Friday, March 28, 2014

Single Title Novel VS Series: Which is Best?

Should you write a single title novel or a series?  That’s a question many writers wonder about when they start a new book.  There are both advantages and disadvantages to writing either a single novel or a series. 

With a single title, the writer gets to start fresh each time with a new plot, setting. and cast of characters.  Not all books are cut out to become a series, nor should they be.  A single title works best when a book idea has a definite ending.  For example, a love story that ends in marriage, a thriller centering around a specific event such as a natural disaster, or a character with one, important goal in mind.  Once the love issue is satisfactorily solved, the emergency has passed, or the desired end attained, there may be no need for an encore.  The writer has said all there is to say about that group of characters and that situation.

The advantage of a series springs mainly from the readers’ desire to return to people and places that are familiar to them.  Because of this, there is great potential for increased sales.  The disadvantage is that series writing requires great planning and effort, deeper sub-plots, and a lead character strong enough to sustain long-time interest. 
Some series are planned from the beginning, but many books develop into series when the author finds they do not want to let go of the character or characters they have created.  The writer knows the first book is just the beginning--the character they have created has many more adventures to explore.  They start on Book Two--and a new series is born.

Many series are mysteries, for the genre is well-suited for a returning character. A series works best when the main character has a job such as a sheriff or private eye or some profession where there is opportunity for repeat business.

The series often develops after the author thinks of another crime or mystery to solve.  A writer of any novel must find a much-loved character.  Sheriff Jeff McQuede, a character we wanted to write more about resulted in our High County Mystery series.The fourth book in that series has just been published.

An idea for a series often comes from setting. Our travels to many foreign and exotic settings led to the Ardis Cole mysteries where Ardis, an archaeologist, travels to Egypt, Scotland, China and other countries and encounters a crime to solve related to her work.

Expanding into a series can be challenging as each subsequent book must have the same history as the one before it.  Characters, both major and minor, cannot change much from the original book without creating explanations for those changes that the reader can understand.

 Our advice to writers interested in starting a series: when in doubt, start out with a single title and if there is material for a second or third book, then consider developing the novel into a series.

Vickie Britton and Loretta Jackson are authors of over 40 novels, including the Jeff McQuede High Country Mystery Series: first book: Murder in Black and White, and the 8-book Ardis Cole Series: first book: The Curse of Senmut.


  1. I find your ideas on single novel writing vs series are very interesting. If writers (like me) would spend more time with objectives, ie. actually framing the story, the stories would unfold in a better way. Thanks. John K.
    P.S. For a timely notion of where Russell Crowe went wrong with Noah, check my blog at

  2. Interesting take on a subject that I've been thinking a lot about lately. I write a series, but took a break to write a standalone because I was afraid my series was in danger of becoming stale. My latest book is a return to the series and the planned next book will be a second book about the characters who made up the supposed standalone. I wanted to follow their story and hope readers will feel the same.

  3. Another point to consider...sometimes, readers will like characters enough to ask when will their next book be available. Try not to close the door on your options.

  4. Your readers might enjoy learning about a new organization starting up. It's called the Mexico Mystery Writers Cartel, and I'm pleased to be a founding member. Murder in Mexico is my series of eleven mysteries set in and around the upscale expat colony of San Miguel de Allende. Artist Paul Zacher is drawn into crime investigation because ‘he might see things differently.’ Maybe it’s time for the rich humanity of Mexico to show through all the narco headlines! Ready for the real Mexico, beyond the phony news reports? Take a look at this suspenseful and often funny series, available in Print, Kindle, Nook, & Kobo. Start with ‘Twenty Centavos’ by trying a sample on my website.