March 9th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
The State of the Standalone

One of the most common questions I have been getting about my upcoming novel is: “Is it a standalone?”

The answer, of course, is yes, being that it’s a retelling of a Jane Austen novel, and the woman wasn’t known for writing sequels (oh, no — we do that FOR her, these days), but the question speaks to the power of the series trend. It seems like every book these days is a series, or a trilogy, or a saga, or a who-knows-what-they’re-calling-it-this-time.

I recently went to a large, multi-book author signing — four of the five authors (all four who were on tour) were writing trilogies. Next week, I’m going to a signing of two more authors who are writing series. A quick perusal of the recent sales in my genre on Publisher’s Marketplace reveals listing after listing of “a sequel to” “first in a trilogy” “the next two books in the series” and so on.

And the big sellers in the field are almost all series. Last week’s NYT bestseller list for children’s chapter books had 3/10 listings were from YA series, and the children’s paperback list featured 5/10 books from series — and these numbers are artificially lowered, given that any series with three entries gets shunted into the stiff competition of the “children’s series list” (which, like the children’s list in general, was an invention of the Harry Potter era), where the average length of time a series has spent gracing that list is a hefty 142 weeks. (You can probably guess the majority of names that show up on that list, since they’re all household ones.)

Now this is mostly due to the fact that fantasy novels make up the bulk of those books (and those sales) and fantasy has always been a very series-driven genre, in adult or children. But even contemporary is getting in on the act. Most of the big romances these days, whether fantasy/paranormal, historical, or contemporary, are part of a “series” based around bands of brothers, or comrades, or denizens of a picturesque small town.

There are lots of benefits to writing as series — if your readers love one book, they’ll likely come back for more of the same. You can build much more depth of character, world, or setting if you have three or four or ten books to do it in.  But there are also drawbacks, If your series fails to capture a sufficient readership, you are faced with one of two daunting prospects: hitching your cart to a falling star and seeing diminishing returns as you pursue the series, or abandoning it, which angers the readers you do have.

I, myself, in my short career, have solely published series books. My first series was four books. My second series is (so far) two. Before I was published, I wrote four standalone novels that were never published.

So why, given the current, massively popular trend toward series, especially in my particular genre (YA “dystopian”), am I bucking the trend and writing a standalone?

The simplest answer is because that’s what the story demanded. As I said way back up there at the top, this book is a retelling of Persuasion, and Persuasion was not part of a series. To stretch the story or pervert it in some way to fit the trend would not have been in keeping with the story I wanted to tell. (And, let’s be honest: how many times have you been reading one of these series and wondered if they really need all these books to tell the story?)

So here I am, with my little standalone. So far, the response to the realization that it is a standalone has been quite positive. I think there’s a bit of series fatigue going on out there (especially, in YA, the three year slog of will-they-or-won’t-they for every romantic pairing), so maybe having a one-off will be refreshing. We’ll see what happens in June.

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7 comments to “The State of the Standalone”

  1. camille
     · March 9th, 2012 at 10:16 am · Link

    I’m an avid reader of YA, and while I love many different series that have been published, I do grow tired of the fact that now, all books seem to be in trilogies. There have been a few great standalone novels such as the ones written by Stephanie Perkins. And I really am looking forward to your standalone novel. It’s not that trilogies aren’t great, it’s just that, as you so well put it, it’s tiring to wait for three years for the end of a story. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop loving the triologies, but I have grown more attached in Standalones, now.

  2. Laura Lee Nutt
     · March 9th, 2012 at 12:34 pm · Link

    To me, the series push these days is sometimes a bit like how it seems most movies are retellings or sequels. It gets tiresome after a while and makes me wonder how much just making money was behind the decision to pursue a series. Saying that, there are some wonderful series in movies and in fiction, but the story should decide how many books it takes to tell, nothing more.

    Good luck with your new standalone!

  3. Jen
     · March 9th, 2012 at 5:44 pm · Link

    I definitely have series fatigue. Over the past couple months, I’ve been wishing for spec fic standalones. I do love series, but I’m growing tired of having to wait for the rest of the story, especially since a lot of first book in trilogies lately have ended in massive cliffhangers. I don’t mind them SOMETIMES, but I’d like a little more variety.

  4. Sasha White
     · March 9th, 2012 at 7:00 pm · Link

    Add me to the list of those with series fatigue. I’m sick of them, and think Stand Alone is great!!!

  5. Virginia
     · March 11th, 2012 at 12:16 pm · Link

    I love a good series, I love the wait for the next book, I love the reread of various books in the series in anticipation of the newest book, I love a book case of matching books, and I love a good, satisfying conclusion to a story that has taken years (if not decades) to finish. Two of my favorite series are coming to an end in the near future (Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series and The Wheel of Time). I’ve been reading both of these series for what seems like forever and it’s hard to imagine not waiting for the next book to come out.

    However, I have also rediscovered the stand alone. There is something almost freeing about reading a book cover to cover and then knowing that’s it. Love the ending or hate it, that story has been told. It is refreshing. I like it. 😀

  6. Ashley
     · March 13th, 2012 at 9:49 pm · Link

    I definitely think a lot of people will be happy with a stand-alone. There are just SO many series out there, and for every really good series, there are also those ones you mentioned where it’s just not necessary for it to be a trilogy or longer series.

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