Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Series? Stand Alone Books? What Should You Write? Guest Post by Alex J. Cavanaugh

Guys! Today we have a super star in our midst! Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Ninja Captain himself, is here to help us understand the differences between a series and standalone books. Don't forget to check out his latest release, Dragon of the Stars.

Take it away, Alex!

The Differences Between a Series and a Stand Alone Book

Thank you for having me today, Julie!

What is the difference between a series and a standalone book? Which is better? Now that I have written both, I can offer some tips. (Although technically, I have written two standalone books, as I never intended to write a sequel to my first book.) There is a distinct difference and advantages to both.

Let me show you advantages and disadvantages:

Series –


Making the following stories fresh and new
Keeping the timeline and details straight
Maintaining excitement throughout the series


Characters and world are familiar
Built in fan base
Can expand on the world and characters
Less research

Standalone –


Starting from scratch with world building
New characters to develop
More difficult to pitch, including to fans


Fresh start and no boundaries
Story wraps up with one book – no cliffhangers
Can pour everything into just one book

As you can see, they both have their good and bad points. Which one we write depends on what we are trying to accomplish. Do we want an expanding universe? Do we want the freedom of exploring new ideas? It’s all up to the writer.

It’s the difference between a movie versus a television show. A movie is (usually) self-contained. The storyline wraps up at the end and the character arc is complete. With a television series, the overall story is never-ending. The writers can continue for as long as fresh ideas come to them.

With my Cassa series, while I didn’t originally intend to continue past the first book, I was able to come up with fresh new stories that would stretch the main character, Byron. Each book concludes a character arc, but I was able to throw things at Byron that continued to force growth.

Dragon of the Stars was written as one contained story. The changes in the main character, Aden, are so profound that any further growth would be subtle. I could send him on more adventures, but the key moments in his life are held within this one story. Thus, it needs to stand on its own.

Which one is best for you? Well, how far do you want to take the story?

By Alex J. Cavanaugh
Science Fiction – Space Opera/Adventure/Military
Print ISBN 9781939844064 EBook ISBN 9781939844057
What Are the Kargrandes?

The ship of legends…

The future is set for Lt. Commander Aden Pendar, son of a Hyrathian Duke. Poised to secure his own command and marriage to the queen’s daughter, he’ll stop at nothing to achieve his goals.

But when the Alliance denies Hyrath’s claim on the planet of Kavil and declares war on their world, Aden finds his plans in disarray. Entrenched in battle and told he won’t make captain, Aden’s world begins to collapse. How will he salvage his career and future during Hyrath’s darkest hour?

One chance remains–the Dragon. Lost many years prior, the legendary ship’s unique weapon is Hyrath’s only hope. Can Aden find the Dragon, save his people, and prove he’s capable of commanding his own ship?

Alex J. Cavanaugh has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. Blog * Twitter * Insecure Writers Support Group 

Awesome, right? Thanks so much, Alex! Friends, have you written a series? A stand alone book? Which do you prefer?


  1. Alex is just all round amazing. He achieves such a lot - and is a really, really nice supportive person with it.

  2. Thank you, Julie!

    Appreciate that, Elephant.

  3. I can see the difference, especially after reading Dragon of the Stars, which is a fantastic story. Congrats to Alex on his new book.

  4. Nicely broken down!

    I do like series because I think they're easier to write...once we have the setting and recurring characters down, the rest is pretty simple.

  5. You've nailed the advantages and disadvantages, Alex. I do like series because I'm a hungry reader and when I find a world I love, I just keep wanting more of it. Yet having written both types, I do love starting a new world with a whole new cast of characters too.

  6. Hi Julie and so good to see Alex here .. very concisely summarised ... and I'm sure useful to so many .. cheers to you both - Hilary

  7. Elizabeth, it is really simple at that point.

    Christine, a new cast of characters is fun.

  8. Great post! I think I like the idea of a series more than the actual execution of it. In theory, you get to stay with the same characters book after book, so you don't have to say goodbye. In practice, though, it's a nightmare of keeping up with what you've done in other books to make sure you don't have inconsistencies!

  9. Great post! I've been mulling this over quite a bit lately since I've come up with sequel ideas for a book I never intended to continue with. I mostly like the idea of a series so that I can stay with the characters I've created.

  10. Exactly! On the advantages and Disadvantages!!!

  11. Alex, thanks so much for this great post!

  12. Stephanie, that's why I placed twenty years between each of my books!

  13. I agree with your advantages and disadvantages, Alex. The only thing is . . . I could see more books in the Dragon of Stars universe . . . although maybe not as a series. Have you read The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey? There's a bunch of books that she wrote within that "universe" that each stand alone, but yet have the same world-building background. I'm not sure she meant to go back to that universe, but eventually she tied it in with some of her other books . . . over a number of years. So, if you ever wanted to go back to the Dragon of the Stars universe, I bet you could.
    Anyway . . . I loved it as a stand alone book. I just think you're an awesome writer, so I keep thinking of ways for you to keep writing. :)

  14. I like Alex's comparison of stand alone and series to movies and television series. It's a good comparison to keep in mind.

