The other day an author friend of mine – Jennifer Martin Windrow – posted something on Facebook about her newest writing project, the second book in her Alexis Black series. (Think kick-ass vampire with a bit of a potty mouth.) This was her first attempt at a sequel, and she said she learned that writing a book in a series was much easier than writing a stand-alone.
And I gave that claim a bit of a side-eye.
See, my writing partner Irene Preston and I just finished the second book in our Hours of the Night series. In all honesty, I did not find the experience particularly easy, and I was intrigued by Jennifer’s claim. I asked her why she liked it, – and pretty quickly decided to use our discussion as a starting point for this post.
I also decided to pose the question on twitter, because there’s no better way to come up with an honest, unbiased look at the truth.
Here’s some of what Jennifer had to say…
JM: For me, I think (series are easier) because I already know the characters, have lived in their world, and don’t have to research a ton. When I write the stand alone, it always takes me a few chapters to really learn who I am writing, then I have to go back and rewrite to make it all come together.
LR: Did you have trouble with continuity? That’s what killed me. (And don’t tell me you started a series bible up front because I might hate you…lol…)
JMW: Yes … Yesterday I had to go through book one and all my old notes and make that stupid bible that I should have made at the start of this book… I’ve learned a lesson to do that at the start now, so I don’t have to wait. Hopefully my publisher will catch any continuity issues too!!
I started this story so long ago, and have been away from the world for so long that I really had to do my research. That’ll teach me to take a break to work on other things.
So she learned some things and she still liked writing a sequel. Hmm…I’m just very glad I have Irene around to keep me on track, because me n’ continuity are only distantly acquainted.
Using my authoritative, unbiased twitter poll, I found some alternate opinions. I got this comment from Jenn Burke. She and her friend Kelly Jensen co-authored the popular Chaos Station series, and here’s what she had to say…
Writing a standalone is easier, because you’re not also trying to keep in mind what happened in the last book.
One of the things I find most challenging about writing a series is bringing the reader up to speed on the world/worldbuilding without info-dumping or being too obvious about it. This is a real skill I didn’t know I needed to master before we started the Chaos Station series! You have to kind of weave in the events from the last book into the current book in a way that’s not repetitive but also allows readers to get caught up on the important stuff from the previous book(s). SO. HARD.
This is especially tough when you’ve got the same characters and ongoing story from book to book. Series that are set in the same world but feature different characters are a little easier, especially if the events of the books aren’t strongly tied together. You still have to keep them in mind as the writer, but possibly not as much recap needs to be on page for the reader. When you’re writing a standalone, you have to provide similar non-info-dumpy worldbuilding, but you don’t also have to include “last time, on Chaos Station” sort of summaries.
So it’s a challenge, but in a different way. So BASICALLY…series = hard. Stand-alones are a little easier. 🙂
So much this! Figuring out how much of Vespers we needed to include in Nocturne – in a way that didn’t make readers snooze – was such a challenge.
On the other hand, Shannyn Schroeder, a multi-published author of contemporary romance – and three different series – agrees with Jennifer. “Series are easier – at least after the first one because you already have the world built and it’s fun to revisit. The first is like a stand alone.”
Another vote comes from Karen Stivali. She’s also multi-published with quite a few contemporary m/m and m/f series. “Series are easier. Usually. Except for the constant fear people won’t like THIS ONE as much as the previous ones. But that fear’s always there.”
The fear! Yes, I absolutely relate to the fear!
C. Jane Elliot, author of the contemporary m/m Wild & Precious series, says that series are harder. “My NA university series has overlapping timelines so I resorted to a whiteboard to map it out. Need to keep track of names too!”
OMG, the details…the details just killed me. (Um, thanks Irene…)
Then there were a few people who sorta split the different, like author Tessa Floreano. “Twice now, I’ve started a standalone, and both led to writing a series. With a series, I don’t have to cram so much about the MC into one.”
I can relate to that, because while my only series credit is the Hours of the Night, most of my current “stand-alones” have at least a thumbnail sketch for their sequels.
Aneta Cruz has her MFA in creative writing and has published several books. Her take was short and sweet.
I followed up with a question about whether she preferred one to the other. “Not really. I think it’s the characters who choose how and when they’re done with the writer.”
Well if that’s the case, we’re going to be writing Hours of the Night books for a while, because Thaddeus Dupont has a lot to say!
I think my most interesting take-away from this exercise is that both sides cite the same issues as either pro or con. Some authors find the continuity makes things easier, while that very thing drives others of us crazy. With that conclusion in mind, I’m going to give Irene the last word. When I asked whether she liked writing series or stand-alones better, she said,
“Neither…lol…I mean they both have challenges and advantages, but either way you have to write the book.”
Edited to add…Irene and I just started a new Facebook group to share the fun parts of our Hours of the Night series. If you’re the Facebook-group-joining type, check us out!!