Are series or stand-alone books better? Depends who you ask. The stand-alone with a Happy Ever After (HEA) ending is the romance genre classic, and there are amazing M/M ones. Personally, I admit to coming down in favor of series, though.
I get attached to great characters, and I really want to see more of them. Plus I love established couples working out their lives. So Happy For Now (HFN) endings are fine with me. Get those two guys to a safe resting place, and then give me another book. Oh, yeah.
Some series feature a new couple in each book, with an overlap of setting and story. A series like the Bluewater Bay books may even be written by different authors. Old characters make cameos, but aren’t important enough to matter if you didn’t read their book. For me, the little hit of location familiarity is fun, but not much different from a stand-alone. As for writing those – well, playing in someone else’s sandbox means homework and following rules. So I read them and enjoy, but will probably never do one of those.
Then there are series featuring a different main couple in each, but also enough of the previous guys to have significant insight into their ongoing lives. Some of my favorites are like that. Amy Lane’s Promises series, for example. I loved meeting honest cop Shane and dancer Mikhail in book 2, but it was made sweeter by also seeing where Crick and Deacon from book 1 were in their lives.
Or Avon Gale’s hockey romances in Scoring Chances. The mix of new couples and old themes allows some books to be light, some more angsty, and secondary characters who deserved the limelight can have it next. My Hidden Wolves are like this too, with an ongoing plot thread and familiar characters woven through. I have a blast with them (although admittedly, I had to have a friend make up a flow-chart of everyone in the packs, so I don’t reuse names. I’m terrible at remembering names, even of my own characters.)
Then there are my favorites – the ongoing character series. After all, how could we leave Crane and Stephen at the end of K.J. Charles’s The Magpie Lord, with all that magical heat and promise waiting? A second book was necessary. A third was excellent. I loved learning Crane’s weaknesses and Stephen’s strengths. And vice versa.
Or Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English. I had to go through meeting Jake, and hating Jake, to end up appreciating him. By the end of five books, Adrien was in my heart and I forgave Jake. Mostly.
Writing series has its challenges, though.
I’ve wondered why I sometimes get stuck in the middle of working on a series story (sorry, waiting readers), and I realized, there’s a bit of pressure that’s different from a stand-alone. A stand-alone romance has, as its audience, anyone who might like my genre. No book will appeal to all of them, for various reasons. Someone will hate each book. And that’s life.
But a series book is written for those who already enjoyed the previous ones. Those readers are predisposed to like it, but also much more disappointed when they don’t. And when they don’t, I can’t brush it off as “they just don’t like my writing style” or “this type of story isn’t their thing.” These are readers who are attached to the characters, so I get hung up on hoping to please everyone, impossible as that still is.
Another challenge is avoiding big gaps in releases. (Yeah, I fail that one.)
As a reader, I love when I can move quickly between series books (although I can live with delays, barring cliffhangers, or decades.) As an author, um, sorry? Writing multiple series means inevitably there are going to be waits. Being a pantser means not having a series plan to work through, so sometimes I draw a blank on what comes next, till a character starts talking again.
Being a pantser also means that sometimes I don’t know something will be a series. I may suddenly have another book pop into being. That was the case with The Rebuilding Year. Originally it was supposed to be a stand-alone book. Sure it ends HFN, with Ryan on the phone to his dad. But in my head I knew they’d make it, and the basic arc was done. Except.
Except it kept nagging me. How did his dad react to that call? What about John’s daughter Torey, whom I handed the short end of the fictional stick?
So eventually— three years later— I wrote Life, Some Assembly Required. I forced my readers to perhaps reread the first book, but hopefully was redeemed by giving them a look at how John and Ryan worked through their issues, and where the kids’ lives went. And I thought I was done. Mostly. Probably.
There was always that lingering thought, that maybe Ryan would get his legal gay marriage, and I’d write about it. Book 2 was completed in January 2015, when that SCOTUS decision was only a distant hope. It was released by Samhain June 9th, 2015, just weeks before Court’s decision changed America for the better. By then I was deep in writing a different book. So I raised a toast to all my guys who would now have that option, along with all the real people whose rights had been affirmed, and left it there.
This year, though. This has been a tough one. Among all the sad and painful and infuriating news, it’s been a challenge to write romance with happy endings. So when I heard Ryan nagging at me, I decided I could write that one. A wedding for two of my favorite guys.
Building Forever released today. It’s a 31,000 word novella, that closes The Rebuilding Year series on a HEA.
And a two book series becomes two and a half. With series, I always wonder— is a new idea a good addition to the previous novels? Is it one book too many in a series that was done where it ended last?
Knowing how long to make a series is hard. I’ve enjoyed reading some series out to book 8, and beyond, like Jordan Castillo Price’s ghost-detecting psychic Victor in PsyCop or Andrea Speed’s lion-shifter Roan in Infected. Then there are series that fizzled by book 3. On the whole, I want to get more of my favorite characters, and like longer series. But that means as an author, I also tend to want to write what comes next, and after that, for my guys. Stopping Life Lessons at four was hard, but right (although my resolve may weaken down the road, as Mac and Tony’s kids are growing up.)
The Rebuilding Year was supposed to be done too. And yet – a chance to have more fun with John and Ryan and Torey and Mark? I went for it. I hope some readers like it.
I’m always curious what people enjoy in their M/M, so what about you? Stand alone or series? Same characters or different? How many books is too many? And isn’t it cool that there is something for everyone, from solos like I’ll Be Your Drill, Soldier, or Faster Than the Speed of Light, to the thirty-three books of Carol Lynn’s Cattle Valley. Let me know your favorites.