Recently we've been talking a lot about writing books, including Karen Wiesner's recent release on writing fiction series. Today I'd like to delve a bit further into the decision we make as authors between pursuing a one-off novel versus looking for series potential. Both have their place. So let's look at the pros and cons of both.

Here are some of the most obvious upsides and downsides of writing both one-off novels and series, followed by some of the marketing considerations that have helped me make my own decisions about the role of fiction series in my long-term publishing plan.

Pros and Cons of Writing One-off Stories

With a one-off novel (or novella, short story, or whatever kind of fiction you want to write), you have a single storyline and a single set of characters in mind. Your book can stand alone and it doesn't rely on any brand recognition, unless you happen to already have a strong author brand. Here are some of the biggest pros and cons of that approach.

Pros

  • More freedom to play with new characters or even genres
  • No rush to release a follow-up book
  • Freedom to pursue any story that strikes you

Cons

  • Starting from scratch with every book
  • Less likely to have a built-in readership for subsequent books
  • More difficult to build author name recognition / branding

Pros and Cons of Writing a Fiction Series

When you write fiction series rather than one-off stories, they're intertwined in some way. They might share characters. Shorter stories might share themes. When it comes to novel series more specifically, each novel becomes a story within a larger story. Again, this approach has its good and bad sides to consider.

Pros

  • More time to flesh out and get to know your characters
  • Books in a series help to sell each other
  • Easier to develop a loyal following of eager readers

Cons

  • Bored readers if the stories feel too similar
  • Potential to get bored with your own characters
  • Becoming known for a single series can make it difficult to move into other types of fiction or even other series

The Marketing Appeal of Writing a Series

I've toyed with the idea of one-off stories and books before. I've outlined a few, and have one in the horror genre practically drafted (from several years ago -- I hesitate to even look at it at this point). But in the end I keep coming back to writing series instead, both with novels and short stories.

For me, the decision comes down to marketing. After all, I write for two reasons. First, I love it. Second, it's my chosen profession. I take the business side of writing seriously, and that means I'm always looking out for better ways to market my work.

Focusing on a story's series potential is a no-brainer given the kinds of stories I'm interested in writing.  I've even overhauled my publishing plan recently to take some one-off book ideas and seek series potential in them. Here are a few examples, based on what I'm writing this month:

  • Mystery novel series -- The first book in this series is being drafted for NaNoWriMo this year. The series will follow the lead character in a cozy-style series, along with her assistant and a few friends. The characters and the amateur sleuth's profession are what tie the stories together.
  • Horror short story series -- These stories won't feature the same characters, or necessarily even be a "series." They're designed to be a collection of similarly-themed tales instead. While not exactly the same thing, collections of similar shorter works offer many of the same benefits of writing series.
  • Children's picture book series -- This series involves a primary character telling tales of his youth to his grandchildren. His involvement in each storyline is what ties them together.

Those are the main series ideas I'm working on now. One will be a traditional "light" murder mystery series. One will be a collection more than a series. One will be a shorter series for children.

In each case, there's marketing potential. If kids fall in love with the characters from the children's stories, it makes it easier to sell the follow-up stories. If people enjoy the way my amateur sleuth solves mysteries, they'll be more likely to pick up the next book to follow along as she does it again. And if someone wants to curl up for a creep-out session with some horror short stories, a collection with a common theme might keep them focused and more interested (especially as I'll sell the stories individually before they're released as a single collection).

The branding element is probably the most important thing to me marketing-wise. I'm writing under three different pen names, which means author branding will be a challenge. Any additional brand recognition I can push for will be a good thing business-wise.

What about you? Would you rather write a one-off novel or a series? Why? Can you think of other pros and cons authors might want to consider? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

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