Shop-Talk: Standalones, Trilogies, and Series

I guess it’s no secret that authors love series, and love them for practical reasons—the chance to more fully explore a world and a set of characters, and the fact that when an author sells a series to a publisher, there are multiple book sales involved. Much more comforting to one’s career than selling standalone books one at a time.
(Sure, if you’re Stephen King or Nora Roberts, you can just sell X number of unspecified books, but most authors can’t do that. There’s a process of submitting a proposal, a synopsis (detailed outline), and sample chapters which publishers then sit on for months on end before deciding whether or not they want to print them. But I digress.)
But how do you feel about series as a reader? Is there a limit? Are there series that you think have gone on too long?
I love series, and there are quite a few that are on my must-read, auto-buy list. I’m currently reading Ever After, book eleven in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, and I’m already mourning the fact that there will be only two more books after this. I know there were some mixed reviews on the last book, A Perfect Blood (which I liked personally), but I will truly miss this series. Same with the Harry Dresden series, which I think is still going strong, with a few more to go (I think Jim Butcher has said he was stopping at nineteen or twenty).
There are a couple of other popular series, whose names I won’t mention, that I’ve loved over the years but have probably gone a couple of books past where they should have ended, where the characters have started feeling stale and the natural unfolding of story has begun to stall. 
As a reader, I see series I’ve missed out on (like the John Connolly series that guest reviewer Cherry talked about here yesterday), and I’m daunted by this being book eleven. It would take forever to catch up.
Which brings us to trilogies and standalones. In some ways, trilogies seem to be the ideal reader experience. There’s enough room for a story to sprawl out and develop, and for characters to grow. Yet three books isn’t daunting. I haven’t had a chance to read the Hunger Games books, but there are only three of them. So they’re sitting and waiting on me and I will get to them.
Standalones, I have mixed feelings about. First, they’re hard to find. Sci-fi tends to have more than any other of the speculative fiction genres, I think. Have you found many standalones? Do you feel they gave you the same satisfaction as losing yourself in a world with a long story arc?
My paranormal romance books (written as Susannah Sandlin) were written as a trilogy, and as the trilogy comes to a close next month, I feel sad that I’ll either be changing that world into something a little different with a spinoff series or leaving the world behind to develop new worlds, new characters.
What are your thoughts? Would you like to see more standalones,  or are you, like me, a series fan? What’s the first series you remember reading? My favorite books as a kid were Nancy Drew (series), Heidi(standalone), The Secret Garden (standalone), Little Women (trilogy, sort of).

One commenter will be chosen to win a choice of titles from my Book Horde list.

59 thoughts on “Shop-Talk: Standalones, Trilogies, and Series

  1. I am a series fan. Love it when a trilogy is a success and turns into a series or a spin-off. Using Kim Harrison as an example I have read all the Hollows books so far and will be sad to see it end, even though we have known it will for a long time. I think I like the author more when there are other things you can read. I have The Truth series, The Decoy Princess series, The Madison Avery series and The Hollows series. Will follow Kim to the next series whatever it is. Spider Silk, Pet Shop Boys, Grace, Peri or ???. Standalones always leave me wishing there were more. Trilogy’s seem just right.

    • Like you, I tend to follow authors to new work as long as the genre is similar. I read Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series, and also followed her to her Alpha and Omega series. But I haven’t read her traditional fantasy work.

  2. I like both stand alones and series. The problem however with series is that when they center on a couple the romance gets either dragged out forever or there’s lots of pulling and pushing within the relationship (splitting up and getting together again) if they do get together early on. I really hate the latter I will confess.

    One of the first series I can remember reading was Pim and Pidoe a dutch series for children about a dog and a raven who have adventures together. Later on I discovered the St. Clare’s series from Enid Blyton.

