It comes up in book reading groups regularly; Do you prefer series or stand alone books?
The answers are usually fairly evenly divided, with the biggest group saying, “Both.” After that it breaks down into genre. Romance readers generally love a series, as do Fantasy Romance readers. Mystery readers most often like a series of stand alone books using common characters, like Hercule Poirot, a very popular character for Agatha Christie readers.
Traditional Fantasy readers like myself usually fall into the ‘Both’ category. A trilogy like Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien or a longer series like The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny captivate us so deeply that we don’t mind having to read more books to get the complete story. George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones) just leaves us gasping for more, even after five massive books.
However, we do generally prefer each book to wrap up the immediate action. I’ve written about cliffhangers before. They are usually unpopular with readers like myself, though the Romance readers seem to enjoy being led along in never-ending cliffhanger endings for twenty or more books. How very lucrative for the Romance writers!
Outside of the Fantasy arena, I personally prefer stand alone books, completely self-contained. Further books using the same characters might appeal if the writing is top notch, like in Joanne Harris’ Chocolat series or Laila Ibrahim’s Yellow Crocus series.
In general, however, my preference is for books that finish the story in one volume. Some of my favourites include Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, Legacy by Susan Kay and Jack Dawkins by Charlton Daines. These stories take you into another time and place, play out their drama, and leave you satisfied at the end.
The main difference between these and the Fantasy worlds that make a series appealing to readers like myself is the extent of the world building required. Something like the world of the circus or a historical period like Victorian England takes a certain amount of attention to setting, but overall these are real world times and places. We can relate to that, even though we’ve never experienced them in real life.
From comments I’ve read, I gather that the Romance readers become attached to characters and for that reason are happy with a long series. The continuing trilogies and longer series are less popular in genres like Thrillers or Horror, though one notable exception in Horror is the High Moor trilogy by Graeme Reynolds, though each of these books stands alone, only sharing some familiar characters.
In Popular or Women’s Fiction, series are very much the exception rather than the rule. Science Fiction appears to be crossing the line in modern writing. The classics of the genre are most often stand alone, but the marketing value of series books has changed the balance in that genre.
The question is, what do readers actually prefer? Is it all about follow-on marketing, or is there an appetite for continuations among the genres where they are traditionally less represented?
I recently read a ghost story that I really enjoyed, but at the end there was a plug for a short story and a new novel to continue the tale. The thing is, the ghost was put to bed. I didn’t want to see her revived for a rehash. Sometimes a story really is finished in one volume.
What do others think? Do you prefer to read a series, or are stand alones more to your taste? Let’s chat in the comments
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