Making the Case for Standalone Fantasy: 5 Reasons Why Sometimes a Series Isn’t Better
Listen, we all love a good fantasy series. There’s often nothing more satisfying than working your way through a perfectly crafted trilogy, or knowing that every year there will be a new chapter in the saga of your favorite characters, regular as clockwork. For writers, a series almost always sounds great: It can often be really hard to give up writing about this world that you’ve spent so much time and energy creating—you know how the religion works, have shed tears over how to make the magic system make sense, and you’ve got a political history so far back that you could basically write an encyclopedia.
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good fantasy series! I love them! It’s just that a series isn’t the best way forward for all fantasy books. There’s a certain, specific skill to creating and telling a story all in one volume that makes is just as satisfying, and sometimes I crave a fantasy novel that I don’t have to commit the next five years of my life to reading. So, when you’re pondering whether the book that’s taking shape in the back of your head should be a standalone or the start of a series, here are five excellent reasons why a series isn’t a good idea for all YA fantasy.
1.) Avoiding Bridge Book Syndrome
Do you ever get that feeling when you’re reading a book in the middle of a series and it’s just a little… blah? Second books in trilogies in particular can be notorious for this—the trilogy gets started with a bang and ends with a bang, but there’s still a whole book of stuff to fill in the middle! And that’s what middle books can sometimes feel like—just filler. Plotting out an entire series, whether it’s three books or fifteen, is an incredibly difficult task, and even the best writers can suffer from what I call “bridge book syndrome.” As in, it feels like this book’s only purpose is to be a bridge to the next book. As in, nothing happens in this one! Writing standalone fantasy eliminates this issue entirely, and can even make a story feel more compelling and plot-driven.
2.) Stand Out in the Market
Let’s be real here: There are a lot of YA fantasy series out right now, and they are basically all really good! Now, you shouldn’t let that stop you from writing a series if that’s what’s best for your story and what you really want to do, but it’s definitely something to consider! There’s a ton of competition out there right now for YA fantasy in general, and we are only one or two books deep into some wildly popular series that are definitely going to have three or more books coming down the pipeline. It can be a selling point for your own novel to be a standalone—it will stand out! It’s a little something different! And as an editor, we’re always on the lookout for manuscripts that will stand out from the crowd.
3.) Challenge Yourself
In some ways, I think it’s even harder to write a self-contained fantasy than a series. Don’t get me wrong, all writing is hard, and anyone who does it is honestly a miracle worker. But there’s something to setting yourself the task of creating, exploring, and getting closure for a story all in one novel that forces you to really think about what the story needs and what it doesn’t. It makes you consider your writing in a new way if you know that you don’t have as long as it could possibly take to get to the end. If you’re feeling burned out on your writing, or want to try something new and stretch your skills, I think you should challenge yourself to start and finish a fantasy novel in one book. If you’ve got a fantasy series you’ve been kicking around for a while that’s just not quite working... try condensing it into one book! This is a great writing exercise that could be really helpful and maybe even help you land a book deal—you never know what might happen!
4.) Keep Yourself Free From Series Obligations
In publishing, most series are sold to the editor based on the first book only. Sometimes there is an outline for where the author envisions the other books in the series, but not always. Once you’ve sold a series, you’re locked in, regardless of how much you’ve even thought about the trajectory of the series as a whole, and most of the time publishers want the series to be a book a year until it’s over.
On one hand, this is a great thing: steady, paid work for an author and happy fans who never have to wait too long for the next book. On the other, though, a book a year can be a grueling schedule. Writing a series like this can mean that you don’t get to do any other kind of writing, no experimenting with other genres, or age ranges, or even any other stories for years at a time. Especially if you have a day job on top of writing, doing a series can be really daunting! If that sounds like something that you would struggle with, I think aiming for a standalone is a wonderful alternative. I love it when my favorite authors branch out and do new things, and writing a standalone could mean you have the time and brain-space to do that!
5.) Companion Novels!
Just because you aren’t writing a series doesn’t mean you have to abandon the world you’ve created entirely! There are plenty of fun, creative ways to continue to tell stories set in the world that you have created that don’t involve a serialized plot, or even linked stories! I personally love a good companion novel, because often they can reveal a whole new aspect of the world that just wasn’t relevant in the original book. It means that I can get my fix of a fantasy world that I love, with the added benefit of getting to explore more—in new locations, new characters, or even new time periods!
Now, I want to be clear: I am not against YA fantasy series! I think they’re wonderful, and we are getting so many more of them from voices that we haven’t heard before, and I’m completely here for that. I do think, though, that people often default to series when they’re writing YA fantasy, and that’s not always the best idea, for you, your book, or your audience. Giving careful consideration to the limits of your story, your time, and your mental energy and making about conscious decision about whether your book really is the first in a series is something all authors should be doing, even if they decide the ultimate answer is yes!
What do you think, Swooners? Sound off in the comments!