Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sequels, Series, & Stand Alones—What's a Girl to Do?

Before I get into my main subject here, I thought I'd share a picture of some snowflakes we experienced this morning.  The photo doesn't do the flakes justice; those puppies were HUGE.  When I dropped my kids off at school, I thought a staff member was wearing a bow in her hair, but I realized it was a giant clump of snow that had landed on her head.  The flakes made loud smacking sounds as they hit my jacket.  It seriously felt like I was getting pelted on the losing end of a snowball fight with the heavens.

Anyway. . . the main thing I wanted to discuss this morning was the issue of sequels, series, and stand-alone novels.  What do you as a reader prefer?

Personally, I'm a fan of stand-alone books.  I think the creation and completion of a plot between the covers of one novel is an art form, and I love the thrill of working my way to a satisfying ending that blows me away.  However, I completely get the joy of a series.  Being able to continue a journey with beloved characters is also extremely gratifying, and I understand why both readers and publishers eat up sagas that stretch throughout several books.

I've been reading several young adult series lately, and I do have to say that I'm not a reader who can always handle the cliffhanger endings that won't get continued until a year later.  In the earlier days of fiction, when the works of authors like Dickens appeared serially, readers only had to wait a week or a month to receive the next installment of the series.  Today's readers typically have to wait three to twelve months.

On the one hand, waiting an entire year for a story isn't a bad skill to learn in our modern world of on-demand entertainment.  My eleven-year-old daughter isn't always the most patient person in the world, but even she can handle the suspense of a year's wait for a book.  However, if I'm personally not bowled over by the first installment of a series, I often won't seek out the second book—and I'm left with no ending.  I suppose that's the gamble involved in a series: you keep devoted readers, but you risk others falling by the wayside (others who might grumble about a lack of an ending).

As far as writing books go, I've been told that you don't want to necessarily sit down and write a series.  Write the first book with a potentially open ending, see if editors like it, and, at most, have an outline of ideas for further installments.   

My book that's currently out with publishers is a stand-alone novel.  It contains a definite ending.  Here's the problem, though: my main character won't get out of my head.  I think she wants me to tell more of her story.  She and I are a little at odds with another right now.  I've told her my opinions about the stand-alone novel as an art form, but she's a stubborn character and doesn't necessarily want to listen to my lofty views of literature.

We'll see what happens.  Perhaps her story will continue.  Maybe I'll play around with an outline and see if the ideas are worth pursuing.  For now, I'm reading both stand-alone novels and multi-book series and hoping the endings either leave me breathless for more or end with an unforgettable bang. 


Abby Stevens said...

First of all, hi! I love your name!

Secondly (that is, if you aren't now backing slowly away from my odd opening), I struggle with stand alone versus series, too. I have plenty of ideas floating around for a sequel (and even third book) for my WIP, but I don't want to be one of those people who (assuming I ever get published) is pigeon-holed into a series or genre or character. That being said, I really like sequels and companion novels because I'm already familiar with the world and invested in the characters.

Ara Burklund said...

While I don't seek out series, if I get captivated by a novel's characters, I will pursue reading subsequent titles. As such, I'm excited that Mary Shelley won't get out of your head! I'd love to read more about her life!!!

Cat Winters said...

Abby: Thanks for the comment about my name (a little secret: it's a nom de plume). According to my agent and a few editors I heard speak at last year's SCBWI conference, let those ideas for sequels swim around in your head, but don't necessarily write the sequels yet. If the first book gets picked up by a publisher, it might change so much during edits that it would completely throw off future books.

Ara: I'm the same way about pursuing subsequent titles if I'm captivated by a novel. Despite what I said about stand-alone books often being my top choice, I'm often disappointed if an author hasn't written other novels that are similar in style and themes.

Thanks for the encouragement about writing more about M.S. As I'm toying around with other plot ideas, her voice keeps coming into my head. There's still much more history I could use for future plots.

Kim Murphy said...

I've read quite a few series, not to mention have written them as well. No matter what, I suggest limit any series to no more than 3 books. I have yet to read a series that can be sustained for any longer. By the time, I've gotten to reading the fourth books in a few series, I go ugh. The spark has been lost. Some of these authors continue to write more, but I drop them after the spark is gone.

Cat Winters said...

It depends on the author. Although I missed the initial Harry Potter buzz, I got addicted to all seven books and movies (eventually 8 movies, after this summer). I haven't read any adult series that go beyond three books, but they do come up fairly frequently in the children's market. It certainly takes a strong dose of writerly magic to pull it off, though.