This is the classic trap most new writers fall into. I know I did. We get into storyteller mode: “once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there was a____ who for many years….”
Great for fairy tales. Not so much for modern novels. In a contemporary novel the reader wants to be in the story, not outside telling or hearing about it.
If this is sci-fi or fantasy, your job is tougher, because you have world-building to do, and there’s going to be a huge amount of history to get across. But you don’t have to do it on page one. Slip in the world-building on a “need-to-know” basis.
Damn this article is both hilarious and thought provoking as a writer. No matter the genre some of these themes bring me back to my high school composition class, but many crop up again and again despite writer experience. This article captures both why they don’t work and is a damn funny take on the omnipresence of Disney princess sheets. Take a look over at:
Genres are probably the most useful and arbitrarily frustrating aspects of books, films, movies, podcasts, art, or anything you could possibly make creatively. No creator really wants to think about where their products will go. Most of us just want to create and put something we love out into the world. Yet we all know the frustration of the customer, searching and searching through the weeds for the product they want to spend money on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “Why can’t I find that kindle category. It was there yesterday and I wanted to find more books there! Damn you Amazon!” While Amazon, Kobo, and other search engines are constantly tinkering algorithms and site design unless something hits all the standards of a genre we can struggle to find it.
Example? I love romance in my fantasy and I love romance in general AND I love fantasy in general. If I want to find a book where the romance is a central, but not the central aspect of the plot in a unique fantasy world with a plot arising not from the romance, but something else…I have to weed through so many shifter romances and random books. The core of what I want is a fantasy book with a strong romantic through line. In fantasy I can click romance or non-romance, but both rarely find me what I want.
The books I’ve found? Generally came from fantasy sections, but outside of Kushiel’s Dart most were still buried. This is most evident in ebook stores, but its always been a problem. As a self-published author, I have struggled with classifying my stories. However, my erotica/romances are relatively easy to categorize once I figured out how most readers did. The problem with Science Fiction or Fantasy is they’re loaded with useful sub-genres and then you have Science Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Contemporary Fantasy, Contemporary Science Fiction, Space Opera, Magical realism, etc. etc. When a story crosses genres you’re pretty much left saying a hail Mary and hoping things work out.
So how do you find books you like? Fellow authors, how do you classify your books so people can find them, and know what they’re getting?
Should you write a stand alone book or abandon it for a series? This question is one many fiction writers in all genres must have because out of the 15-30 writing groups I am part of this question has been asked in each one, and is asked again every few months. The struggle between what authors envision both in their product and what everyone says works is a constant struggle. It’s a fascinating question, in part because I think it induces flailing panic and anxiety in authors who want to make a supplemental income or reach large swaths of people with their books. Like people constantly arguing between whether to book more or blog less; what keywords to use and how; whether to make your own cover; the answers are many and varied…but generally concede to the supremacy of series. Repeatedly this question ends with “Maybe your solo book can do alright?” or a treatise on why series should come before all else.
So often those questions have a dozen responses like “Is there anyway you can make your standalone a series? If it’s a long book you could cut it in two, or you could put it aside and work on a 10 book series for now”. In fact I just read a comment that went straight to the point “Find a way to make it a series.Find a way to make them a series, even loosely. A character is friends or related to someone in the other book. Or they work for the same agency. Live in the same town.” None of this is bad advice…but there is something inherently cheapening in forcing series and sometimes it can leave the author feeling dishonest. Not because series are inherently bad because their story is a one and done. It ends where it should end and is structured how it should be structured. Why should they be penalized for that? For a lot of authors who prefer to write stand alone fiction that leaves them high and dry with a distinct feeling their books won’t sell.
There’s one other question I rarely see people ask does a series do more to disappoint than entice as is suggested in this awesome post by Bionic Bookworm? Could it be we’re all so trained by movies, video games, comics, and books to have inferior or less enjoyable sequels that we don’t really comment on them? Is a series really always better then simply telling your story even if it is just one novel or novella? I don’t think so, but I want to share some of my thoughts of the topic with you.