    • I agree about the romance. That’s something I’m going to struggle with in the Sentinels series. I don’t want DJ hopping from guy to guy, and so I think the challenge is to have a relationship working and growing and changing so it isn’t boring, but also not have it be on again, off again like a yoyo.

  3. I’m a fan of both series and standalones, but I find it hard to transition when an author changes. If a series author goes standalone I seem to want more of the series and if a typically standalone author goes series I tend to want more standalones again. I’m weird. I have found, too, that some of my longstanding series reads have sort of become less appealing as they get into the double digits. In the end, I’m always up for a good book, whether it’s a series installment or standalone read, though.

    • Oh, that’s interesting. I’m trying to remember if I’ve read a series author who’s gone standalone, or vice-versa. I can’t think of any right offhand. I have read a couple of authors who sold one or two books of what they’d hoped would become a regular series but the sales weren’t high enough for the publisher to continue the books.

  4. I love series and standalones. In a series, I feel the same as I do with TV shows, all good things must come to an end. No matter how much it hurts. BSG anyone? I think standalones are good but sometimes, when I wish there was just a little more, it actually ends up being disappointing. Trilogies are sometimes the perfect amount. Sometimes. I honestly would love to see more from Penton. 🙂

    • LOL. So would I, Lee! That’s still to be determined; we’ll see how Omega does when it comes out in early February. BSG did go on forever. I admire Kim Harrison for knowing where she wants the Hollows series to end and capping the number of books so that she controls when it ends instead of the publisher.

  5. I remember growing up I read more series than standalones and now I read a balance of both types and enjou them all. I like series because I can count on the characters I’ve grown to love to return. It’s familiar and yet still a fun adventure like with the Nancy Drew books. With standalones, I like the closure. I can simply enjoy a story and find a resolution. I still enjoy series but I would prefer they also have some kind of closure, because a major cliffhanger while the next installment is months or even a year in the making…the wait can be agony!

    • Ah, cliffhangers! Yes, those are frustrating. It’s a hard balance. In writing, you want to wrap up the major external plot in a book, while keeping things simmering just enough to make people hungry for the next book when it does come out.

  6. I enjoy both series and stand alone books. My problem with series is it that many go on for far too long and I loose interest in continuing with the series. The first series I remember reading was Tom Swift Jr.

    • I remember Tom Swift! I didn’t realize I’d read so many series as a kid until I started thinking all the way back to the Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew 🙂

  7. Like other commenters, I really enjoy a series. You can have a lot more depth to the setting, characters, overall plot arcs.. and they really make for an enjoyable read.

    But by that same token, YES, they can drag out too long. With *The Series that Shall Not Be Named*, I stopped at book 9, Nora Roberts/JD Robb (In Death), I stopped at book 32! lol So it just depends on how much I’m still into the series. I would hope that there’s an end in sight though. Nothing bites more than when a series goes off the rails or just turns into a cash cow. It gets boring and it just seems like plot lines are manufactured and you substitute one hero’s name for another.

    I do like trilogies as a general rule. You can build a nicely crafted world without dragging it out too long.

    I’m good with standalones as well. (Lots of romance has trilogies, but they can be read as standalones- something which I’m very grateful for. Some plot lines just don’t do it for me, but there are certain ones that do)

    • LOL. I’m not sure which series “shall not be named,” but I can think of two that fit that bill for me…maybe three. And I will truly miss the Hollows series so it just depends, partly on my own reading tastes and on the author’s skill at keeping the story moving forward.

  8. I enjoy both series and stand alones. However,I have certainly read some series that should have ended quite a bit sooner than they did. I know of one popular series that started out as a planned triology and as far as I am considered, it should have ended at three books. I became bored with it and haven’t read the last several books. No big loss to me when it ends finally. I will be lost when the Harry Dresden books end and I am already sad about the ending of the Hollows books. I just feel that sometimes things are dragged out and padded to extend way too much. I have also read stand alones that seemed as if the author wanted to reach x number of pages, and so dragged out descriptions,etc. Do I really need 3-4 paragraphs on they type of knife a character cooks with, where they buy their knifes and what type of chopping board they prefer?
    Off my soapbox now 🙂

    • I’m really going to miss Dresden too, Susan. Re: padding in books. I think there is a certain “magic number” that authors try to reach. For urban fantasy and paranormal romance, it tends to be 90,000 words. But I’ve bounced between 88k and 101k. Just depends on the story. I do hate to see a story padded, though. It usually shows up in the pacing.

