I feel like books series are reaching epidemic proportions. It's hard to find a book that's NOT part of a series.
From a marketing standpoint, I can clearly see the advantages. Hook the reader and sell three books instead of one. More book sales equals more money. The author creates a name and a brand for themselves, and everyone's happy.
Or are they?
From a reader's standpoint, I'm not sure I'm sold on the series approach. Don't get me wrong, some series are amazing.
But in writing a series there are some inherent problems, and unless the writer is unusually skilled, these problems can lead to very disappointing books.
Here are the two issues that concern me the most:
Problem 1- Once the first book is complete, if the author has done their job well, so is the character arc. The character arc is one of the main story elements that keeps a reader hooked and reading to the end. Consequently, the next few books in the series often fall flat. How many times have you LOVED the first book in a series and the rest were only okay?
Problem 2- The first book leaves you hanging because the character arc is incomplete and the conclusion unsatisfying. This is a very popular writing trick to get readers to buy the next book. But whenever I read a story like this, I have to ask myself if the author considers me a reader or a number. Are they writing to perfect the craft or to make a sale.
This is where the tricky part comes in, because perfecting the craft and selling books are both important. It's a fine and difficult line to walk. As an author, I can relate. We all want to write the best story we can, but unless that story sells, we're just people sitting in our sweatpants at a computer all day.
Do authors who write series sell more books? It's very possible that they do.
Do authors who write stand-alone books win more awards? It seems to me they do--although I haven't done official research.
What are your thoughts? Do you prefer a series or stand-alone?
I prefer stand-alone books. I do like it when there's a companion novel set in the same world/setting as the first book, or a novel about a second character. An example: The Wednesday Wars and Okay for now by Gary Schmidt. The main character in OfN was just a minor character in TWW and I absolutely loved both books! When you fall in love with the first book, and the story is complete, it's still a nice surprise to see the characters you love peek into the new story to say hi.ReplyDelete
I don't like it when the in a series the first story isn't complete (The Raven Boys). I feel duped and taken advantage of. But it might be just me.
Companion novels can be a great "best of both worlds" option. The readers get to spend more time in a world they've come to love, but through the eyes of a fresh, new character. Thanks Yamile!Delete
I don't have a preference. I find I have to take each book/series on a case by case basis.ReplyDelete
Yamile mentioned The Raven Boys, and I loved that first story—particularly the characters—so I'm very excited for the next one. Maggie Stiefvater also wrote the stand-alone novel The Scorpio Games, and I adored that one.
Good point. Each book or series should be judged by its own merits.Delete
As a reader, I have to say I do prefer the books I read to be stand alone. I don't like having to remember to seek out book 2 in a series when it comes out. Often, if I know a book is part of a series, I'll wait for the full series to be released and then pick them up. I just read so many books that to keep it all straight or to remember to get such-and-such a book next year to continue the story would require a spreadsheet.ReplyDelete
That said, if the stories are tied up nicely with each book, I'm not put off by series and seek those out. But if it's Cut off mid-story with a cliff hanger that requires the purchase of book 2 and a year wait to have a resolution, well, they've lost at least one reader if they do that... but I know some readers like that so to each their own.
But as a writer, I like writing series books. I do write stand alone books too, but series are fun since you get to play in the world a bit longer.
Some series are good enough to fill your plate with each book. But I'm with you, if it ends on a cliff-hanger, they've often lost me as a reader. By the time the next book comes out, I've usually lost interest--partly because I can't remember why I cared about the main character in the first place.Delete
I had to come back to add the one of the only exceptions to my "dislike" for series is the Percy Jackson books. Rick Riordan always ends in horrible cliffhangers, but I love Percy, so I'll be reading the next one as soon as it comes out. I guess if I'm too invested in a character, the author can pretty much do whatever. I'll read it.Delete
Stand alone. I hate when I get to the last 1/3 of a new book and think, "I hope this isn't a series. I'll be mad..." and lately it almost always is a series that leaves you hanging. By the time the next book comes out, I usually don't remember what I loved about the book in the first place.ReplyDelete
Good comment. It's hard to remember why we want to read the next book.Delete
Writing more books is totally milking the cow for all it's worth. So yeah...ReplyDelete
Once you've created amazing worlds and characters, it seems a lot easier to build on that foundation than start all over again. Thanks for the comment.Delete
I like Yamile's comments. Stand alone or companion novels. The "Fair Assassin" novels are another fantastic example of that.ReplyDelete
It's not that I don't like series, I just think they are so overdone now, and done poorly at that. I loved the Hunger Games trilogy, Clockwork Angel and the Divergent trilogy so far for example. But most trilogies, as you said, delay the character arc to a point that's painful or complete it in the first book. Cassandra Clare's Clockwork Angel series is one where the character arc is written masterfully, where all three main characters grow and change and then finally reach a satisfying conclusion in book three. Even then, with her fantastic characterization, the last book is a bit slow.
Bottom line: Series can be done well, but why can't we have more stand alone or companion novels. Does EVERYTHING have to be a series? If you like an author, you'll continue reading! Don't rip us off with half a story!!
Excellent examples. Thanks Tiff! And I agree with your comment that if we like the author we will keep reading, we don't need a string-along series.Delete
I think it can depend a lot on the genre. I'm a big fan of coming of age stories and those tend to work best in a series in my opinion. The best example of this for me is Max Zimmer's Journey (If Where You're Going Isn't Home). This book was amazing and I'm delighted to say it's the first in a trilogy. When an author creates a character that you connect with so deeply, you just want to keep up the relationship as long as possible. I can't wait to read book 2. One of the best books I have read in many years. http://maxzimmer.com/the-trilogy/ReplyDelete
Some genres lend themselves better to series.Delete
9 times out of 10, the stand-alone books are the ones I love the most. I also rarely love a last book in a sequel more than I love the first. And you can tell when a reader doesn't resolve something just so they can write another book to resolve it, and I personally HATE that and lose a lot of respect for the author when they do that.ReplyDelete
All of that being said, there are some fabulous series out there, and I think that especially if the author has a grand beginning and end in mind (HP, LOTR), series can be so powerful and fulfilling.
I wouldn't mind a second Blind Eye book :)
Good comment! I hate being left hanging at the end of a book! We'll see about A Blind Eye. :)Delete
Rarely do I pick up a book that is part of a series. I am with you, by the time I have finished the first book and the next one comes out, I have forgotten what I have loved about the story because I have started a new book in the process. I like to know that when I close the book I have reached the end of the story. Now there are some author's out there that end their story in a cliffhanger and there isn't another book to carry on a series. Stephen King does that quite often in his books and it drives me crazy!ReplyDelete
Stephen King can get away with a lot! I guess that's what happens when you're famous.Delete
I don't mind either stand-alones or series, honestly--IF they are done well. I think some of the series/trilogy craze is because publishers are wanting to capitalize on a brand. They don't have to go out and find new readers, because Book 1 has already established a fan base. I had a discussion with an agent recently and he said that publishers want authors to write similar things (including the same worlds), so make sure it's what you really want to do because you'll be there for a while.ReplyDelete
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