Series, Stand-alone, Genre: pick your poison

book genres/ tumblr

Categories: there are tons of them in fiction. In the crime genre there is hard-boiled, soft-boiled, amateur sleuth, noir, cozy, police procedural, serial killer, private eye, and on. Same with romance novels: historical, regency, steamy, cowboy, time travel. More genres: sci fi, fantasy, horror. We all like to read different things, and write them, so categories help us find something in our favored niche. Categories serve their purpose.

But for writers like me, the category, the slot, the genre feels like vise grips sometimes, constricting and inflexible. Is it necessary? Is it a marketing gimmick? Can’t I just write the damn book and let the readers decide? Well, no, actually. You have to put a label on most everything. It’s called marketing — even though we may call it @#!@#$.

The same goes with writing a mystery series v. the stand-alone novel. The mystery series has been popular since Sherlock Holmes started his serial adventures, and will probably never die. Readers love following a sleuth from book to book. I know I do.  Sue Grafton is almost finished with the alphabet after publishing ‘A is for Alibi’ over 30 years ago. (I had to look that up — 1982! Now that’s a run.) How difficult would it be for me to write 20+ books in the same world, with the same character!? Answer: really hard. Her heroine Kinsey Millhone is stuck in the ’80s too, making her cell phone and internet use nonexistent. Great books by a great writer, in my opinion. Lovely person, Sue Grafton. But I couldn’t do it. All my hair would be gone. Sue’s looks gorgeous.

So after two mystery series I started writing stand-alones. They are harder to sell ( and #*@&! market) without those built-in audiences clamoring for the next installment in a series. And somewhat harder to write because you have to build the world — and the characters — all over again each time. Author Laurie R. King says this about the standalone:

While a series permits a writer to develop a set of characters over a period of time, a standalone novel represents the only opportunity these people have to live and breathe and tell their stories. Even if some of them reappear (and my standalones do have the occasional link and overlap), their book must have a sense of completeness, must contain an entire universe within its pages.

 Other writers consider the “standalone” term more loosely. Here’s Tamera Alexander’s take on it:
Tamera’s series books are considered “stand-alone” novels, meaning they can be read out of order. However, if you’re planning to read all of the books in a series, you should read them in order for the most fulfilling story experience.
So you can have a series of standalones? Hmm. I once pitched a series of linked standalones to my editor, the first ofDSCN1459 which became ‘Blackbird Fly.’ The series was to be linked by five sisters, each to have separate adventures. That idea didn’t really fly (although ‘Blackbird’ did. 🙂 )
Now I find myself in the position of starting a new book about the same characters in ‘Blackbird.’ I’m back to the series idea, with my protagonist Merle Bennett once again in hot water in France. I love writing about France, almost as much as going there. This time I’m going to use some of the experiences I had last year doing a walking tour through the vineyards.
Despite my dislike of being put in a box, pegged a certain way, I am back to writing a series. (And I am loving it! Go figure.) My last novel, written as Rory Tate, was a thriller with lots of action and cops and spies. You would think that’s a pretty tight box to fit into, wouldn’t you? Espionage thriller. Police Procedural. Maybe not.  Michael on Amazon said:
Cross genre writing can be a slog, yet Rory Tate succeeds at crossing multiple genre boundaries. Plan X accomplishes all its goals: From boy meets girl to girl comes into her own and unravels both police-work and personal dilemmas inside a complex and satisfying plot structure.

No matter how hard it is to write the book inside your heart and head and still hit the marketing categories, sometimes readers just see through all that and are glad for the ride. There is little more gratifying to a writer than a reader who ‘gets it.’
Are you more comfortable inside or outside the box? Series, standalones, genre, cross-genre? Love story or category romance? Deep characterization or pacy thriller? What’s your poison?
I leave you with a (classic?) mystery cover. Have a fabulous reading and writing week — and don’t eat all the pizza rolls!

Author: Lise McClendon

writer, filmmaker, blogger, publisher, snow lover, sun worshiper, woman.

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