  9. Series are probably my favourite, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few more standalones out there. It is sometimes nice to pick up a book and only have to commit to one! I agree that series can be taken too far though. I like it when they are planned out beforehand with an overarcing plot (like Harry Potter), rather than just kept going until the characters and plot run dry.

    • I sometimes wish I liked contemporary romance more, because there are more standalones (also in romantic suspense, I think) and, as you say, sometimes you just want something short and not so involved.

  10. I love series, because when characters/storylines work well, I want to see more of those characters, even if it’s in a secondary role. I do feel that some series go on FAR too long – I’ve long since given up on Anita Blake and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Darkhunters series.

    I highly recommend Patricia Briggs’ fantasy novels as well – they’re really excellent.

    • I am about four books behind on Anita Blake now, and I’ve never read the Dark Hunter series. By the time it was on my radar there were like 20 books out and it’s too daunting to start. Like Teri Anne, below, I’m kind of fanatical about reading a series in order.

  11. I think I prefer trilogies. A lot of the books I read tend to be trilogies. I think done right that 3 books can be enough to tell a great story.

    But that said my favorite YA series is the Vampire Academy (6 books) and that is followed by the Bloodlines series/Richelle Mead (also i believe 6 books). And I never once felt that the story was getting old.

    And my fav adult series is Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld and that went 13 books. And I wanted more.

    I do feel that certain series seem to go on forever. And not in a good way. For example, while I still enjoy PC and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series. The books just keep going on and on.

    jlkalman26 at gmail dot com

    • I like trilogies too, both as a writer and as a reader. In my books, the Sentinels book has a longer story arc than I could get in three books, but it has a direction and an endgame. So it just depends, I guess.

  12. I do love a series, but I’m obsessive enough that I HAVE to start with book one, and if I’m not sure I’ll love it, I will go the library/used bookstore route before I start investing…so that can be a challenge.
    So yeah, the trilogy thing is ideal.

    • I hear you–I’m pretty fanatical about reading series in order. I started on the Dresden series at book six and had to buy all six before I’d start reading!

  13. I love series – I can never get enough of my favorite characters. The Hollows was my first foray into urban fantasy and I will be so sad to see that series end. I think it really doesn’t matter how many books are written in a series provided that the series ends on a high note and not drag on and on. Sure, I’ll miss the characters, but some series (that will remain nameless) should have ended at book 5 or 6 and are presently on books 18+.

    It’s also nice to see the progression of the writer’s story telling abilities as series continue. Some of my favorite series get better at books 3 or 4, especially if the world is really complicated.

    Ideally, a reader should be able to jump into a series at any point and still be able to figure out what is going on. Some writers are really good at doing recaps that don’t seem repetitive. As a reader, I appreciate it.

    There is something to be said about stand alone books. Financially, they are easier on the pocketbook.

    • Really good point about the progression of a writer’s storytelling abilities. I think the third Sentinels book is better than River Road, and that River Road was better than Royal Street–for that very reason. Writers should always keep learning and growing. In most of my own favorite series, the books have tended to get better up to a point–usually books three or four.

  14. I do love series – I think the author is usually able to flush out the characters really well and expand the world-building so they become such satisfying reads. The only thing is that the characters have to develop (at least a little), or the series can start getting stale, such as the Anita Blake series.

