Ask Bethany House: Series or Standalone?

Welcome to this month’s Ask Bethany House question! This one is about the behind-the-scenes of our books at the very early stages: “How do you determine if a book should be a standalone or part of a series?”

Series

This is almost always up to the authors. When they finish up a contract, they will propose something new to us, and even at that stage, they usually know whether that book is a standalone (such as Elizabeth Camden’s novels, set in many different locations with different characters), book one in a series with cliffhangers (such as Patrick Carr’s fantasy sagas), or the first in a more loosely-linked series (such as Becky Wade’s Porter family novels that tell the love stories of siblings in a family). The same is true for debut authors who meet our editors at a conference or through an agent—they will often include a short summary of the series (or series potential) of the manuscript they’re pitching. And speaking of agents, they’re often the ones who will talk through the benefits of series or standalone and help the author determine a direction.

Readers seem to like both the completeness of a single novel and the fun of getting to know characters over an extended amount of time in a series. There are downsides to both, too—sometimes just one novel can feel too quick, occasionally the middle book in the series drags—but overall it’s just a matter of preference.

Sometimes, editors at Bethany House have requested a particular direction from an author. For example, our team encouraged Julie Klassen to try her first-ever series, the upcoming Tales from Ivy Hill. Other times, feedback directly from readers can influence the decision, as when book signing attendees asked Beverly Lewis for a standalone novel so often that she’s written several now. Ultimately, though, the type of book the author writes is what best fits the story he or she wants to tell.

How about you? Do you prefer reading series or standalones…and why? Authors, which do you prefer writing, and why?

28 thoughts on “Ask Bethany House: Series or Standalone?

  1. If I know that a book is part of a series, I will purchase the books at it’s release and then not read them until I have all 3 or however many in the series are completed. I have difficulty remembering characters from the books and story lines and even when the author reviews previous events in the sequels, I usually have difficulty remembering them. I read mostly Christian Amish books and the characters and story lines are similar in all of them, circumstances are what change.

  2. “Authors, which do you prefer writing, and why?” Writing a series is challenging! There’s a great deal of complexity involved in keeping all the details straight. [What was that restaurant called? How old is Bo now? What is Addie’s eye color? What’s mom’s pet phrase?] And it’s very tricky to find the right balance between 1) focusing in on the current book’s characters and plot and 2) integrating the ever-growing cast of future and prior characters.

    That said, I’ve come to love writing series best because they allow me to delve into one family and one place over the course of YEARS. As a reader, I love the sense of nostalgia and depth that connected books offer. As a writer, I love checking in with past characters after their ‘happily ever after’ and the familiarity and comfort of returning to a place that I (and hopefully the reader) have come to know and feel connected to.

    Thanks for this post, Amy!

  3. I don’t know if I really have a preference between reading series or standalone novels. But one thing I do know, if there are interesting side characters in the story I really want there to be a follow-up; like in Julie Klassen’s The Painter’s Daughter. I would have loved to read a story about Lieutenant Keith, Wesley, or Kate. Also, when reading through a series I almost always leave off desperate for the next one. If I like the first book you can be sure I will stick with it and read every single one in the series.

  4. I like to wait and read the entire series at once. Otherwise, I have to go back and read the first one over again. I often wonder why some books are not combined in one volume (because of cost, I’m sure). So I prefer stand alone.

  5. I don’t know that I have a preference. It’s always hard to wait on the “next one” in a series, so I do like stories in a series to be somewhat standalone in nature, rather than “cliff-hangers”. I do read series over and over, especially authors like Susan May Warren, Becky Wade, Tamera Alexander, etc. whose characters and settings are so well merged.

    • Yes, Rebecca, I think most authors try to give you a sense of closure with each book, even if there’s a continued storyline. (If I hear about a series that is cliff-hanging in nature, I try to use self-control and wait for all the books before starting.)

      Amy Green
      BHP Fiction Publicist

  6. As a reader I love series! I even like to go back and reread the series from the beginning. As a librarian – there is never enough shelf space for series and if a patron realizes there is a new one coming out even if it is a year they must be on the list for it. Then again, we love that they read so series are great…..unless it is 42 volumes long 😉

  7. If I really like the book, I prefer series. I enjoy finding out what happens to the secondary characters and reconnecting with the hero and heroine. Are they living happily ever after? Children? Career choices? But I do think some series run on too long. I guess it’s about balance.

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. I like both standalones and series, but I have certain kinds of series I like. In my opinion the best series is one hero and/or heroine for the entire set. Examples are as follows: the Mitford series by Jan Karon, Cheney Duvall, M.D. series by Lynn Morris, Christy Miller series by Robin Jones Gunn, Weddings by Bella series by Janice Thompson, Drew Farthering series by Juliana Deering, the Million Dollar Mystery series by Mindy Starns Clark, the Raleigh Harmon series by Sibella Giorello, and Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. Can you imagine what it would have been like if the author would have only written a single book for these characters? When we like a character, it turns to love, and we want to keep hearing about them. Their relationships build slowly and naturally when they have time to stretch them out over a series. The romances and friendships are believable. These are old friends.

    I also like family and close friends series.The best ones are when each member lives in one location and are very much a part of the hero and heroine’s lives; lots of interacting among characters. I’m not counting the books that can be read so standalone that you wonder why in the world they even bothered making it a series. The characters among books never bump in to one another and are hardly close at all. The examples, in my opinion, of great family and friends series are as follows: the Glenbrooke series by Robin Jones Gunn, the Brides of Bonneterre series and the Matchmakers series by Kaye Dacus, the Everstone Chronicles by Dawn Crandall, the Alaskan Courage series by Dani Pettrey, the Californians and Cameron series by Lori Wick.

    There are some exceptions, but for the most part this is how I like series. If they aren’t going to fall into these categories, just release them as standalones.

  9. I really like both and like to go back and forth between the two. If I read a series, then I am usually ready for a stand alone story after I finish. I love the way series stories give the author the ability to develop the character and plot but that can also take a lot of attention and focus to read. If it is a good series, I am worn out when I finish it! Then I am ready for short break, followed by a stand alone story, which I read at a more leisurely pace.

  10. I love to read both but think the series is the most fun because you get to read more of the characters and their stories. I don’t mind waiting for the next book and also sometimes read out of sequence if I am ready to read one.

  11. First, I have to say that I am so excited to read Julie Klassen’s first series!!! Julie Klassen is my favorite author.
    I agree with what you said in your post; there are advantageous to both standalone and a series. When I am reading, I love getting to stay with the same characters across multiple books because I get invested in them in the first book. However, I like standalones too because there is no waiting period of a year to find out where the characters end up next.
    So for example, if there is a series that I’m interested in reading, but only the first of a three book series is out, I tend to hold off on getting the book until the year the second or even the third one comes out.

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