Friday, April 23, 2010

Two Faces to Fiction

by KJ Howe

Let's call this post a mission in research. Everyone who drops by is an avid reader, so it is the perfect place to ask these two questions. I've recently been working on a profile about David Morrell (NYT Bestseller and creator of Rambo). David has had an illustrious career spanning 40 years, an incredible feat given the innate challenges of the publishing industry. Unlike many authors today, David has never really created a series character. Instead, he writes stand-alone novels that encompass several different genres, from thrillers to horror to speculative fiction.

Most publishers insist that authors find a niche (specific genre, style of book) and stick with it so they are easier to market. I can understand this preference as it makes business sense to be able to "brand" and market an author's niche. Sometimes publishers ask authors to change their name and brand if they are writing a new style of book. For example, Joe Konrath wrote the Jack Daniels mystery series under his name, then started writing in a different genre as Jack Killborn.

As a reader, do you want to reach for a book by X author and know that it will be a certain style and type of novel, or do you like to be surprised by the genre/storyline knowing that you will enjoy the book no matter what because of the author's voice and talent?

Another question that piques my interest is whether readers enjoy the variety of stand-alones more or less than the comfort of a series character novel? I would be so appreciative if you could share your thoughts on these two issues!


limecello said...


Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Hey Lime! You snagged him! Here I was thinking I was in time to get a rooster visit!


limecello said...

Ok - I hope I don't offend anyone (and I think everyone knows I do read and enjoy series... but...)
I've lamented with a number of other readers about what seems to be the death of the stand alone novel. As in, completely alone. No siblings, cousins, friends, with their own story to follow.
I do like series where each story can stand on it's own and has closure and a happy ending... but in a way I miss the single story.
Branding is all well and good - especially from the author/publisher's point of view, but eventually you get boilerplate stories. There are 4-5 authors off the top of my head I can make a plot/characteristic checklist (and it's not a generic could fit with any book one) - and... I'll be right.
I don't know if it's something an author wants to aspire to be - the one that you hate reading but can't quit. Diana Palmer comes to mind. I was on a *quest* to read/find all her books. I got all but ~7 I think. Sometimes her books are ok. Sometimes I wonder what the hell I'm doing reading them. And other times I *know* that but for this being a Palmer book, I wouldn't be reading it. And... I kind of hate myself for it.
And yet, I'm picky. Do I want to know what I'm getting? Yes. I think it's important for the author and/or publisher to let the reader know. A switcheroo mid series makes a reader feel betrayed. Or mislabeled books.
If X author writes romances, has always written romances, and has given all indications that Y new book is also a romance -which turns out to be a women's fic... I'm going to be very unhappy. But I feel like that's not quite the same - or minimally different than branding/series.
And I'll stop now. *gets off the soapbox*

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Kim, you are gonna roll your eyes at me, but I'm going to prevaricate and say "both."


Sometimes I really want a book that's kinda like that last book, that's kinda like that author's other books. I find I'm this way with Mercedes Lackey. I like her voice and really, she doesn't ever stray too far from her general genre and themes.

Then there's the other type of favorite. Michael Crichton comes to mind. From ER to Jurrassic Park to Rising Sun to Congo. All different subject matter, all different characters. I just LIKE his writing, no matter the genre.

Obviously, with him, I like the stand alones. He really didn't serialize much, except maybe the Jurrassics. I'd have been interested in a sequel to Andromeda Strain, though. grins.

For Lackey, I love the series stuff and the stand alones. She's a fabulous worldbuilder, so I like more in every world.

How's that for "fence-sitting" on your question?


Anna Campbell said...

How interesting, Kim! This is something I think of a lot, especially as unlike almost every other historical writer I can think of, I still do stand-alones. Actually I find a writer's voice is a constant across various genres. Generally if I love a writer in one form, I'll like her in another. For example, for many years I was a huge fan of Connie Brockway's historicals - she's since gone back to historicals but in the interim she wrote a couple of really sparkling contemporaries set in her native Minnesota. Well worth reading. There was still that same emotional depth and ironic humor and slightly skew take on the world so it wasn't really as if there had been that much of a change frankly!

Kim Howe said...

Congrats, Limecello! Hope you have fun with the GR today. :)

Kim Howe said...

Good try, Jeanne!!! I'm sure limecello will let you have lunch with the GR for your efforts.

Kim Howe said...

Limecello, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I'm also a big fan of stand alone novels over series novels because I love the opportunity to meet a whole new cast of characters with every read. I really appreciate your input.

Kim Howe said...

Jeanne, you crack me up. You've become the Switzerland of novels, you cutie. But that love of both is good for authors! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Kim Howe said...