You should write what you desire to write first. If there isn’t a feeling you care about your work chances are it will become clear to the reader. Nothing matters more than infusing the excitement you feel for your work into your work for your intended audience. Failing to do that can kill your book before it gets off the ground. With a series it could also be taken as somewhat of an insult, a waste of your readers time; and if a lot of your readers are also authors then it may come across as a pointless money grab because they know the game. Write what you love with purpose and it makes a difference
A series at its core is a commitment of love through trial and tribulation. After all what is a series other than something you should want to write enough to stick with it, and expound upon? Writing a series can be a great opportunity to explore both how to market and more importantly all the elements of the world you’re building through your writing.
The best part about a series is the sheer number of possibilities to explore. The comment I just read and shared with you has a very good point about how to blur the lines of stand alone and series to benefit both you and your audience. You may decide to end one story in one of your worlds, but then open another. They are stand alone and still part of a series. If you’ve built this rich and luscious world, why not keep it? Why not travel through it again and bring people on a tour of something you didn’t explore in your first book? Share your love with them. That way you have the best of both worlds. However, if the idea of having to explore those possibilities seems daunting and more of a burden perhaps that is not the bast path for you to take right now. In terms of finding ideas for sequels there was an article shared here by A.S Askalon that offers a very thorough technique on how to approach a series(Original: How to explode with ideas for your sequel)
From a more hard lined marketing perspective, as a writer with several pen names in the steamy and erotic romance categories, there is some truth to the fact that a series will usually pick up more readers. People hate leaving worlds and characters, and if you craft the story right people will keep coming back. It’s addictive because it’s familiar and your audience becomes invested in the long term welling being of either characters or world. Sometimes it is simply a matter of readers being curious. Either way you are almost guaranteed to pick up some of the same readers with sequels.
However , stand alone books can sell and do spectacularly well despite taking a bit more work. There are readers, and sometimes I can be one of them, who enjoy reading one collected story. There’s something satisfying about getting a real conclusion and that draws a certain type of reader.
The key is convincing readers to come back to your name through your voice/style, and then them recommending your book to others. That is the struggle of all fiction, but stand alone books have to have a very strong and distinct voice to continue bringing readers to you because more so than with series an author who wants readers to check out her next books has to essentially seduce an audience with a voice and style that brings them back.
Once you have conveyed the type of voice you want in your stand alone. You have to truly begin understanding the strengths of your writing and highlight that in the book, and in how you market it. A stand alone has to really hit a home run in what the book does well and selling that appeal on every ad, in every book reading, and in every interaction around the book. In my upcoming short story Mind and Frost, I know the weirdness of the metaphysical is an inherent draw alongside the very odd circumstances of central protagonists, Kenda and Daniella. I sell their world and their place in it hard in my drafted material. It could become a series later if I feel like, but for now I’ve written down the stories strengths as I see them, will submit to beta readers, and will then write down the strengths they see. Stand alones have to be crafted in how they’re sold with a fine hand, and confidence that one is enough.
Series can ride general expectations, or even just the fact that people like to get into series so they have books to read for a while. There’s ultimately less pressure in an odd way, even though as Bionic Bookworm there’s a different type of pressure to stay relevant. Stand alones don’t get a lot of leeway to get things right. For example, I left a very critical review of The Missing Ones by Patricia Gibney on amazon, but I’m still probably gonna read her next book to see if the elements I loved in The Missing Ones are focused on more (and DC Lottie Parker stops being an idiot *grumble grumble*). Because stand alones don’t get that grace period of book one and book two we authors of stand alones have to market our writing abilities. If Mind and Frost’s setting is what people respond to I’m carrying that into Five Days with the Stranger or my next book still in drafting stage No Pressure Here at All. The former is a neo-noir about a former soldier turned killer’s relationship with a waitress, and the latter a 1920s and 1940s fantasy novel focusing on witches. What do they have in common? They have my voice, they have my care, and they have my awesome but not lewd ability to craft amazing sex scenes! People will be chomping at the bit if they like what I, as a writer, do, and if you know what you do well it will be the same for you. It may not happen with the first or second book. Honestly most self-published and indie authors may not get an audience to book 11 or 14, series or no, but if you put your best foot forward, show off those sexy gams, and do a spin? People will see you and people will find you.