  15. Tyrean, trying to keep me going, huh? I keep saying my fans won't let me quit...

  16. Good comparison. I've written one series and three stand alones so far. Great description of both! Lisa, co-host AtoZ 2015, @

  17. I prefer writing and reading in series. And I like movies that have sequels if they can keep the story fresh.

  18. I've never been much of a series writer, but I do enjoy good series. What I've found is by the end, the books have always gone dark or darker than the earlier ones. I'm guessing this is a natural progression to an end.

    I finally wrote a sequel to one book and am now starting the third book. I guess I have a series.

    Congrats, Alex. Great job.

  19. Lee, you do indeed have a series! And I tried going dark. Wasn't very dark though...

  20. Alex, I've struggled with series. I've only written stand alone and have never ever had any struggles with those. I love world building and character development. As far as pitching each to the fans, if they are a fan of YOU, they will eat everything you throw their way.

    I've actually completed a trilogy with my 18 yo daughter and there are worlds upon worlds waiting to be written because it is Norse mythology. Cool, hu? ;)

    Also, I've completed my first sequel all by my onesie! Yaya!!!! I am so pleased with myself because I actually COMPLETED the second book. Squeeeee! Now for the third book... O.O

    Elizabeth Mueller
    AtoZ 2015
    My Little Pony

    1. Okay, I shouldn't say I never ever because I do have my down days. Rather, I hardly have problems with stand alones. :)

  21. Another great post Ninja Captain. Thank you for helping us think through. It makes me think, one day... Maria@Delight Directed Living

  22. I've not written a stand alone, although I am working on one now. My five-book series was fun because I followed all the same characters.

  23. I know I enjoy reading both standalone and series. I do tend to gravitate toward series--I want to see more stories set in that particular world but not neccesarily the same two characters in each story. I like cameo or brief sections with them. It's good to see what they've done, but not at the expense of the current main characters. There are some mysteries and few suspense that use the same main character throughout the series--the arc is loooong and drawn out. In science fiction, I handle that arc better because there are other things and problems that keep me interested.

    As far as writing, yes, I do see problems with keeping the timeline straight and keeping it fresh. You've made some good points here. :-)

    Sia McKye Over Coffee

  24. Great points, Alex! I recently was asked to write a sequel to one of my published short stories. I totally agree that keeping all the main details in order was a challenge, but I have to say I enjoyed the challenge. I think keeping a solid world building outline from the first book helps.

  25. I pretty much only know how to write series and family/town sagas. I get so attached to the characters and their stories, and feel compelled to take them through the entire journey of life. It's a really special thing to watch each new generation growing up. All my planned and hiatused soft sci-fi/futuristic books are supposed to be standalones, so it's going to be a real challenge to not continue on with these characters.

  26. I have a series with Charity MacCay (two so far),and if they prove popular I'll do a third one. Maybe. Yet that seems so distant that I keep thinking (as you know, Alex) that I'll probably just give up writing. It can be such hard work!

  27. Sia, I like it when they follow new side characters.

    Sheri, it certainly does.

    Carrie-Anne, that's how I did my series. I kept jumping ahead twenty years to show different points in Byron's life.

    Helena, I couldn't quit, so I bet you can't either.

  28. A series is less likely for me to author, but I see the advantages and challenges as greater than a stand alone. It appears the difficulty in series is the freshness of the story and evolving the character arc enough to keep it interesting.

  29. Congrats on your 'double-writerly-status', Alex... both a series writer and a stand alone book writer? You go!
    I've written tons of shorty-short stories and I always have a million ideas in my mind... not sure if that means I'm more inclined to series writing or stand alone types of books... time will tell, I suppose...

  30. Dean, that's why there is twenty years in between each of my books.

    Michelle, I guess that's true. Plus I've done short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, for anthologies.

  31. I suspect I'll mostly write series. I get so many ideas about what else can happen to the main character while working on the first book, that I'll probably have to write more than one book just to get those ideas out of my head.

    Congratulations on the book, Alex!

  32. Some stories are so good that you just want more, but then for me; some stories are so good I fear a sequel will harm the story and or characters. Some stories need to be series because they are just so long and intense, and you have to breaks to be sure you're eating and sleeping properly. :D

  33. Thanks, Ken! And if you have other adventures, by all means, write a series.

    Toi, very good point!

  34. Very cool that your latest is a stand alone novel, Alex. A nice change for you after doing your series.