Hello Lifers! Today, we're going to delve into a topic that's as old as storytelling itself, dating back to the time Og the caveman was trying to explain to Ug his cavewife why he smelled like Oog the cave-skank's favorite perfume: how long should I make this story? And if it works this time, will it work again? Can I make this into a regular thing? And when will someone invent the shower, because all this cave-cheating is sweaty work?
Or, in modern parlance: should you write a series or a standalone book?
Let's start with series. There's something magical about a series, isn't there? The thought of crafting a world and characters so rich and compelling that they can't be contained within a single book is tantalizing. But, like all things in life, writing a series comes with its own set of challenges and rewards. Or "pros" and "cons" as the professional conmen call them.
Heh. See what I did there?
The first and most obvious advantage of writing a series is reader engagement. If your readers fall in love with your characters and your world, they'll be eager for more. This can lead to a loyal fanbase, consistent sales, and a sense of anticipation for your next release.
Another advantage is the potential for character and plot development. With multiple books, you have the space to let your characters grow and change in a way that's not always possible in a standalone book. You can also explore complex, overarching plots that wouldn't fit into a single volume.
Finally, from a marketing perspective, series can be a goldmine. Box sets, prequels, spin-offs – the possibilities are endless. And let's not forget the potential for adaptations. Hollywood loves a good series!
It also loves a good, grisly death when an author goes mad and eats his family. I recommend you skip that one.
Aside from the chance of cannibalism, series work is not all sunshine and rainbows. Writing a series can be a daunting task. It requires careful planning to ensure consistency and continuity. There's nothing readers hate more than glaring plot holes or characters behaving inconsistently from one book to the next.
Another potential downside is the commitment. Once you start a series, you're in it for the long haul. This can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's great to have a clear direction for your writing. On the other hand, it can feel restrictive, especially if you're itching to explore new ideas.
And how about this: who enjoyed that period of life when we were all hunkered inside our houses with the same people for weeks at a time because the world was ending? I hear crickets!
Writing a series can be worse, because unlike COVID lockdown protocols, series work can confine a bunch of people inside the confines of your own SKULL. It can get...well, old. Stale. Terrible. Maddening.
And then we're back to cannibalism again. Why is it always cannibalism? Sigh.
Maybe a series ISN'T the way to go.
There's something satisfying about a story that begins and ends within the same covers. But, just like a series, standalone books have their own set of pros and cons. Which (little known fact time!) is actually short for "PROfessional ANDrogenous CONsequences." But that's weird, so we'll pretend it means "pluses and minuses."
The biggest advantage of standalone books is the freedom they offer. You can explore a new world, a new set of characters, and a new story with each book. This can be incredibly liberating, especially for those of us with a million ideas bouncing around in our heads.
Standalone books also offer a complete experience to your readers. There's no waiting for the next book to find out what happens. This can be particularly appealing to readers who don't have the patience for series or who dislike cliffhangers.
From a marketing perspective, standalone books can be a less risky investment for publishers and readers alike. They don't require the same level of commitment as a series, which can make them more appealing to a wider audience. Especially since so many folks are a bit gun shy after certain series [khoff, khoff, GAME OF THRONES] have dithered and dickered their time until audience trust in series has eroded.
The downside? Each book is a new beginning. You have to build a world and characters from scratch, which can be time-consuming. And once you've spent all that time and effort, you have to say goodbye and start all over again with the next book. It's a bit like building a sandcastle and then watching the tide wash it away. Then building it again--hopefully bigger and better!--and then the tide comes in again and BOOM! Time to start from scratch. Why won't I learn?!
Another potential disadvantage is the lack of space for character development and complex plots. You have a limited number of pages to tell your story, which can be challenging, especially if you're used to the sprawling canvas of a series.
I used to be a lawyer (don't worry, I'm purchasing my soul back on an installment plan), so the reality is I rarely give direct answers. Who would pay $400/hour for THAT?
Which is why, when asked "To series or Not to series?" I answer:
Maybe. No. Yes. 42.
Seriously, though: the answer is as unique as you are. It depends on your story, your characters, your writing style, and your career goals.
If you're drawn to complex plots, character arcs that span multiple books, and the idea of building a loyal fanbase, a series might be the right choice for you. On the other hand, if you love the idea of exploring new worlds and characters with each book and offering your readers a complete experience in a single volume, a standalone book might be more your speed.
The important thing is that YOU decide. Don't leave it up to chance. Make a decision based on the evidence at your disposal, and you'll usually come off that much farther ahead in your publishing adventure!
To help you make this critical decision, here's a handy checklist:
I'm Michaelbrent Collings, an international bestseller and produced screenwriter, as well as a multiple Bram Stoker Award and Dragon Award finalist, and maker of a fair-to-middling chocolate chip waffle.
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