to be a series from the very beginning, and the book you wrote already leans toward a sequel, then you should.

Too many authors, and I can't stress this enough, see the success of trilogies and series and they think that if they turn their standalone novel into a series, they'll have a better chance of hooking readers. That's very far from true.

Sometimes, the story is just a one book story. Sometimes, it's a three book or a six book story. You shouldn't change your book just because you think it will fit in the market better. And that goes for turning a trilogy into a longer series, or into a shorter series.

For instance, I don't know if this was the case, but with Lauren Oliver's Delirium, the story wrapped up splendidly. It was a sad, awful ending, but the book was complete. I was happy with what I had read, and I didn't expect anything more. And then I turned a few pages and found that there was a sequel planned. There was no need for a sequel, and in fact, I won't even read the next two books in the series, just because I'm happy stopping after the first.

There's something to be said about a story that finishes in one book. Not every book needs to have a sequel.

So don't change your story for the market. Write the story you want to write.

Andunien said...

I think if you've got enough content that you could draw sequels and a series from already, you should leave it as is. Publishers seem to want the best of both worlds, don't they. Or some do. If you want to do a sequal, maybe start one in the meantime. Bottom line though, a series won't mean anything unless your first book sells. But it wouldn't hurt to have a sequel in the wings anyway :)

Becky said...

As a reader, I've become a little leery of series, especially trilogies. I've just read too many that I felt fizzled at the end and couldn't quite sustain themselves for three full books. So on the one hand, when it's a book I love, I'm always excited to have more to come back to, but I never pick something up *because* it starts a series.

Writing-wise, I'm working on revisions my own "it just might be the one" project, and I'd intended it as a stand alone, but the scope of what I'd set up turned out to just be too much for one book. So I completed the immediate story and am hoping it'll be strong enough to interest agents/editors into wanting it and a second book, too.

Patti said...

I used to love series, but have found lately that I'm disappointed in the second book and lots of times have not continued on with the series.

In your query you could say it's a stand alone book with the potential for a series then see what an agent/editor thinks.

Jennifer Hoffine said...

There are some books written and sold as series from the beginning,but I know a lot of writers who've changed their endings after selling to make them into series. If the publisher buying wants that then it will happen that way.

So, if you're agent hunting this one, it's probably better to keep it as a stand alone.

Still, as a writer trying to sell the potential of your book, it's good to have a solid ending with clear pathes the story could take in the future if you/they want it to.

Then...If you're thinking of self-pub or small press epublishing, you have more flexibility. Still, embarrassing to put an obvious cliffhanger ending then not have enough success with the book to have the series go on. Again, probably better to write a solid ending with future possibilities.

Patti, above, is also right that it's okay to say that you think the book has series potential in the query.

Misha Gericke said...

I'm not the world's greatest authority on this, but I think it's the good stories that should sell better. Doesn't matter if it's standalone or not.

Melody said...

Independently speaking, I think series (or companion stories) are the way to go. Having been introduced to the world, the characters, and the writing, readers will be more likely to dive into another book. That said, I've heard it's more difficult to query a series. So in answer to your question - I don't know. :)

But I do know where you're coming. I recently finished what was supposed to be a standalone novel. And it still is. But I had an idea for as sequel that just wouldn't go away, and now I've found myself writing it. How will I go about querying/marketing this? I don't know. But I know I need to write the sequel.

Angela Brown said...

I would have to say you have to write the book that wants to be written. If it's clearly telling you it is a stand-alone, then it's good to listen to the book. I know, sounds silly but true.
That means you won't be attempting to produce an unnecessary second book for the sake of having a sequel.
Now, for independent publishing, I would recommend a series. This is because the more you publish, the more you have available for readers to purchse, and this is usually accomplished with publishing a series.

I wish you the best of luck in deciding what is best for your novel and taking the next step.

Becca Puglisi said...

You all are so awesome. Thanks for the input. I really like the idea of writing a series where each book stands alone. Narnia, for example. Most of them don't require a whole lot of explanation from preceding books because each story is completely separate.

I hadn't thought about companion books, but I think that may be the way to go. I have a crush on one of my supporting characters who gets a bum rap at the story's end. I'm already thinking of maybe picking up the story with him--same world, same elements, new story. All I'd have to do is drop a few clues into the existing story.

