Series or Standalone: How do you decide?

Photo Credit: Adam Hagerman

I have to assume that most authors make this decision before beginning work on a new book. I would hope so. And there may even be times in which the publisher ultimately makes the decision for the author based on the success of previous works. But we’re just talking about the author’s perspective.

So you’ve decided to write a book? Great. Now you’ve come up with some story you want to write. Great. Then you begin writing. Yes, I know there are more steps to beginning work on a book, but the point of this post isn’t the book writing process. It’s about deciding whether or not your book should be the start of a new series or if it should be a standalone novel.

What needs to happen for you to make this decision? This decision was made LONG before I started writing. I’m talking December 2011! My first draft was finished in August 2013. I didn’t even begin writing until May 2013. But I always knew that I wanted to write a detective series. Let me tell you why. Because I LOVE series. The number of books in the series makes no difference at all. The Hunger Games is my favorite series ever. It’s a simple trilogy. Harry Bosch will appear in the 19th book of his series later this year. Robert B. Parker’s Spenser detective appeared in 40 books before Parker’s death in 2010. He’s since appeared in three more novels. Alex Cross has appeared in 21 books to date. See, the quality of a series doesn’t depend on the number of books written in said series. Would I love more THG books? Yes. Would I love for Parker to have written more Spenser novels before his death? Yes.

BUT there’s another side of the same coin. Some of my favorite authors have made their livings off of writing standalone novels. T. Jefferson Parker, who has written two of my nine favorite books, has written 11 standalone novels. Some fans of his would even argue that his writing is worse when he’s writing a series. His most recent Charlie Hood novels have not been well received by his readers, but some of his older work has helped him win two Edgar awards for Best Novel. Both books are as great as it gets in crime fiction.

Another of my favorite authors Marcus Sakey has gotten his writing career off the ground with standalone novels. Six of his eight books have been standalones. I hated his first series related book. I won’t even consider continuing the series.

So what helps you make the decision to write or not write a series of books around a single character? Do you think it’s inherently easier to write a long series? Or do you think you’ll be able to produce better stories if you have a new protagonist every time you write? Tell me your thoughts.

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