Stand alone books can sell just as much as series. We just have to take the time to put in a lot of work, and a lot of care, because we’re competing against 13 book series, which gives that authors 13 chances to be noticed just through Amazon or Nook searches. So when you write, know what you do and don’t be afraid. You’ll never know until you try, and if you’re introspective as you try your hardest you will hit your stride. I firmly believe that and believe in you.
Here are some lists of well loved stand alone books and best selling stand alones:
Did I hit the nail on the head? Did I miss something? Do you think I’m totally off the mark? Well, let’s chat! Hit up the comments section
When I started writing stories four years ago, I knew, in a very vague but urgent way that I wanted to tell “my story,” or at least the stories that were important to me: stories about the people I knew and loved, black and brown people, first-generation kids and our parents, poor people and working-class people and barely-middle class people trying to find meaning and connection and comfort.
So when I was presented with the chance to write Blacktop, a book series about a group of teenage misfits who find each other through basketball, I felt excited and ready. I’d written about basketball before, and I’ve played since I could walk. One of my earliest memories is of my six-foot father blocking my shot into a patch of wet grass.
The trouble started on the first page. I sat down, ready to catch all the great ideas coming down the creative flume, and instead I got a bunch of questions: Who was this story for, this story about a black kid playing basketball? And isn’t this kind of cliché? Or maybe the assumption here is that black kids will only read if there’s a ball involved? And so am I, by extension, by writing this series, encouraging the idea that black people are only interesting or important or valuable in relationship to our athletic skills?
This kind of thinking isn’t unique to me. Writers are natural parsers and over-thinkers. Plus I’ve known for a long time that as a black person, some white people expect a performance from me, something that might confirm what they think they know about my identity. That’s why “You don’t really sound black” actually means “I’m measuring everything you do and say against my very dim understanding of blackness.” Take all of this as understood. What surprised me was that these questions took up so much imaginative space, and did it so quickly, and were in fact so large and puzzling that they stopped me from writing anything.
The depths of the cave seemed endless, as she trudged through the knee deep slime that coated the floor. She tried not to look directly down too often. Instead she focused on the bright light illuminating the footprints in front of her from her cell phone. Truthfully she hadn’t known that cave existed before. Of course Kansas would find some rinky-dink little hole. Why did she encourage her to play adventurer? Ah because she believed in dreams. Stupid.
The sound or rain became a distant memory, and soon only the sticky echo of her steps filled the air. With each step the mud got deeper, reaching her mid calves and she wondered how the ten year old would have managed. Hell, how was she managing when her legs were beginning to feel so strained? Worse, the sloping ground made every step harder than the last. She chuckled as she imagined herself on a plane nose diving towards the ocean floor. She breathed again and coughed. She stopped, swallowing a gulp of damp wet air that choked her throat. She never should have let Kansas play outside. She never should have encouraged her. That sort of thing got Amelia Earnheart killed probably. Why did she think it was a good idea?
Regaining her bearings with a grimace, she got back to moving. Nervous sweat trickled down her neck until her curls clung to her flesh. Down and Down to the hungry bowels of the Earth, but that wasn’t a cheerful thought. She’d find the girl and chastise her for exploring too far from the cottage. Then they’d have dinner. The haddock should’ve been defrosted by then, but that girl wasn’t getting Mac n’ Cheese at this rate. Mac n’ Cheese was for good girls. Her palms stung with sweat.
“Kansas?” she called.
Further and down, with bats fluttering above, leading her to descend, into the hungry bowels of the Earth. She hadn’t seen her niece since lunch, but she saw those prints and she was a good auntie. She had to be even if fear sank into her flesh, even if her shoulders twitched every time she heard a bat, and even if it felt like she’d been walking way too far for that cave. She was a good auntie.
But then the prints stopped dead in the middle of the cave. The mud sat perfectly undisturbed.
“What the hell?” She nervously forced a foot forward through the mud, praying she wouldn’t hit anything hard or human shaped. She shone her light around only to see more tunnel.
But she hit nothing, and confusion began to ravage her thoughts. Should she had gone back and called the police? What would she say? A gentle huff of air rolled over her shoulder, and she almost jumped out of her boots. She started to call out, her finger hitting the 911.
All she heard was silence.
All she saw was amber eyes and a red raincoat on the cave’s ceiling.