One-off or part of a series. Does it matter?

When I started writing I Can See You there was only the one story planned. At the time, no sequel immediately sprang to mind. To be honest, I when I started writing this book back in 2005, I would’ve been delighted just to know that I would actually finish the first draft. 🙂

The same applied to A Scream In The Woods. The idea for the story came to me one evening and ten months later I started to write the first draft. Another one-off story at time of conception.

I came across this article by Vincent Dowd on the BBC website titled: Publishing cheer as buyers seek out interesting reads original link here.

One line in the opening comments raised an eyebrow. The right one, before anyone asks.

But the inclusion of a handful of less obvious names may cheer those who think publishers and readers no longer value the interesting one-off novel.

Do we “no longer value the interesting one-off novel?”

Last year I read 24 books. 11 of those were one-offs when I read them. That might change as I believe a couple of sequels are in the offing. At no stage during my thought process did I think to NOT reading a book because it stood alone.

Maybe I’ve misunderstood the article, but the value of the strong story is equally valid in my eyes whether one of a series or one of one. Some characters only have the one story to tell. They spend their brief time spinning the one yarn and they can rest easy. Their work complete.

Balanced against the series or the trilogy, is a one-off novel the weak link?

There are times when I want to read a familiar character. The Hunger Games trilogy gave you three stories to devour, there are a gazillion series’ out there for a reason. You find a good book and find another 10 containing the same character. You can dip in and out of different stories knowing what the general feel of the book will be.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want to read a fresh book filled to the brim with new characters. New locations and new adventures.

As it happens, the sequel to I Can See You is now formulating in the back of my mind. It’s a police procedural so they tend to lead towards multiple books. A Scream In The Woods could go either way.

So, my question to you as either a reader or a writer:

When you set out to read/write a story how much stock do you put into whether it is one of many?

Let me know whether you even think about this before you read/write a book.

Thanks for reading.

About Pete Denton

I'm a writer working my way through the redrafts of a British crime novel. I also write short stories, flash fiction and some screen writing. Check out my blog for more.
This entry was posted in Novel In Progress, Reading, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

37 Responses to One-off or part of a series. Does it matter?

  1. cath says:

    When I write, I see how far the character will go after that particular storyline is complete. Some will have miles still in them afterwards, and others are completed by the one journey. It’s not something I decided from the get go, though

  2. Clanmother says:

    I look for the here and now – so to answer your question I look for the “one.”

  3. Caerlynn Nash says:

    I read one-offs and series. I used to quite like series, but now I find that after (typically) the third book, I’m bored. It often seems like the writer is just “filling in” to keep the publisher happy and/or to sell more books on the backs of the first few that were good.
    In one long series I read, I struggled to get through the sixth book because nothing was happening. The characters were getting dull and the plot was dry. Then on the seventh book I struggled again and got about half way through before I stopped. It was extremely “dullsville.”
    Now, if I choose a series it has to be darned good to keep my interest and I prefer two or three books–four if it’s exceptionally good.

    • Pete Denton says:

      That’s a great point, Caerlynn. Is there more pressure on the author to churn more of the same when the story isn’t really there. Longer series really need to keep things fresh or they fail to live up to expectations.

      Thanks for your comments 🙂

  4. Jodie says:

    I am looking for a good story to read and if it is part of a series, it’s a bonus. I would rather read a good single book than a bad series.

  5. Pete, as you know, I’m primarily a non-fiction writer, but I like characters that have a real life, with exciting, real life dialogue.

  6. I’ll happily read one off’s and series but when I started to write the intention was to write just one. Towards the end I left a plot line open for a possible sequel if the first one was enjoyed. As it happened I decided to write a prequel for the sheer fun it brought me and then the sequel. There still may be room for one more to tie up one loose end but it’s not critical. If people start to ask ” But what happens to…” then I may pick up a pen again.

  7. It never enters my mind whether a book is the start of a series or just a stand alone when I pick it up. If I like the author, I look for more work by them. Doesn’t matter if it’s more singles or more in the series. I have noticed what Caerlynn Nash pointed out though — some series seem to be written just to fill pages and keep a publisher happy. Others really do have their own life. Just like if a book is bad, I won’t look for more, if a series is bad, I’ll stop reading it.

  8. I think that publishers are looking for a brand to sell so that they can get more sales for less spend on marketing. There are two ways to do that – one is to find the next celebrity whether from reality TV, modelling or wherever and have them (ghost) write a book. The other is to establish either a series or an author as a valuable brand. This has been happening for years, especially with mystery or detective novels.