Anna, I love your novels and the fact that they are stand alone--but what makes me such a fan is your voice! Does your publisher ever suggest to you that a series would be a good idea???

Suzanne Welsh said...

Interesting post, Kim.

For question #1 I want to know that when I pick up a book I'm getting a certain voice with that author. For instance, I first started reading Amanda Quick with her first release, Seduction, a historical romance. About 5 books in, I learned her real name was Jayne Ann Krentz and wrote contepmoraries. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the difference in her voice in this subgenre. Then I learned she wrote futuristic romances under Jayne Castle and with yet another, equally readable voice. The difference impressed me as a writer and reader. Haven't missed one, yet!

Question #2: I think it depends on the genre you're reading. For romances, I think we prefer stand alone books with a HEA for each hero/heroine set. Those characters can appear as cast in the next or future books, but we want them to be having a happy life.

Now straight suspense, mystery or action/adventure is a whole other ball of wax. Currently I'm reading the Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry. I like knowing what kind of man the hero is, what his backstory is and who the characters are who pop up throughout his stories.

hrdwrkdmom aka Dianna said...

Can I just get on the fence with Jeanne?
I read something once and it said a kiss shouldn't be satisfying, it should leave you wanting more.

Well, to me almost every author I read leaves me wanting more, I have my happy ever after in my romances, historical or contemp but I just know in my heart there is more. The series books give me that. I don't have to wonder what happened to the bad, bad little brother, if I wait long enough the author will write his story and I get to find out who finally tamed that man!

On the other hand there have been series that STILL leave me wanting, even after all the siblings and friends of the family had their stories. Eventually an author had to stop the series but I am still left with questions, that is a mark of a very good author to me. They have taken me in their world, introduced me to the people there and gotten me hooked on the interaction and personalities of their characters.

As far as the stand alones, I like them too, for the same reasons, I always wonder what happens after the HEA.

Anna, if you start a series I personally will never let you end it. I will beg, plead, and whine for yet another. Your fertile mind creates places and people I don't want to part with.

What was the question? Oh, yes, got it, I am a "moody" reader. I read by my moods and if I pick up an x author then I want to hear the x voice. If I want historical with hearts and flowers I am going to go into a tiz if I hear the jaws theme. I have a few authors that write historical and comtemp (both romance) so I can handle the contemp/historical change because it isn't a surprise. Others, like you mention, change the name with the genre, that is cool too, not a surprise. I can still match the voice with my current mood. If I am reading a romance and it veers off to a little suspense, uh, okay, I can follow that as long as I still have the core romance. If it goes completely off course, not so much. I have been known to lay a book down and leave it until my mood changes....LOL

I like to know when I pick up x author I am going to get an x story, if I pick up Y then Y is what I want to read. If you are going to change, just let me know so it isn't too much of a surprise. I don't know if I answered your questions but I said a lot of words!

catslady said...

I prefer stand alone. I have a compulsion for buying tons of books and there's nothing worse than finding out you started in the middle or you can't find them. I'm afraid sometimes it was a marketing ploy (not always of course) but instead of one large book - sell 3 or 4 smaller books. I used to love those really long novels but they are rare now adays.

I totally get confused with all the different aliases lol. If I like an author I usually like her/his voice in any genre and I do like variety. Now if an author is switching only because a particular genre is more popular but they really don't have a desire to really write that genre, it usually shows. Of course it's a business but when an author says it's a book of their heart or they have a passion for a particular genre, I too think that shows.

Gillian Layne said...

I love both series and stand-alone.

The voice issue gives me pause. You said "voice and talent", and you know, I think they are two different things. I think the voice is instinctive, and when the writer can give full rein to her voice, the story sparkles. When the author is talented, she/he can jump around genre and stories, and they'll all read as well written, but maybe not all grab me the same way.

Or maybe not. I've been thinking about this all morning, but you know, as much as I have authors I adore, I've never been equally in love with all of an author's work. I follow several series faithfully, but when I read something else that author writes--I just don't care about it. So I'm in love with specific characters that the author creates--and when that "world" ends, nothing else measures up?

