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Monday, August 24, 2015

Pros and Cons of a series

Last week I questioned your preference of a series versus stand-alone novels.  The poll widget showed 5 of 6 people prefer a series.  The comments had good points regarding this question.  A big thank you to those who took a few moments and voted or commented. 

Authors are encouraged to write series, believing that the series is hot and the best chance to be a success.  But, it seems there are challenges with either a series or a standalone book.

People tend to read a series if they enjoyed (or at least were intrigued by) the world and people of that story.  Most authors shoot for this, but not all accomplish it.  A series that one loves can be like spending time with old friends and therein lies the hook.

We have many examples of successful series:  Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple/Hercules Poirot, Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Lisbeth Salander trilogy etc. and so on.

But a series' appeal weighs very heavily on the debut novel's success. The characters must engage the reader enough to want to see them again (harder than you may think), and the story must be equally gripping. Then each successive novel must be as good or better than the previous, the character snot get dull, and plots stay fresh to keep readers coming back. We all know of a series that outlived its entertainment value and became too predictable.

Additionally, a series must be able to smooth the way for a new person picking up the book without reading the series in order...and still understand exactly what is happening. 

The challenge of the standalone novel is to create an immersive world, full characters, and engrossing plot time and time again.  That can be a challenge indeed.  Many classic novels were stand-alones including Dracula, Robinson Crusoe, Rebecca, Winds of War, Treasure Island, or Red Badge of Courage etc.  More modern one-offs include The Color Purple, Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Water for Elephants, any Stephan King novel (The Shining, Cujo, It, Salem's Lot, The Stand, Misery...), Gone Girl etc.

Ultimately, a well written story is the best, but that isn't even a guarantee of being a best-seller (we can all name terrible books that sold well, or the stellar novel that was never widely recognized and thus languished, can't we?)  What are your thoughts on this?  Anything I've missed?  Please share.

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