Should My Book Be A Series Or A Standalone Novel?
Hey, It's Finished!
An author friend who started at Page Publishing around the same time that I did back in 2014 recently hit 'Publish' on her fifth title last week. I was so excited for her as she sacrificed a lot to create her latest book, Willow Manor. When we discussed her journey with the characters, she mentioned that she hadn't realized it would turn in to an epic over 700 pages long.
Here's The Kicker
When I heard the length, I was stunned. Seven HUNDRED pages? I could only dream of a world of characters that would provide me with that much content.
I had to ask about breaking it into a series. How could I not?
She happily informed me it would be a series named 'An Echo In Time'. I clarified that I had meant for her to break up the first book into its own series. However, she already had a sequel brewing. She couldn't see breaking up the first story when there was already so much more to tell.
That's The Boat I'm In
Are you in a similar place with your writing? Where you have such an epic mapped out, you think it will all work out just fine, only to begin and end up with a doorstop on your hands before you get to book two? When it's not a matter of editing, how do you decide if it should be a standalone or a series?
Points To Ponder
1. Will your plot support readers interest over multiple titles?
If you're dying to try your hand at a series but your plot can't feasibly stretch that far, you might be looking at a standalone novel idea. Conversely, if you are mapping out your standalone and finding multiple character lifetimes being squeezed between the covers, it might breathe better as a series of stories.
Take the time to map out your plot completely so that you have a solid idea of the arc. Getting to know these characters and their progression through the plot you want to create can help you discover if they are just trying to triumph over another character or themselves. Flying blindly into writing a series might stall halfway through so be sure you know the beginning and end before you take off.
2. Can you keep details consistent throughout the passage of time?
If it looks like your plot will turn into a series of books, noting the passage of time is crucial. The devil is in the details, as they say. Having a character age will not only be cause for a possible maturing and changing of their skills, viewpoints and perspective but will change the world around them as well. Whether a sci-fi or contemporary setting, there will always be development of knowledge and/or technology as the years go by. Keeping that in mind can keep things from falling flat.
As you map, look for timelines related to your genre or plot. I found this article to be helpful, especially #20 as I am working on my crime novel. Google 'timeline of _____' to bring up quick infographics you can refer to as you write!
3. Do you have sub-plots?
For those who started a standalone and then found themselves amidst a sea of characters they couldn't forget, it might be time to take those sub-plots and spin off more stories that creates a series. But did you set up sub-plots and then forget about them? Every story has at least one major character, but the supporting cast can lend multiple levels of excitement to the overall story. Don't color in great secondary characters and then let them flounder in the background.
Give each character in your plot a page in your journal to write down all their details. Jot down their sub-plot and do a mini-mapping of their own story. Refer back to these info sheets when you hit a lull to direct the story back to them and keep their story going. If one character starts to get really interesting, note that there is a potential for their own future book further along in the series that you could work on!
4. Are you aware of your target audience and what they ultimately prefer?
Maybe you have a really hot romance on your hands and see the potential to break it up into a series. Are you marketing to an audience that will understand and expect two cliffhangers before they get the 'Happy Ever After' that they want? Some who love the romance genre don't go for multiple books before they see the main characters get together for good. It may turn off your audience if you're not tuned in to what they expect out of a book.
Research suspense and cliffhanger elements of the genre you are wanting to write in. Some publishers will be up front with you about wanting a standalone novel with a happy ever after - but some won't. Connect with authors already publishing in the genre you're trying and pick their brain. They might be able to let you know what they've found to sell better to their target. Forcing cliffhanger series on readers who just want a standalone happy ever after will do nothing for sales.
5. Will your interest wane and energy lag?
Being honest with yourself about how much energy you are able to reasonably put into writing can tell you a lot about whether or not you should take on creating a series or not. If you have considerable time each day and are ultra-obsessed with the characters you've created, you might find cranking out a three book series a breeze. But if other priorities limit your writing to once every few days, your energy might not be there to keep up a consistent pace. Readers who have to wait years for sequels will forget about your characters and move on.
Keep a journal of how much time per day you spend working on your writing. Note the pace, also. Over the course of a month, you should be able to get some idea about how fast the ideas are coming to you and how well you are able to find time to translate that onto the page. If it takes a month to get a chapter down, releasing the series as you complete it will drag on for years. Consider writing the entire series and then releasing it so that you can keep the readers interested and know you won't disappointed with delayed release times.
I Think I Want To...
Ultimately, you should sit down and get started. If you really can't figure out how long this book will be or if it should be one book or ten, start it anyway and figure that out later. A finished manuscript can be worked with. There is nothing set in stone that says you have to have it all worked out before you put pen to paper!
Let me know if your latest is a standalone or a series - I would love to hear from you about what you're working on. Do you juggle both as the story warrants? Or do you prefer to keep to standalone formats to keep your own interest high? Whatever it is, drop a line!