    When I was a kid, I remember reading the Anne of Green Gables series, the Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Babysitter’s Club series! 🙂

    Thanks for the giveaway,

    • LOL–well, Anita has grown and changed, but it’s just not a direction that a lot of people cared for. I’m behind with the series so I honestly don’t know how that whole incubus-succubus direction has developed.

  15. It totally depends on the story telling quality. If the author is that talented then I would LOVE a big series, i.e., In Death series by JD Robb (now at book #37), the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. But if the author is not that good, then I just stop following the series and that author. So I say it depends on the author’s story telling quality. And thank you for having me yesterday Sue! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for introducing us to a new (to me) series! And you’re right…how long a series should run depends on the author’s ability to keep weaving an ongoing (as opposed to episodic) story that allows the characters to grow.

  16. I totally agree with you. I like series, but sometimes I’m daunted by really long ones and it keeps me from starting them. Trilogies, on the other hand, are a great length for a series. I do get in the mood to read standalones, though. It’s nice to close a book and not feel like you’ve been left hanging.

    I think the first series I ever read was the American Girl books when I was a kid. Loved those lol.

  17. I like series but i’m always afraid something will happen and i won’t have the end. that’s part of the problem, starting a long series already started…why not but then i prefer it to be finished when i stop ( too sad after the case with the series Jaz Parks by Jennifer Rardin)

    Also i don’t mind stand alone…
    i guess i like series where books are linked together but not necessary need to be read in order with each time a story ( like the sentinel are in a way) there is a bigger story yes but you don’t get teh feeling you miss something at the end ( even if you still want more ^^)

    series when there is a high cliffhangers not for me anymore even less when i have to wait 4 years minimum between books ( the quality is there but still)

    in fact i don’t count how many series i have on my wishlist and shelves^^;;

    • Yes, there’s always the danger readers won’t like the direction you take a character or a series. Hopefully, though, the author can show why something was done, or will make things so interesting the reader forgives him or her 🙂

  18. I like both stand alones and series, depending on my reading mood. But spin-off? Not always..
    My first series are enyd blyton’s. I loved her works when i was a kid

    • Spinoffs can be tricky, I think. People who like the original series might not like that their favorite characters aren’t in the spinoff, and new readers might avoid the spinoff if they haven’t read the series it spins from. Pros and cons. I haven’t read JR Ward’s angel series, but it’s kind of a spinoff of the Black Dagger Brotherhood. Anyone read those books? I have them on my TBR pile. Patti Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series is a spinoff of the Mercy Thompson series and I think it works really well. So it depends.

  19. I like series books. I’d say 90% of what I read are part of a series. My first series which I love,was Keri Arthur’s Riley Jensen series and wish she would keep writing them. But I understand the need to not want to ‘overstay’. I say a series is a good run at about 9 books.There are some exceptions like Kelley Armstrong and Kim Harrison.

    • I’ve heard good things about that series, but haven’t read it. My series percentage is probably about 90%. Some books I end up reading for review are series books I’m reading out of order, which I hate. I’ve vowed not to do that this year 🙂

  20. I like stand alones and series books. If the books are part of a series, I prefer that they be stand alone and not be the same main characters in every book in the series. If every book in the series is about the same main characters, then I hope the series isn’t that long (like 20 books).

    • I like both. Seems like urban fantasy tends to keep the same hero/heroine from book to book, while paranormal romance series have continuing story lines but change couples to feature in each book.

  21. I love both standalones and series…series because you get to follow a group of characters around, watch their ups and downs and their HEAs!

  22. I love series. Especially when you get to see the characters develop over time. Christine Feehan, Nalini Singh, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jayne Ann Krentz write multiple series which are on my favorites lists. Trilogies are great because usually the story arc is completed. I hate when a series doesn’t get completed because the publisher doesn’t think there is enough interest in the next book! You’re left wondering what happened. I have read some great stand alone stories that I wish became a series because I wanted more of a character or setting.

