6 reasons why any romance novel should be good enough to standalone
By Tanya on Feb 2nd, 2015
#1Ahem..It IS Called a Book isn’t it?As we are not living in the age of the Magazine Serial any longer, a book should always be able to stand alone as a complete story, otherwise, why call it a book? Anyone who has read the Chronicles of Narnia as a child knows that each book can be read quite pleasurably separately or as a rich narrative as a set. Take Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (awesomest sex ever!! btw), her novels came out years apart, so each reading experience was akin to starting over with just the vaguest of memories of the plot and many warm feelings of anticipation. Gabaldon respects her readers by not assuming each one has just that very moment finished the preceding installment of her series. Instead, she uses her hard work and writing skills to make each addition to the set whole and fabulous and full of information so that you didn’t have to dig out your old copies or, horror, google the plot to keep track of what’s going on and to remember who Claire was married to. Sigh..why can’t all books be so wonderful?
#2It Separates the Big Dogs From Those Annoying Little Yappy DogsYes, writing a book is hard. And, yes, writing a good book is even harder - it’s almost like a bit of magic has to happen. But, as the coffee ladies at my old workplace used to say, when I’d foolishly wondered aloud at the richness of their coffee latte’s with espresso ice cream topped with chocolate whip, replied, aghast at my stupidity “ GO BIG OR GO HOME!” it dawned on me that not all authors and publishers are created equally. It absolutely takes a certain level of skill to weave the history of characters and past plot points into a current novel, but it can be done. It shows the talent of a writer, not just someone trying to rip and run and make a buck off of an enticing cover and outline or a quick turnaround to ride the coattails of the latest zombie craze. Even if a book starts out as a standalone and then through sheer popularity an author is encouraged to add subsequent books and the initial story suddenly morphs into a series, it obviously should be a prerequisite to add referencing details to the next book. I mean really, if an author wants to run with the big dogs, it’s better if their bark matches it’s bite.
#3Never Overestimate Available Brain SpaceHey, even children’s books have a map and a list of characters in their introductory pages to help keep readers focused and on track with a complex storyline. Us grown ups are not that much different than kids in terms of available brain function. So, to not provide stealthily placed flashbacks, bits of reference or an outright “Guide to Who the Hell These Characters Are” section is ludicrous. The assumption is that the average adult with a full time job, family, social commitments and a myriad of other things on the go has got the capacity to remember all of the details from Part 1 to Part 6 of any novel set is just plain wrong-headed!! Readers, for the most part, are simply overworked folk who just want to escape the daily grind for a few hours of pleasure and distraction. Bottom line: if my brain has to work harder than it does at my day job to keep track of the action or the characters from past books in a series, then it’s usually game over, book in the bin, or worse, donated to my doctor’s office waiting room.
#419 Million Can’t Be a CoincidenceIf a simple Google search results in over 19,400,000 hits for “Standalone Books” (and yes! it does), then might I humbly suggest that it’s time we stop having to distinguish between standalones and series books? Come on people, every popular book-reviewing, book-recommending and book-discussion website seems to have an on-going message board disputes about whether it’s better for a book to be a standalone or not. The question is obvious: why do we need to keep books that aren’t really acting like books in the category of books? Let’s just kill two birds with one stone and have every book reach the standard of a standalone. It just seems lazy not to. Otherwise just call non-standalones what they really are: ‘serial’ installments and let novels get on with the business of being novels. I will step down from my soapbox now.
#5A Missed Marketing OpportunityTo write a book in such a way so that only the truest, bluest, loyalist fans can understand and follow a book is short sighted and not a very smart move on the part of authors and publishers, whether they be amateur or professional. The wider an audience a book satisfies, the better chance an author has to establish fans and thus begin a groundswell for their next work. A finite audience of diehards will never grow sales fast enough or spread the circle of an author’s greatness far enough, even if they may light up message boards with impassioned defenses of non-standalone books. The point is that an author will never know when and how and which book of their series will reach a reader. A chance discovery on a friend’s shelf, a library giveaway bin, or a book club. Isn’t giving readers a quality standalone book just a smart thing to do to keep readers coming back for more?
#6A Bad Book is Like a Pair of Dirty Men’s UnderwearWhen I was a teen a woman came into the chain store I worked at one evening and returned underwear her husband had worn. YES, had worn, as in used and dirty. And guess what? The manager took them back. Yes, she did, without batting an eye. I quietly asked the manager why she accepted the return when it clearly stated on the package that underwear was NOT a returnable item. Her answer: For every good experience a customer has in a store, they will tell maybe 2 people, but for every bad experience they have in a store, they will most definitely tell 10 people on average. Now think back to the time you saw the ripped torso of a godly man calling out to you from the cover of a paperback. An impulse buy, it may have turned out to be the second or third installment in a four part series, but you didn’t notice because you never even glanced at the back. Now think about if the book didn’t make any sense because to understand it you would have had to have read the books preceding it. Think about your disappointment, your wasted time and your now wasted money. Would you ever buy another book from that author? How many people would you tell about that bewildering doosey of a stinker?
Agree or disagree? What is your take on standalone versus serials, and did you encounter books which did it extremely well or bad? Let us know in the comments!