You guys are the best. I'll let you know what I decide about all this. Thanks for sharing!

Mirka Breen said...

We are always admonished not to pitch a series. Although I never had a series to pitch, I never understood this thinking. I just can't see why a stand-alone story can't be offered with the possibility of a series. The story is what it is, and the possibility is there.

Marsha Sigman said...

I've been reading a lot lately and I have to say...I'm a little tired of the trilogy. Unless you have a kick ass story that just begs to be continued then I would stick with a stand alone. Some authors have really jumped the shark with the 2nd and 3rd books.

I do like the idea of a companion book though. I think that is a great idea.

I also love this post because I was able to squeeze in the phrase 'jumped the shark'.lol

Ava Jae said...

I'd say do whatever feels natural. If you think it's good as a stand-alone, don't force it into a series. That being said, most of the advice I've read about marketing books is that it's best if the novel can stand alone but could be open to a sequel. In the end though, it comes down to what you feel is best. If you think it works beautifully as a stand-alone novel, then I don't think there's any need to force it.

Also, John Green writes very popular YAish stand-alone novels. Just thought I'd throw that out there. :)

Martha Ramirez said...

You know what I was just thinking about this! I was taught to never write a series because if the first one doesn't sell then you pretty much wasted your time.

However, it seems as if when an author is contracted, most pubs want a series. So there they are slaving over the rest of the books.

If every book in a series need to be a good stand alone. It make me wonder why it wouldn't be all right to go on ahead and write a series as long as it can be sold as an individual just in case a pub is not interested in the series. Then again I guess it depends on the plot, characters etc.

I def think that having an idea of what to expect if you are going to do a series is very important just in case they ask for a series:) Whatever you choose I bet it you'll be fantastic. :)

Katrina S. Forest said...

My personal approach was after I wrote the YA novel I'm querying now, I entertained ideas for the sequel, wrote a scene here and there, but didn't really dive head-long into it. I want to have something ready if I need to, but without investing a ton of time into the sequel that does not stand alone.

I think if you can make a second book that can stand on its own with a bit of tweaking, there's no reason not to go for it. For all you know, the second book sells and the first book gets packaged as the exciting prequel.

Grant said...

I prefer read stand-alone books, though they are much harder to find. I often feel that sequels are little more than an attempt to rehash the first book, since the author and/or readers liked it so well. Unfortunately, when the main goal is recapturing the magic of a good book, it usually doesn't work as well.

That said, there are some series/sequels that I do enjoy. If the series reads like one continuous story that is broken up into separate books more for publishing convenience(e.g. Lord of the Rings), that works. Also, just because a book doesn't specifically set up a sequel, doesn't mean those characters, etc., can't be revisited in the future as part of another story. The best example of this is I know is Howl's Moving Castle and its sequels by Diana Wynne Jones.

In the end, I think you should be true to the story that you wrote. If you think it works best as a stand-alone novel, keep it that way.

Melinda S. Collins said...

I tend to be drawn more towards a series than a stand-alone, and that's strictly because once you get me hooked, I'm going to want more. But with that being said, there are many great YA novels out there that are stand-alones.

The only plus side I can see with a series, is that you will definitely have a built in audience that is waiting on pins on needles for the next book...though then again, the same could be said for a stand-alone since readers will be waiting for the next one you release, even if it isn't a sequel.

Say you don't change the ending and leave it as a stand-alone, but then when you get down to publishing and the responses are so great and the readers ask if they can have more from those characters, then you may be able to revisit and release a sequel then.

That's one option, but what it may really boil down to is what your instincts tell you. :)

Heather said...

To sound clique: It really depends. The best thing we can do is write the best book we can, for either market. Although, more and more publisher's like the idea of a series where they can make their advance back easier. And for indies, they have to have multiple books. The indie audience practically demands it.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I'm a bit of a purist. I believe it depends on what the story needs. I don't want to force a sequel if it isn't called for just because it's the "in" thing to do. Then again, many times, I want to keep hanging out with the characters!!

Nicole said...

I love series, but if your story is meant to be a stand alone, I'd say honor that. If it's good enough to catch the eye of an agent, I bet they'll offer you advice on tweaking the ending if they feel a sequel will help it sell. Very exciting - good luck!

LIFE IS . . . FICTION said...

