March 5th, 2012, 01:06 PM
"Why are there so few standalone books?"
Why are there so few standalone books? That is the question asked (and partially answered) by the following short Guardian article.
A better question would be - Why are there so many series?
There are several answers, and each writer likely has their own personal mix of them.
My own is this. I've created an entire universe. I want to explore more than the first book.
And as I explored with more writing I decided each book had to be complete on its own. Though there is a trilogy (one book published, the remaining two about 1.5 done) you can start in any one and I hope not feel cheated.
Because the reader (again, I hope) will be most interested in the universe than any story line. For the end of any story line, as with the end of every chapter in our lives, is the beginning for yet another story line.
At least until we die. And in my universe even that is not an end.
March 5th, 2012, 04:13 PM
Just Another Philistine
Does 1.5 done mean you have very fluffy drafts that need pruning or is there some engineering measurement of degrees of completion that I'm not familiar with?
More seriously, isn't just a matter of fads? First, J.R.R.T's publisher didn't think a single volume would sell; it would appear too daunting to the prospective reader. That and the fact all those pages would have made for a fragile paperback. Afterwards, is it just assumed that is still the case?
I can imagine sitting down to devise a story arc of where you want to start, where you want to go, and all the scenic attractions along the way and then looking for some logical break points. It's difficult for me to see planning three books in an arc. I spose folks do that but seems a lot more work than it ought to be.
Last edited by Hereford Eye; March 5th, 2012 at 04:17 PM.
March 5th, 2012, 05:34 PM
We Read for Light
Economic necessity comes to mind. The marketing of your trilogy accrues to all three books, rather than one of kind. If you're successful in hooking a reader, you've got him/her along for three rides, not just one. Especially in ebooks, where readers have come to expect new authors to put Book #1 out there for nothing or next to nothing, it seems to be the way the game is played.
March 5th, 2012, 10:01 PM
Things Fall Apart
I understand economic necessity and the desire to hook a reader, but I think a major part of the reason so many sci-fi/fantasy stories go beyond one book is that's the way we writers of spec fiction think. When we dream, we dream big and one book just isn't enough. There have, of course, been standout stand-alones (many of Neal Stephenson's novels come to mind) but we sometimes get so caught up in the universe that we can't limit it to 300, 500 or even 1,000 pages.
From an audience standpoint, books are increasingly expensive and it's less of a gamble to pick up one with an established character or setting one knows they'll enjoy than risk paying for a book that may just sit on a shelf collecting the proverbial dust after only a few chapters were read.
The YA I'm working on is slated to be a stand-alone at this point, but it's the first time I've delved into the steampunk sub-genre, and the more I work with it, the more it artistically turns me on, so I may make that into a series if I keep enjoying it so dang much. And I know for a fact that the more mature novel I'm working on just won't work as a single novel, the scope is just too big and the protagonist has a ton of crap to go through and redeem himself for before he can even begin to tackle the evil he was born to face.
That said, if I can't get either of those off the ground, it may be back to the drawing board, but even so, in the long run I think it just comes down to the fact that we think epically in scope.
March 6th, 2012, 01:15 PM
Big stories are easier, that would be my guess.
It is impossible not to get a feel for any of the Harry Potter characters after spending 7 books reading about them.
It is much more difficult to write a good character in a single novel, a character that manages to grab the attention and be interesting. That just takes more skill.
Even the worst writer would evoke something in the reader after bombarding them with more than a thousand pages.
That and money.
March 7th, 2012, 08:42 AM
Speaking from experience, there is both a financial and practical advantage to a series.
If your latest book in a series looks interesting, folks will want to play "catch up" and buy the previous novels. This is happening to me right now with Battle Dancer - the last of a four-book series.
Another is a nod toward current business practices. If a new author has a huge story to tell, they may find themselves stymied by the unwillingness of publishers to accept a huge word count. Breaking the story up makes sense from that angle too.
Of course, time is a factor as well as risk. Why spend years writing a single big story only to have it rejected? Far better to test the waters with a smaller portion that you can kick out in a year. I introduced the first book in my series, then wrote a completely different novel while waiting to see how the first was received. No sense continuing the series if that dog won't hunt.
The trick to all of this is for me is to make sure each book stands firmly on its own as much as possible. I would expect someone to be able to read any book in my series without being forced to read a previous novel. True, they will get a sense of missing out on back stories, but the central plot should hold firm.
Oh, and there comes a time when you need to fold the cards and shuffle a new deck, so to speak. Every series goes stale after a while.
March 7th, 2012, 08:47 PM
There is no tomorrow
I agree with the general opinion so far. Books are easier to get into if they are sequels or trequels or whathaveyous in a series. If you liked the characters and enjoyed the plot, storylines, world, etc. of the first and/or earlier books then you are more likely to pick up the next one.
However, for the past couple of years I've had a growing appreciation for the shorter length works. Either the standalone novel or even novellas. It's a challenge--and quite an enjoyable one when done well!--to see if a complete story cannot only be told, but also explored to a satisfactory point in just a few hundred pages. Books like The Sorcerer's House by Gene Wolfe (the only Wolfe I've read--loved it!) and the much larger, 816 page War of the Flowers by Tad Williams.
March 7th, 2012, 09:06 PM
Things Fall Apart
Even though it was 1,000 pages, I appreciated that Neal Stephenson's Anathem was a stand-alone. After the mind-boggingly long and complex Baroque Cycle, it was a welcome return to his earlier habit of writing one-shots.
March 8th, 2012, 01:59 AM
I think part of the reason is convention that traditional high fantasy is epic in scope, with traditional subjects being something along the lines of "save the world". These sorts of stories, by their nature, are long. Three is a figure that resonates with people for a whole host of reasons, some of them not fully understood. The significance of threes is widespread across different cultures and in different contexts.
March 8th, 2012, 02:03 AM
Originally Posted by Hereford Eye
I would be very concerned with a writer who didn't devise arcs for their series. Good story telling should have structure, it shouldn't just be a rambling collection of events. Every component should have structure, from the overall story right down to individual scenes.
March 8th, 2012, 10:40 AM
I write SF. SF is cool.
I've written standalone and series books, and I have to say it has as much to do with the story you're trying to tell; simply put, it often doesn't need to be told in more than one book. And some stories essentially present you with the most significant moment of a story's arc; other stories could be done, but there's little point to it.
Series can be easier: Once you create the elements for the first story and finish it, you can simply develop new stories for the same characters and background. But that rule doesn't always follow, again, depending on the story being told.
I don't see a problem with writing a standalone book that tells a single good story. There's no reason to insist that a good story must be followed up with another; it can be enough to acknowledge the worth of the story, and move on.
March 10th, 2012, 10:28 AM
Riyria Revelations Author
It's actually not difficult to plan a series and break them down into self-contained episodes. Think of television shows that do this all the time. The only difficulty is deciding if you can live with putting out the first ones while the later ones are "designed" but not "written".
Originally Posted by Hereford Eye
For me, I decided to write all six books before publishing the first and while I'm glad I did (as it allowed me to plant some seeds in prior books when a good idea came up in a later one), it is not something that I would recommend to others...particularly because it is a huge investment and if the first book flops - well you're in a really bad way.
I can do either stand alone or series, but I think reader are happier with series, especially since they have some expectations and some investment already that they don't have to make as big of a leap of faith then on a stand alone. As a writer - your challenge...and responsiblity...is to make that faith prove worthy - by writing good 'subsequent' books that validate the trust they placed in you.