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.