To my knowledge, you'd have sell an agent on the idea of the novel first and mention a series. I'd leave it open for the possibilities, but have enough closure so you don't leave your audience unsatisfied.

On self publishing, I think it all depends on how well the first book sells. If people love your work, they will look for more. I know when I read a great novel, I go back to see what other books that author has to offer.

;)

Southpaw said...

Great question. I love all the input you've received so far.

I like series and stand alone books. If you like it like is is right now go with it.

I moved my blog, but there is a feed problem with my old blog and the posts aren’t showing up. You can visit my new blog here.

J. Kendrick Allen said...

I'm going to say write it as a stand alone, especially if that feels right. Leave your options open or have a plan for making a potential sequel or series out of it. Every novel, even those in a series, should be able to survive on its own merits. I personally believe that if I wrote a truly great trilogy, a reader should be able to pick up book two, be able to engage with it despite not knowing book one, and enjoy it.

Peggy Eddleman said...

When I went on submission, I asked my agent if I needed to have synopses for books 2 & 3 ready then, and she said no. They don't even worry about that until a publisher shows interest in the first one. And then, if they really like your stuff and you're not doing a series, they can always make a deal for the book you went on sub with plus an option book. So if the first is not a series, I don't think it makes too much of a difference in whether or not they will like it enough to explore proposing a deal.

Angela Ackerman said...

I think there are wise words here with trusting one's instinct! I totally agree.

Forcing a stand alone into a series is a mistake. But, I think we need to always be open to looking at things a new way. There's nothing wrong with seeing the story through a different lens for a bit, and testing an idea out. And if after a lot of thought, an epiphany hits and the writer sees how developing the bigger story could strengthen the book, then it was meant to be.

I'm sure whatever you decide will be the right thing to do. :)

Becca Puglisi said...

This is a really great discussion. I, too love sequels because I fall in love with the characters and want to see more. But there are also stand-alones that I love. It really does depend on the book. I also agree that many trilogies aren't necessarily necessary, as if the author is trying to prolong the story by stretching it over three books. Lots to think about here. I really do like my book the way it is, so I'm thinking seriously about the companion novel. We'll see!

Leslie Rose said...

I am a series addict. In fact I'm reading THE SCORCH TRIALS right now so I dug your pictures. When I really love a story and the characters I want to keep dating them. Sometimes standalones feel like a summer fling to me that I'd hoped would blossom into something more.

zaelyna said...

Here to share my own two cents (though please note, my opinions don't reflect the knowledge of what's being craved in the pub world atm):

I'm a fan of both, WHEN DONE WELL. Like Leslie posted early on, Harry Potter is a good example of a series that CAN work stand-alone, or together. JKR sums up what's important from earlier books well enough to make you feel informed w/o over-exposing necessary details related to newer plots.

For the moment, I feel like the series/saga thing is a fad much like that of OMG VAMPIRES EVERYWHERE! and honestly hope it passes soon. While I enjoy continuations of fav'd characters/universes, I like equal opportunity for stand-alones. They work well, and are often better for making me think deeply about myself and the world--something that should be highly encouraged among school-aged folks as well as adults.

With my own current YA-fantasy WIP, I, too, wrestle with "should I *aim* to make it a series? What if it's not successful?" question.

One thing that helps is thinking of my fav-read books in the Star Wars expanded universe. Timothy Zahn and his books on Grand Admiral Thrawn. There's two sets: a trilogy, and a duology. The latter always makes me think, "Hmmm, you don't get that much in the fictional world, do you? There's always *trilogies,* or long series of 5+ books, but rarely just two."

And not in your typical success/sequel manner, but a story that actually does simply span across two novels.

Going back to my WIP, though, I also consider the other thing that I (probably uniquely) prefer in stories: open-ended conclusions. Why? Like I said, they make me think more, and I like to think. BUUUT, they also leave that tiny opportunity for a return should the first story be a success.

I think that works best anyhoot. As someone else mentioned (forget who, sorry!) above, companion books are a legit way around this decision. Separate stand-alone stories that can be read as-is, or enjoyed in a series-esque way. They're not obligated to that "Oh, remember the joke that worked here? Let's bring it back for comic relief!" I annoyingly find in film sequels (in cinema, I'm *not* a fan of series, unless they're intentionally, i.e. Harry Potter, meant to be a series from the start), yet still give series fans the nostalgic return they enjoy.

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