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Home » Books & writing

Standalone vs. Series Books

Submitted by on January 4, 2011 – 2:15 pm 35 Comments

Since it’s a new year, lots of sites have put up “most anticipated books/movies/gadgets, etc.” lists, which I love perusing. I get new ideas for things I want to try or put on my wishlist. My birthday isn’t until April but it’s never too early to start putting together a list, right? Hint: iPads are pretty.

Anyway, I’ve been looking at authors I’ve never read, wondering which of their books I should sample, and thought I’d get some input from you. When it’s someone who writes both standalones and series novels, do you try the standalone first or are you more likely to pick up one from the series? If you hate that first book you read, how likely are you to try the other thing the author has written?

I discovered Ken Bruen by reading London Boulevard, which knocked me flat on my ass and made me scurry to check out his Jack Taylor series. But I had a less enjoyable time with another author’s standalone and have resisted reading his series, despite friends telling me it’s quite strong and how the series protagonist is completely different from the standalone’s wimpy hero.

On the other hand, I’ve been devoted to a series and found that author’s standalones absolute rubbish. If I had been introduced to him via his one-offs and ignored his series, I would be seriously missing out.

So, standalone or series installment as a starting point? And if you love a series like, say, the Jack Reacher books and Lee Child decides to write a standalone, how likely are you to snap it up? Sound off in the comments, opinionated readers!



  • I’m not particular whether it’s a series or standalone as a starting point. But if I think the book is rubbish I’m not likely to read another. I first read Parker’s THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT back when it was first published. I didn’t like it, but the man has diehard fans and his books sold and sold. When I joined a book club that was the first book assigned. I still thought it wasn’t worth the hoopla Parker received as an author, but although I didn’t think much of the story, I thought the character had potential so I gave him another chance and read the next in the series. Turns out I like the Spenser books in general but it’s a very uneven series, with some really sub par entries.

    Got another bestselling author pushed at me a lot. Read a standalone that I guess a lot of readers enjoyed but I wasn’t one of them. I’ve not gone back for a second bite of that authorial apple. And then of course, there was James Patterson, also a book club selection and the first in a series. On the basis of his incredibly bad writing, I’ll never be persuaded to pick up another book where he gets lead billing.

    • NovelWhore says:

      I enjoy some Parker – I like the banter and they’re quick reads. I also tried James Patterson because I thought ALL OF SOCIETY couldn’t be THAT wrong – and my, they were. I enjoyed the first couple books in his Women’s Murder Club series, but even those grew old quickly. I read a couple of his Alex Cross series, again, thinking they have to have redeeming qualities since they sell sell sell, but was baffled again.

      • Pop Culture Nerd says:

        Novelwhore—You cracked me up with that comment about all of society being wrong about Patterson. His books are so poorly written, I just don’t get his success.

        Naomi—Now that I know the identity of the bestselling author you’re referring to, I would suggest you consider reading his series. That one particular standalone is not his best and the ending made no sense. But his series books are funny, the tone is quite different and the characters are winning.

  • le0pard13 says:

    I’m one of those who if I don’t like the first book of an author’s (standalone or not), I’ll not likely pick another of his/her’s. Or, if others are really, really pushing it, perhaps I’ll try out a later book, and only consensus best in a series, grudgingly. Life’s too short to waste on reading something I don’t enjoy. I ran into this situation last year with one book in particular. I’ll keep the author and series to myself to not disparage he and the line as I’m sure there are fans of it (it just didn’t work for me).

    BTW, the Jack Taylor series is one of the best series I discovered last year. I started off with THE GUARDS and I’ve not been anywhere near the word disappointment with Bruen’s subsequent novels with that character. Thanks, Elyse.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      You’re so right about life being too short for bad books. I used to feel guilty about abandoning books before finishing but then I got over it. Why should I allow bad books to waste my time? Bruen NEVER wastes my time.

  • Elizabeth says:

    If I find a new to me author who already has both available I’ll always go with the series first, and will give it at least two books before “calling it” one way or the other (unless the first book is just gawd awful), especially if I know it’s a long running, successful series. However, if the series book(s) don’t do it for me I’m not very likely to then give one of their standalones a try.