    I’ve just finished writing a novel and I will be pitching it to publishers and agents as the beginning of a series. I expect they’ll want to see some material from book two, and possible and outline for book three. I went into the process as a commercial endeavour. Alongside all the other reasons I have to write, I want this project to make me some money as well. For this reason, more than any other, I have decided to work on a series. Luckily my beta-readers have reported back that they love both the major and the minor characters and want to know more about what happens to them!

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Graham.

      I think crime is the best type of genres for the series. Detective novels are by design set up for the next story and the next.

      I agree about the publishers searching for the big brand. Being prepared and having planned your next few books is a good idea.

      Good luck with the pitching 🙂

  9. I have to admit that as a reader I assume that most series are garbage. I know that’s snobbish, and I’m embarrassed to admit it but it’s true. Even the great Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer sequels were garbage.

    As a writer, I’m too much of a dullard to plan beyond the next paragraph. Stories find their own length.

  10. helena mallett says:

    I would never think about whether there might be more than one book. In fact i can’t think of any series of books i’ve ever read offhand! i guess i’m biased being a Flash Fiction writer – i like it short and sweet and leave the rest to the imagination! Less is more for me.

    • Pete Denton says:

      I’ve read many series over the last few years. I did find a passion for Flash Fiction though. I enjoy reading and writing the shortest of stories. No substitute for the novel for me. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  11. Robin Coyle says:

    I don’t know why . . . but I’m not drawn to book series.

    • Pete Denton says:

      At the moment, I’m drawn to them more than ever. A comfort to head back to a character I know and enjoy. I can see a fresh new story and set of characters equally appealing to others.

      Thankfully, there are SO many books to choose from. Enough choice for everyone 🙂

  12. munstermann says:

    I’m into one shot short story right now. Maybe I’ll do a series one day, but I’ll see where life takes me.
    Anyway, I do think series are more popular, for the same reason sitcoms are. People like familiar characters, just as you said “There are times when I want to read a familiar character”. Many people like familiarity more than anything. Where there is demand, supply will pop up.
    And there’s a monetary upside to this. I’ve seen book series go from good to ok to terrible, and they still pull in many readers. That means you can still get a lot of money with less energy (and marketing) put in.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Johnny. Sitcoms analogy is a good one. If you like it, you’ll watch the next episode. Even if there is a bad episode, you’ll probably watch the one after to see if it gets good again. Then the next one, before you stop. Books should have the same loyalty for a time. They do from me. Thanks for commenting.

  13. 4amWriter says:

    I only stick with a series if I think the story is going to be different from book to book. If it’s more of the same, then I get bored and move on. The Hunger Games, while well-written, is an example of that. It was the same thing over the span of 3 books.

    For that reason, I am more likely drawn to a stand-alone book with a rich, compelling plot and dynamic characters. I think there are plenty of stand-alone books that are more interesting and thought-provoking than most series.

    However, that being said, I do agree that series in and of themselves are a better gamble in terms of capturing a long-term audience.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Kate. I know what you mean about The Hunger Games. It was the same story three times. Albeit a very good one.

      I’ve enjoyed the one-offs I’ve read and they are plenty of interesting ones out there.

  14. rtd14 says:

    As I write, I think about what the character does within the story. My current novel, Sons of the Edisto, I plan to write a sequel for it. I want to write about the four main characters grown up and how they face conflict in the Great Depression.

    I went right through The Hunger Games, but there are other books I think need to stand alone as one book.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks, Rebecca. When you have your characters with more stories in them I think it’s good to plan the sequel. 🙂

      • rtd14 says:

        I know a lot of YA (sci-fi) writers plan for a three part series. I am way outside the paranormal, sci-fi and alternate universe story lines, which makes me feel better about what I am writing.

  15. ShannonRaelynn says:

    A one-off is never a consideration, either in reading or in writing, for me. If I am considering a series I prefer the series to be completed because I hate waiting. I know the anticipation can heighten the experience, but after spending years waiting for the next Jane M Auel installment, verses the experience I had in reading the “Hunger Games” in one gulp, well, I am becoming a creature of instant gratification. If it is series, I want to begin at the begining. I won’t pick it up in the middle. But all in all, it has to look like a well written, intersting story, or I just won’t pick it up.

    • Pete Denton says:

      Thanks for commenting, Shannon. I think the more books there are in a series that are completed the better. I’m ploughing through the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz and the fact that there are more books ready when I want them is good. I’d hate to be waiting 18 months for the next one.

  16. Kourtney Heintz says:

    I do like knowing there are more adventures ahead with a character. So I tend to like series books. But I hate waiting for each one to come out. I prefer to gobble up several books in a row.

    I’ve read some great one-offs that never required a follow up novel. And I’m equally happy with them as a reader. 🙂

  17. Pingback: Recommended Book: Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz | Pete Denton - Writer

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