Once upon a time, genre writers wrote books. Today, we write series. We build worlds, connect characters, cliffhang endings, seed a setting for future growth, and stretch our story arcs like rainbows over quadrilogies. When was the last time you read a stand-alone romance novel that had no tendrils reaching out to a sequel, prequel, or multi-story series?
My name is Roxanne St. Claire and I confess that I not only love a stand-alone book, I’ve written a few. I will read and write more. I believe there is something incredibly special about a cast of characters on an unforgettable adventure that starts, grows, and ends in the span of a single four hundred page book.
However, I recognize that I stand (nearly) alone in my love of a stand-alone.
When I started writing romance ten years ago, there were few, if any, series. In fact, category novels were called “series” back then (because they are numbered serially) and there was a time when the use of the word “series” in our industry caused some confusion: was the speaker referring to category-length books or a series from one author? We’ve essentially dropped the use of the word “series” as a descriptor of category-length novels because of that confusion.
As a reader, I cut my romance teeth on Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, graduating to Sandra Brown and LaVyrle Spencer, then Nora Roberts and Linda Howard. Back then, novels were rarely related…just a single story that transported you to a unique world with characters who lived and breathed and changed…once. You met them, loved them, ached with them, cheered them, and left them. You didn’t read about their brothers or sisters or best friends or all their single neighbors who also found love.
After Mr. Perfect’s huge success, we didn’t need to have the heroine’s (remaining) BFF’s stories, did we? Has anyone pined for a sequel set in the same town as LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory? The continuing adventures of Jane and Edward Rochester?
The appeal of the series eluded me in my early writing days. I wrote and sold stand-alones: Tropical Getaway, French Twist, Hit Reply, and Killer Curves — my first four books — were stand-alones. Until that fateful day at a booksigning when a reader picked up French Twist and Killer Curves and asked if they were part of a series. (Both titles “curl” somehow, right?) Why, no, I told her. One is about an art thief on the run in France, the other about a NASCAR driver in Daytona. She put them down and walked away after telling me she only read connected books.
Well, I might be blond (well, I might not really be blond…) but I’m not dumb. I launched the Bullet Catchers shortly after that, and to be completely honest, the series was a game-changer for my career. Now I write series and connected books — I enjoy them, and I want to survive and thrive in this industry. I acknowledge that series and connected books are far preferred by readers.
But I still love the occasional outcast standing all alone on my bookshelf.
This past weekend, at my local RWA meeting, I shared the amazing success I’ve had with Space In His Heart, my first self-published novel. I acknowledged that the book would be even more successful if it was tied to a series; it is not. One of our new members grabbed my arm and pointed to the book. “Can’t the hero have a brother? Doesn’t the heroine have a best friend?” In other words, just “make” it a series. Um, no. That story is told, those characters had their day in the sun, and the world I created in that book is over now. If a reader wants more, I’ve got a substantial backlist — with lots of connected books.
Moreover, I don’t think a great series is just “an add-on” to another book. I feel like a memorable series doesn’t happen by accident or out of desperation to parlay a strong-seller into a best-seller. A series is born as a living, breathing entity, with an arc, a voice, a cast, and a purpose.
Because I love a good stand-alone (and utterly despise feeling like I missed something when I read a book), I promise my series readers that each story will stand entirely on its own, even if it shows up dead in the middle of the series. When I get a review praising that fact, it thrills me. That’s the case with the Bullet Catchers, the Guardian Angelinos, and with the Barefoot Bay novels that launch in April, a quadrilogy peppered with potential new heroes and heroines.
But there will be no Additional Space In His Heart, no Hit Reply Again. Those books, like my upcoming YA, Don’t You Wish, stand alone and stand tall, hopefully to be read and, if the reader has to have more, re-read.
Let’s talk about the poor misunderstood stand-alone novel. Do you read or write them? Miss them? Wish there were more or never want to be bothered? Can you recommend a great one? I am going to gift one commenter with three books: Space in His Heart, Killer Curves, and Hit Reply (out of print unless you want to part with $22, but I’m giving away one of my last copies!)
Just a warning, though: these books don’t connect to anything except, I hope, the reader’s heart.