Prequels and Sequels

I have a friend who doesn’t like the idea of a series of books. I’ve seen him, time after time, buy a book that’s maybe number two of a series. He doesn’t care that there’ll be back story he won’t know. It doesn’t bother him that, after he reads the book, no matter the ending, he won’t find out what else happens to the characters.

I’m not sure how he does it.

He also has no desire to write a series. That’s more understandable. I mean, sure, if you pick up a book that’s part of a series and it turns out to be crappy, it’s a pretty good bet you’re not gonna finish it. I read the first two books of the The Strain trilogy by Guillermo del Torro and Chuck Logan. I liked the first two but couldn’t get into the third. I think I just wasn’t in the mood for it at the time. That, and so much time passed between readings that I felt a little lost when I should have had a better idea of what was happening.

Regardless, I can understand not wanting to write a series. It can be easy to get tired of a setting and/or characters—usually both—and pass on to something else next time around. That’s what my friend says his problem is: once he’s done with a story, he’s done with the setting and characters.

On the other hand, because I’m writing a series, I can speak to both sides of the argument. I like being able to settle back into my Rural Empires setting, with Lyle and the Higginses and Ledbetters. I also like introducing some new background characters from time to time. New challenges, but all within a familiar setting.

In that, a series is a lot like real life. These days, I’m not constantly meeting new people. Sure, it happens occasionally, but for the most part, I’m settled into my group of friends and acquaintances and I’m comfortable there. No big desire to meet hordes of new people. Most people are that way, and it’s probably why the series is so popular these days—and maybe always was.

I cut my teeth on the series, especially the trilogy. Fantasy and sf both are rife with them. I’m not sure if it’s a subconscious desire to emulate pioneers such as JRR Tolkien and Isaac Asimov, or if it’s just that fantasy/sf writers tend to paint on a larger canvas. Most of these stories are big and involve a lot of characters. Some of them, such as The Foundation Trilogy—though it has in the years since become more of a series—cover great gulfs of time as well.

All of this predisposes me toward the series. I admit there was a time there when I couldn’t stand a long book involving the same characters, much less a series. We all go through phases in our reading tastes, and for a while mine meant that I could barely finish a book before I was eager to embark on another one with entirely new characters and situations.

I’ve gradually come out of that, though, and gone back to reading series. I’ve finally finished all of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books, at least until the new one comes out later this year. I’ve also finished his two books about Jack McEvoy, the reporter, and I plan to next take in all the Mickey Haller books. He’s the Lincoln Lawyer.

As for the publishing world in general, I recently read somewhere that publishers prefer a series these days, probably because that’s what readers want. You have a better chance of being published if you can show that you have an idea for sustaining a cast of characters that readers can visit and revisit over the years and multiple books.

I hadn’t originally planned that with my Rural Empires setting. The Pipeline books were to introduce the setting, but I was going to move on from Lyle and tell other stories in the same setting. In other words, the setting was going to be the only real common link. Sure, characters would appear in multiple novels—it’s a sorta small world there, after all—but the actual stories would be told from different POVs every time.

That ended up not working. I couldn’t seem to get anything going from any other character’s POV. I’d get good ideas, but I could sustain them. Maybe I can still work them into short stories. I still like the idea of telling stories from POVs other than Lyle’s. And, who knows? I might end up with a few novels as well.

But I finally decided that the majority of the stories will be told by Lyle. It’s the prevailing way of doing things these days, so it will hopefully increase my odds of being published. After all, I’ll have the prequel (when I get it written, which is getting closer to happening) as my free ebook, and I have at least three full-length books toward the series.

On the other hand, other than an oblique reference to my Rural Empires setting, Spree is a stand-alone novel. It has totally different characters, and it’s very unlikely they’ll show up in any of the Rural Empires books, or in a sequel. And it felt good to write that book. I’d finished Pipeline and was working on the edit when I wrote Spree. Because I was doing two things at once, Spree took some time to get together, partly because the story came to me slower, partly because it took a little more preplanning than Pipeline did.

So you can see why I can see both sides of the story. I’ve written on both sides of it.

What’s your opinion? What do you think of a series versus stand-alone novels? I’m talking about from the same author, of course.

Let me know.

Later,

Gil

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