    • I also hate when series are cut short because of low sales. Fortunately, self-publishing is easy enough these days that, unless a publisher prohibits it, the author can write a novella or novel to wrap things up and keep readers from suffering.

  23. Yes & no. It’s agony waiting for the next book, & the next & next…. & the author has better not die before he finishes it! I’ve also had the unfortunate experience where the 1st book in the series is excellent & the rest don’t match up. So disappointing.

    • Yes, I don’t think many authors have made arrangements for series wrapups in case they die! The exception was probably Robert Jordan, who had a long illness and left extensive notes so that Brandon Sanderson was able to work with Mr. Jordan’s widow and complete The Wheel of Time series.

  24. I am a series fan. I love reading about characters about whom I’ve read in a previous book. I find it easy to connect with them like meeting old friends. I love to know how couples from previous books are doing. I somehow feel that I read faster when I am in the middle of a series too. I don’t mind stand alones too but it stays with me for a short time.

    • That’s interesting. I’d never thought about it, but i also read faster once I’m in a series. I think it’s probably because the world-building got set up in the first book, so there’s a lower “learning curve” on the subsequent books.

  25. I LOVED the Nancy Drew series as a kid! I really read all 64 of the original mysteries! 🙂 And yes, I do prefer series to standalones. The wait kills me though, which is why I like waiting until all the books have been released, then I read them back to back. 🙂

    • Nancy Drew was awesome! I loved those books. The only bad thing about waiting until a series is done to read it (and I’ve done that myself) is that if enough people do that, the sales are low and the publisher cancels the series!

  26. I love trilogies and series. I have to read them in order though. I dislike major cliffhangers and will sometimes wait (with trilogies esp) until the last book is published to start them so I can read them all together. I like the idea of keeping up with previous characters even if they are not the main characters from book to book. Thinking about it now I just don’t read that many stand alone books. 🙂

    • I’m the same way, Bonnie. After I wrote this post, I started looking at the books I’d read in the past few years and the only standalones were nonfiction. I don’t think it was a conscious decision not to read standalones…there just aren’t many in the speculative fiction genres, except horror, if you count that as spec fiction. Literary fiction, of course, is primarily standalones.

  27. I do love series, revisiting the previous main characters or just seeing what they are up to now. There are not many series I have become bored with, but Christine Feehan is pushing it at the moment with her Carpathians. Still love her other series though. A good series is like coming home to good friends, and catching up.

  28. I tend to gravitate to series or trilogies rather than standalones, just because if I really like the world, I am selfish and want to have more books to read set there! It IS pretty daunting to try to pick up a series when it’s already like 10 books in, though. But if my library has the series and it’s come well-recommended by friends or blogs I trust, I’m willing to start at the beginning and catch up.

  29. I have a love, hate relationship with series. I love them because I love continuing on with a character. I feel we get so much depth and so much story from them than we could get in just one book. I also love series that revolve around a family, friends or town. It’s fun to see secondary characters get their own story. I also hate series because it’s such a drain on my wallet and I feel like I am always struggling to keep up with series that I don’t always have the time or money to start on a new series or a book. There are some series that are so overwhelming in the mass number of books in it, that I keep finding myself passing the series up because it is just to much time and money to catch up on it. See, love and hate 🙂 The first series I remember reading as a kid…Frog and Toad/The Boxcar Children/all the Sweet Valleys/ Flowers in the attic/ Babysitter’s club and the Archie comics 🙂

  30. I am a lover of series; there are so many I started and loved, but sometimes I feel like the author is dragging them for too long (see Charlaine Harris. I’m starting to get annoyed by the last ones and I stopped reading L.K. Hamilton a while ago).

    I love standalone, but for some reasons they never end up on my favourite list… sigh, I guess I prefer series. Love/Hate relationship

  31. I love series but sometimes I like reading stand alones, especially after a killer cliffhanger like the ones in the Fever series. First series I read has to be Harry Potter.