I'm confusing myself. Kim, this was a very good question. Maybe after another diet Coke I'll have a coherent answer. Or maybe was can discuss this in Nashville over a stronger drink! ;)

gamistress66 said...

stand alone vs series: like others so far, I like both with one exception -- I like my hero & heroine to have their happy ending in their one book. I'm not interested in book 2 where they are again torn apart and have to go thru it all over again before finding happy ever after again. Please, how much can one couple survive? I much rather revisit them as secondary characters showing them happy and still very much in love. Each book in the series should be able to stand alone in its own right. Sometimes calling books a series is a little bit of a deception -- nothing more than a slim line of common theme ties them together, no character cross action at all. Sometimes I can't help but wish for that secondary character's story from a stand alone [hint Anna re: Akash ;) ] What's most important is a well written book that I enjoy reading and getting lost in.

author genre: some authors I enjoy do write (under their own name) in genres I’m not interested in. Since I always check out the blurb before buying, I’ve never been caught off guard on a purchase. I just skip buying that book, pout for a while and hope the next one will be one that I will be interested in. Tastes and interests change with time. Goes with reading so I can understand the same as to writing. I figure as long as they are writing and publishing, there’s a chance they will return to the right genre and make me happy once more. I would think its best that the author enjoys what they’re writing and not just putting books out to put dinner on the table. Chances are, if they don’t enjoy writing the book, I’m not going to enjoy reading it. As I already said, what's most important is a well written book that I enjoy reading and getting lost in.

Sorry didn’t mean to be so long winded :)

Kate Diamond said...

I need to know that a specific hero and heroine will get together at some point--and I need to know when.

Nora Roberts writes trilogies that suit me just fine. In the Three Sisters books, for instance, I had to wait to find out how the heroines saved the island... but each heroine had her own book and found happiness with her soul mate by the end of it.

In the Hunger Games series (excellent YA novels), Katniss will have to choose between Peeta and Gale. I do know, however, that there's only one more book to go... so although I'm on a yo-yo right now, the author will eventually have to answer my questions!

The thing about series is that I don't know when they'll end, so I don't know who will end up with whom. As a romance reader, that irks me!

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Kim said: Jeanne, you crack me up. You've become the Switzerland of novels, you cutie. But that love of both is good for authors!

Grins. I like Switzerland.

Anna, your books are standalone and fabulous.

Dianna! My fence-sitting sister! Grins

Jeanne (AKA The Duchesse) said...

Catslady, what you said about buying a ton is one reason I'm with you on stand alones. If I've started a series and I like it (sometimes even if I"m just lukewarm) I HAVE to know what happens!

Maybe that's what the publishers are loving about series...

Kim Howe said...

Suz, thanks for sharing your insightful thoughts. I had the pleasure of studying with Steve Berry at a retreat and he is incredibly intelligent and thoughtful about his series and what he hopes to achieve. It is series like his that really get you hooked!

Kim Howe said...

Dianna, what an excellent post! Your tastes are well-defined and that makes you a fabulous reader--you know what you want and need as a reader. And, yes, if Anna starts a series, there will be a cult following and I will offer to be President of the Fan Club!!!!

Kim Howe said...

Catslady, great point about making sure an author isn't writing to the market, but rather they are exploring another side of themselves. Authenticity is crucial!

Kim Howe said...

Gillian, you expressed yourself eloquently. I'm not sure there is one right answer--and our answers could fluctuate over time. A drink would definitely help lubricate those brain cells! :)

So many NYT bestsellers have series and publishers love the continuity and the ability to market more than one novel at a time. However, there are also authors like Sandra Brown who only write stand-alones, but still make those Bestseller lists...

Kim Howe said...

Gamistress66, thanks for your thorough answer. I echo your sentiment about a hero and heroine having one book, one HEA. Unless the author presents believable intrinsic motivations for the couple to separate, I become frustrated when they are torn apart by "circumstances." It makes it feel forced and contrived.

Kim Howe said...

Kate, great point about series and not knowing the romantic ending. I always want that HEA so I can leave the book and smile, knowing that they are riding off into the sunset together!

Kim Howe said...

Jeanne, Switzerland is beautiful, it is a great place to buy watches, it is a fabulous ski destination, and it has a wonderfully peaceful you! :)

Pissenlit said...

Ah, it probably depends on the author and what I like about their novels...if that makes any sense. With some authors, I'll pick up anything they write but that's not the case with all the authors I follow. For instance, your example of J.A. Konrath...I enjoyed his Jack Daniels series but I really have no wish to read Afraid. So...I guess, it's a toss-up. Some authors, I follow across genres, some I don't. Some authors, I'll read everything they put out, some, I'll only stick to a series or two, even if their other stuff is within the same genre...

As for stand-alones vs. series character novels, I'm much more inclined to read the latter. Stand-alones make me feel a bit sad or frustrated when I finish them because I don't get to find out what happens in the lives of the characters after the book ends and I won't ever get to hang out in those worlds again unless I reread it. I rarely ever seek out stand-alones. Oddly enough, the only big exception to that was anything by Dick Francis whom I have, on occasion, listed as my favourite author. :D

Anna Campbell said...

