In a sea of book series, the standalone novel can be a breath of fresh air. What are the virtues of the standalone novel and what makes for a good one? Might there be a resurgence of the standalone novel in the near future?
Here are tips from the titular CapClave 2022 panel. The panelists were: Ian Randall Strock, Irene Gallo, Craig Laurence Gidney, Natalie Lurs, T. Kingfisher/Ursula Vernon, and Cathy Green.
Benefits of a Standalone Novel For Readers
- Closure! No worries that the story won’t get resolved
- Self-Contained – You don’t need external sources to “get” the story
- Good for slower readers
- If the author writes in a shared universe, you can enjoy each of them without the huge novel commitment
- Often they’re smaller stories, more character-oriented, less save-the-world
- Back in the day — easier for readers, when earlier books in the series would go out of print. Not as useful in this day of ebooks and print on demand
- Better for book clubs!
- Can be used as a re-entry point to a large shared-universe series
Do Standalones Tend Toward Smaller Stakes?
- Many are more intimate (there are fewer Horror series)
- Some are stories that are more about the vibe than the stakes
- Fairytale books. Literary novels.
- Not necessarily! But in a series, there’s always the pressure to escalate
- The ‘beautiful mess’ of a story lives here (Starless Sea, Night Circus)
- “Puzzlebox” stories, where you can only figure it out once
- Less common with Fantasy, because of the pressure to explain stuff, so the book is taken seriously
Why Write Standalone Books Today?
- Some people just have one book in them (at least for that character and setting)
- There’s been a resurgence of interest!
- With e-books, the book-length pressures of traditional publishing have diminished. You can have novellas and shorts published just as easily as 700 page tomes
- A lot of the fast-pub series (with or without being made up of standalone books) are the modern version of the serialized story.
- It can be easier to write without the weight of expectations — attributed to Patrick Rothfuss
Besides, every book needs to stand alone. You don’t have to tie everything up! Even if the story isn’t finished, if you don’t give the reader a sense of closure in at least one aspect: an emotional arc, a completed task, what have you, many readers will feel cheated.
Do you prefer to read standalone books? What are some of your favorites?
If you read books written before, say, 1990, a LOT of sf and fantasy were standalone. There were the occasional sequel.
And standalone does not mean that you don’t get big picture and huge stakes (he says, pointing at his own novel 11,000 Years).
Btw, I’m doing what I can, and once I’m back in print, I’ve got three more standalones…
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