    For authors whose series I am already reading, I will certainly give standalones a go, but won’t feel compelled to stay with the book if it stinks or buy others just because I like the series.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      That’s interesting that you’d go with the series first when sampling an author’s work because it’s a bigger investment. You may be a much more patient reader than I.

      • Elizabeth says:

        I think it’s because over the years I’ve noticed I tend to like the series books of authors I read more than their standalones, so I suppose I approach it with the thought that a series book will be more representative of their style than a standalone.

  • Gina says:

    Good question. *ponders* For me, I usually read what catches my eye and my interest so if a either of the choices stood out based on that, I’d go with my “gut instinct”. Otherwise…I would take a general look at feedback on the books….what is the author “known” for. If they immerse themselves in writing a series, sometimes the stand alone CAN fall short (strictly sometimes, not always) because their heart and soul is in the long told story…same thing goes with author’s that normally write stand alone books. Their series can sometimes feel disconnected because they are use to summing everything up in one book. To summarize: If choosing based off interest, go with what caught your attention. If choosing based on author, check out what they are known for. Just my two cents… ^_^ (Happy reading!)

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      You make good points about how an author’s work might differ between his standalones and series books. I’ve found some writers take a couple books to really find the voice for their series protagonist so their one-offs are a little shakier.

      I’m like you in that I often go with my gut in selecting books. I’m definitely a sucker for attractive covers!

  • Nora says:

    Hmm…well, it all depends on the author. If I pick up a book in an airport and it’s either a standalone or one of a series and I like it, I’m likely to start at the beginning of the series and then go on to include standalones by the author among my general reading. If someone tells me I just have to read the suchandsuch series by soandso, and I dislike the first one, I’m not likely to read anything else by the author regardless of standalone/series status.

    Once I like an author, I’m pretty open to anything else they’ve written and I can separate the series sensibility from any standalone work. I can even get past one or two not-so-great installments of a series.

    The only real turn-off for me is if an author whose series or other standalones I generally like writes about a topic I just don’t want to read about — but that’s me, not the author.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      How many weak installments are you willing to forgive in a series before you give up altogether?

      • Nora says:

        I think if it’s three in a row, that’d be the kiss of death for me. If the series is quite long and there are a few here and there that just don’t do it for me, I’m fine with that. Authors can’t please everyone all the time, so fair enough.

        It all comes back to character in series fiction. If I’m connected to the characters, if I care, then I can forgive the occasional dropped-ball, plot-wise. If the characters stall, that’s a problem.

  • NovelWhore says:

    So I just recently read Laura Lippman’s standalone, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE, and really enjoyed it. I now want to pick up her series featuring Tess, but don’t want to start all the way at the beginning because A) I’m trying to be on a budget this year and B) it sounds overly daunting. So I think like I’ve done with (ahem your favorite) Robert Crais and John Sandford is to pick a random early read in the series and then start at the new release, and if I like them still to continue purchasing as the series develops.

    I love being introduced to new series when they debut, but that happens rarely. The one I owe you for, PCN, is Sophie Littlefield. You convinced me to read her debut and I won’t miss anything she writes from now on!

    Oh and I read the upcoming Lisa Lutz book, which is separate from her existing bestselling series and loved it. And since the said series is only three books so far I plan to read them all.

    I have more to say on this topic than I had thought! Thanks for asking!

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I love Sophie’s writing and glad you like her, too. I just finished reading her YA, BANISHED, and enjoyed it even though I never read YA. The best authors can convince me to read anything.

      If you liked Lisa Lutz’s HEADS YOU LOSE, I think you’ll really like her Spellman series.

  • Jen Forbus says:

    It doesn’t make a whole lot of nevermind to me whether I read a series book or a standalone for a new author. I’ve even started reading in mid-series lately as opposed to starting at the beginning and working forward. But, since there is so much I have to read, if the first one doesn’t do it for me, it’s not likely I’ll return. Just recently read something by a new to me author and I won’t be reading anything else from her – ever.

