The Big Question

Series or standalone?

Here is a post at the B & N blog debating that question.

Aidan: Alright, I’m going to come out of the gates here unequivocally as a lover of standalones.

Corrina: I checked my bookshelf and it’s full of series. Oh, sure, there are a few standalone stories here and there but, mostly, I’m hooked on series.

I could not participate in this debate. Or rather, I would have to switch sides halfway through. I would do this:

Me: When I’m pressed for time, I love me a standalone!

Me (later): Nothing’s better or more welcome than a new installment in a loooong series where the author’s managed to maintain quality straight through.

I have to admit, I am slow to start a longer series and may never get to it, because so often I *am* pressed for time.

On the other hand, nothing’s better than a long series where you really have time to sink into the world and get to know the characters.

Question! Where do trilogies fall? For me, a trilogy has almost none of the “too long to start” factor. A long standalone is often about the same length as a trilogy of moderate size. Only if each book in the trilogy is like six or eight hundred pages do I start to think of it as “kinda too long for right now.”

Recent series I’ve loved:

The Wings of Fire series (five books, ten eventually). But each book is short and simple. Resistance to starting the series: no.

The Steerswoman series (four or so books, unfinished). Oooh, could not do this kind of story as a standalone! It’s too big! Gaah, I want the series to be finished! Resistance to starting this unfinished series: YES but I overcame it.

I’m sure there are other series I both started and finished (what there is of the series) this year, but I have to admit, all year I’ve been leaning more toward standalones.

Aidan and Corrina talk a lot about authorial voice and how a voice that works for you can keep you coming back to a long series, or can attract you to whatever a particular author writes by providing a sense of familiarity. Click through to read the whole thing.

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5 thoughts on “The Big Question”

  1. Regarding the Foreigner series: if you want to give it a try, you can read just book 1 as a standalone, it works qute well as that.
    The series is also deliberately written in threes, so you can stop at the end of book three, or book six, at the end of a story arc and have a satisfying conclusion.
    After that, for me, the sequence-of-trilogies structure becomes less distinct, though it’s still present. Those arc-ends clearly contain interesting possibilities to explore in future arcs. After all, if you’ve invested in reading 9 books, you’re likely to be interested enough to continue on to book 12, and book 15.
    Cherryh is too canny a writer to take the story in the obvious direction for each new arc, which keeps us interested; each arc gives us a wider view of the world.
    She’s just finished the 3rd of the next story arc, and has mentioned on het blog that the next book she’ll be writing is in the Alliance-Union universe, not Foreigner. So maybe the next set of three to be published will be the end of that series (I rather hope not, I like it; Foreigner is my favorite of all her series – but I like her Chanur books and her Alliance books too).

  2. Series and standalones serve different purposes, and I don’t think I have a strong preference between them. That being said, I hate it when a series starter is presented as a standalone. If it can stand alone, that’s fine, but I hate that moment when you’re 90% through the book and wondering how they can possibly wrap everything up, and then you realize they aren’t going to, and you’re going to have to wait a year at least to see how it turns out.

  3. What SarahZ said.

    A book in a series should still be a book, complete and whole in itself. Series these days are stuffed with filler, padding the story out so that it stretches over several volumes. I’m at the point where I will read a first book and then skip the intervening books and read the last one.

    I feel like a curmudgeon yelling at all these young whipper-snapper series books to get offa my lawn. Writing a story that’s broken into several parts is a tradition that goes back to Dickens (Pickwick Papers) and even before him. It just seems to me that the authors used to be more upfront that what you were reading was part of the story, not the whole thing.

  4. It’s often not the author’s fault! The publisher may insist on concealing that the book is part of a series; that happened to . . . Sarah Monette, maybe? I may be misremembering. But I recall a blog post about this where the author was upset because the publisher refused to indicate anywhere on the first book that it was the start of a series.

    I agree that whoever does it, it’s REALLY ANNOYING.

  5. Hanneke, I’m not sure I agree. I think the entire first book of the Foreigner series is an intro, and reads like an intro, and is not particularly satisfying as a book in itself.

    Foreigner is also my all-time favorite series, but I do suspect the next set of three will be the last. I think I can see an end-point coming. But I wouldn’t mind at all if I were wrong about that!

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