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?”
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?