Series vs. Standalone Novels

As a writer seeking publication, I am consistently researching best practices on attracting the attention of an agent or publisher. What’s funny (well, not “ha ha” funny) is that the more advice I get, the more conflicting points of view I get, as well.

Case in point, the other day I jumped onto a Twitter Q&A with an agent that runs from time-to-time and asked if an unpublished author submitting a complete series can be more attractive to an agent than a one-off novel (remember, I’m in the midst of writing a trilogy). The answer came back pretty negative, even discouraging – suggesting that an agent might simply view submission of a complete series as an inability to sell the first novel written. To be truthful, I was a little surprised at the response, given the success in recent years of series like Twilight, Hunger Games and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. An author can spend a lot of time trying to get book #1 published – why would you not try to complete the rest of the series while seeking publication?

The very next day, I received an e-mail from Writer’s Digest magazine with a promo for an on-line tutorial they’ve sponsored – “Ins and Outs of Writing a Series.” Their tagline: “Across genres, series have proliferated as never before. What is it that makes series so popular with both publishers and readers?” The write-up for the seminar calls series writing an “advantage” for an author.

Mixed messages?

When a publisher takes on an author, it’s a risk. So it’s understandable that taking on a full series – as opposed to just one book – would be even riskier. However, wouldn’t you have just a little more faith in book #1 if you know books #2 and #3 were already complete?

I know how I, personally, look for new books to read, and have to admit that I am drawn to authors on the bookshelf whose name I see more than once – multiple novels standing side-by-side. Series to me are especially attractive because of their characters’ staying power and, when well-done, that extra something to look forward to. That’s why when I reached the end of HISTORY AMENDED (which was not originally intended to be a series) and saw a great opportunity for expansion on the story, it became BOOK ONE: FORTUNE. I decided I would shop the first novel at the same time as I’m completing the rest of the trilogy, which I hope to finish by spring 2013. In my outreach to agents and publishers, I’ve been billing HISTORY AMENDED as a series (that is, if “BOOK ONE” didn’t give it away!).

I’m sticking with my plan, despite what Twitter says. But I am curious how you feel about series vs. standalone novels…

Do series have a special appeal that makes them more marketable than a standalone novel? Do you seek out series when you’re picking out a new read?