    There’s so much out there that if I miss a good book or good series in the course of my lifetime because my first experience with the author was bad, I’m sure I’ll still have plenty of good stuff to keep me entertained and occupied.

    As for what I think you should try. My opinion is overwhelmingly R.J. ELLORY!! And Steve Hamilton if you haven’t read him…can’t remember if you did or not. Also Gar Anthony Haywood if you haven’t read him. Those were my favorite discoveries of 2010.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Jen, I’m going to have to go to the library and check out THE LOCK ARTIST today because I’ve heard so much about it from you and everyone else who’s read it. But mainly you.

      • Christine says:

        I have yet to read THE LOCK ARTIST (still!), but Brian and I are both fans of Steve Hamilton’s Alex McKnight series. (We really liked the 5th in the series, BLOOD IS THE SKY.) Per Jen’s recommendation and having the pleasure of meeting him at Bouchercon, I’ve got R.J. Ellory in the new-to-me-author queue for this year. He and Daniel Woodrell.

  • R.S. Hunter says:

    I hate starting in the middle of a series. I’d much rather read something that was written as a standalone with the potential to become a series. I hate diving into a book, knowing it’s in a series, but still not getting *any* resolution by the end of the first one.

    That said if I don’t like a book that’s the start of a series, I won’t read any other books in that series. For example, I read Gemma Files “A Book of Tongues.” While I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it enough to want to read the sequel, especially when there are other books/series out there that I enjoy more.

    • Pop Culture Nerd says:

      Welcome, R.S. I’m with you in that if the first of a series doesn’t impress me, I won’t read any other even if people tell me it gets better. Unlike you, I don’t mind starting in the middle of a series, especially if there are 20 books or so in the series.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Different question than originally asked, but I agree wholeheartedly with R.S. Hunter about not starting in the middle of a series. I think I am physically, genetically incapable of doing so. What’s the point? You miss the background, set up, character growth and development… hell, in some cases deaths, divorces, and other major life altering events have taken place by the time you get to a certain point in a series. I just can’t understand jumping in midstream like that without a full understanding of how a character got to where they are, because no matter how skillfully an author summarizes the backstory in the current book (which can actually be quite annoying when done clumsily), it’s just not the same as having taken the journey with the main character(s) to get to that point yourself.

    • Nora says:

      I agree. I’ve done it unwittingly and read through anyway (stuck on a long flight), but I’d much rather order up the backlist and begin with the first book. Series tend to be highly character driven and it’s better, IMO, to get to know the character along as he’s being developed by the author. And some characters go through tremendously life-altering experiences at some point in a series. If you start after that point, the early books can feel all wrong somehow.

  • Jann says:

    I’m a devoted library user, so I tend to happen upon new (to me) authors in the middle of a series. I started reading Crais with LA Requium – I’m a reformed Angeleno and lean toward books that take place in familiar environs – and fell in love with Elvis and Joe. I’ve since read all of his books as I came upon them and have no problem with reading them out of order. Loved the stand alones, too. I also find new authors to sample by reading your blog and Jen Forbus’ – thanks ladies for all the great suggestions. BTY, RC will be siging a block away from home in a couple of weeks…..guess where I’ll be that evening?!

  • Christine says:

    If I’m being introduced to a new-to-me author that has both a series and standalones, I would probably start at beginning of their series first. Like Elizabeth and Nora were saying, I love reading the development of the characters through a series.

    Now, that said, if a standalone of theirs was highly regarded I’d be tempted to try that first if the author’s series is more than 5 books in. Although recently, I tried to read a standalone that was getting such good reviews, but it bored me to the point that I just couldn’t finish it. It was written by an author that has a series that I do read and really enjoy and really debated on whether to push on through. After I got past the guilt of doing so, and also learned from others that it wasn’t just me, I bailed on it. Will I read another of this author’s standalones? Maybe, though I’ll probably check it out of the library instead of buying it; but I will definitely keep reading the series. Same deal if a series starts to flag. If I still like the characters, I’ll go for the library instead of buying. If even the characters can’t keep me interested after a couple, I’d probably stop reading the series.

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