Kim, so far Avon seem happy to continue with the stand alones (although there's an occasional link - Kylemore and Verity turned up briefly in Tempt the Devil and Perry's house from TTD turns up in My Reckless Surrender but I certainly wouldn't justify those casual elements with the title of a SERIES!). I have suggested a few series-style ideas but they've never been quite as good as the stand alone ideas so Avon hasn't bitten.

Hey, thanks for saying those nice things, hon!

Anna Campbell said...

Wow, feeling the lurve down here in Oz today. Thanks, guys! Dianna, I'll let you know about the series. I would LOVE to write Akash's story, Gamistress. Watch this space (although having said that I'm currently working on another stand alone that's not connected to the previous books). Kim, love the idea of you running my fan club. I think we should put annual trips to Tahiti into the constitution! Jeanne, snorting at you as Switzerland. Switzerland and chocolate are forever associated in my mind so that's a GOOD thing! And thanks for the compliment, hon!

Louisa Cornell said...

Good catch, Lime! The Duchesse was obviously lolling about the manor being waited on my handsome footmen and thus missed our golden friend. SNORK !!

I have to join my fellow duchess on the fence. I read a wide variety of novels and for me the three most important things to reel me in are - the story and the story and the story.

An author with a strong voice and a maestro touch when it comes to word painting can write anything - be it series or stand alone - and I will always come back to them for more in either form.

With some writers it is the characters that grab me and keep me reading. With others it is the story. And as long as either is well done, whether in a series or as a stand alone, I will keep buying. The sagging floors from the weight of the books I own is a testament to that!

My shelves are loaded with Bandita books that sparkle in both stories and characters - you ladies definitely have your hands "full of gifts." ( a line from an old spiritual that reminds us that even when we think we have nothing, our hands "Is full of gifts, we just gotta works to give 'em!")

And La Campbell I am not surprised in the least that Avon loves your stand alones - the characters drive your stories into our hearts and don't let us go. Memorable characters like that don't need a herd of cousins or friends to keep the memory of those characters' stories alive.

Anna Campbell said...

Wow, Louisa, thank you! And I love the gift line!

MsHellion said...

Hmmm. Good questions.

Two of my favorite authors, Julie Garwood and Teresa Medeiros write mostly stand alone books. Teresa jumps around quite a bit through history for her books. One year she'll produce a book from the Middle Ages, the next year it will be a contemporary paranormal. I love all her books. The characters aren't connected, but the voice and what I expect from her novels remains consistent.

And then I read a certain series of books, quite popular with the crowd, which I feel has grown quite stale. There is absolutely no character growth--and the author even says she has no intent of letting the character grow--which I have to say is very dissatisfying as a reader. And there have been other series, where some books are excellent and other books feel like filler rather than a book that propels the overarcing plot. I like books with characters I can read about again and again, but you have to be careful, I think, not to get stale.

Pat Cochran said...

Hi, Kim,

Add me to the "both bunch." I try
to take each book "as it comes."
I listen to the voice as projected
from each book, surrounding myself
with the story being told. Every
tale takes hold of my mind and my
heart, leading me towards its
unfolding conclusion and accepting me into its HEA.

Pat Cochran

Laurie said...

Great conversation here! I'm with the commenters that said both. Some authors I adore and I'll buy anything they write, no matter what genre. It's their voice that hooks me.

With other authors it's the particular characters that I love. So I gobble up every new book in the series but don't always read everything else they write.

There's nothing that excites me more than finding a new favorite author, though. Anna Campbell is one, and she turned me on to my newest favorite Barbara O'Neil/Barbara Samuel. Someone mentioned JAK/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle. I've been reading her since the 80's - I don't think I've ever missed any of her books and some are series and some are stand alones (earlier work).

Kate Carlisle has her wonderful new series and I'm already hooked. NR has both stand alones, her Eve Dallas series, and her trilogies and I love most of them. LOL, I could go on and on.

Great questions!

Barbara Monajem said...

I want more of the same without it being the same. So - series are fine, as long as the main characters change (peeks at previous protags are fine) but generally I prefer standalones because they HAVE to be different. And if a writer whose voice and style I love writes in more than one genre, that's perfect, because it's both the same and different. The only problem is when they write under another name and I DON'T KNOW ABOUT IT!! (Fortunately, the Internet makes it pretty easy to find out - much easier than it used to be.) I am totally fine with reading something by a familiar author and being surprised. Surprises are the spice of life. Well, some of them, anyways.