Friday 30 September 2011

Guest Author, Gregory Marshall Smith: To Series or not to Series

Today I'm very happy to welcome fellow Digital Digest author, Gregory Marshall Smith. I've had the pleasure of knowing Gregory for a few months now and he's been very good to read and edit some of my zombie novella, The Body Farm. Gregory's novel, Hunters, is all about old school vamps - where they're the bad guys! He's also got a couple of free reads on Amazon now so you'd be mad not to go and sample some of his writing! Keep reading to the end of the post where Gregory will be giving away an ecopy of his novel! 

Take it away, Gregory....

To Series or Not Series

Series are the “in” thing and have been for a long time.

A quick peek at some of the series out there includes:

Honor Harrington (David Weber), Dragonriders of Pern (Anne McCaffrey), Morgaine (C.J. Cherryh), Wheel of Time (Robert Jordan), Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley), Anita Blake/Merry (Laurell K. Hamilton), John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs) and VV Inn (C.J. Ellisson).

Astute readers will note that Marion Zimmer Bradley is dead and is still producing books in her series.

As for Robert Jordan, we might as well nickname him Tupac. There are 14(!) books in his series and new ones are being written every day it seems (though they’re now in the hands of Brandon Sanderson.

By the way, I have left out Ian Fleming’s James Bond for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

My question for the readers of Marissa Farrar (and I would like to thank her profusely for allowing me time in her space for my book tour) is: “Which is better? Series or stand-alone novels?”

I have been told repeatedly over the past few years that I need to concentrate of creating series to keep readers’ attentions and keep them coming back to the book selling sites for more. The vast majority of the comments I’ve gotten for my short stories and novellas like They Call the Wind Muryah and “Onward” always ask me to write more stories about the characters in those works.

It’s a natural reaction, one wholly missing from movies and television today. How often have we wondered about the survivors of, say, Criminal Minds, about how they get over the trauma and go on with life? Instead, we see the FBI agents arrest or kill the bad guy and then they’re back home to prepare for hot dates or relaxing evenings.

Book series give us the chance to follow characters long past the original adventure or tale. Readers like myself were enamored of Weber’s Honor Harrington after the debut novel On Basilisk Station. She was a very interesting person, standing well over six feet tall, with her ever-present six-limbed treecat named Nimitz.

On the other hand, there is still something to be said for stand-alones. They’re one-and-done. They don’t require extensive background or character development and you don’t have to worry about always coming up with fresh storylines. The universe is filled with classic stand-alones like Dracula, Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus, A Canticle For Leibowitz, The Man in the High Tower, Nightfall  and I Am Legend (although Hollywood is trying to get Richard Matheson to pen a prequel).

Besides, sometimes we can know too much. Do I really need to read that Honor Harrington is involved in a three-way with her commanding officer and his invalid wife?

Plus, what happens when you hit a brick wall in character development?

I don’t think we’ll ever see the back story of James Bond. So, we’re left with the same old Bond in another familiar plot. One wonders if Fleming’s estate has milked this cash cow into insanity since Ian’s death in 1964. The series has used several guest authors like John Gardner and Kingsley Amis since then, much like the film company keeps changing actors, all in an effort to keep the series fresh (the latest book is Carte Blanche by Jeffrey Deaver in 2011).

That said, maybe we can reach a compromise. What if we limit the number of books in the series?

Good examples: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.

Or maybe we have more than a few books but have a solid conclusion like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia? Then, maybe it won’t seem as if the series is just going on and on and on...

Of course, one must not bow down to pressure for this option. Case in point, Arthur C. Clarke. Did the Space Oddysey trilogy of 2001, 2010 and 2061, the last being done in 1987. But, in 1997, Clarke revisited that universe with 3001: The Final Odyssey, like he couldn’t quite put resist the temptation to tweak the story one more time.

A final choice might be to keep the series but switch up the characters like David Drake does in Hammer’s Slammers or Fred Saberhagen with his Berserker short stories. Each concerns different characters relating to different situations, such as various military units of Hammer’s Slammers or what different worlds do to stop the seemingly unstoppable Berserker planet destroyers.

As we can see, clearly it’s up to writers and readers to decide series or stand-alones. Each one has its merits and its detractions. I guess it largely depends on what’s in a writer’s heart (or a publisher’s purse).

Right now, my new novel Hunters (about vampire hunters) is a stand-alone. Might it become a series, limited or otherwise? Let me know.

Gregory Marshall Smith, born in Somerville, Massachusetts and raised in historic Medford, is a decorated Navy veteran. Though sports writing is his profession, in his career, he has been, among other things, a national columnist, playwright, engineer, asset protection agent, editor, safety auditor, fingerprinter, training instructor and sometime actor (Heiju trilogy, Life As We Know It, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Hail Mary, Walker, Texas Ranger). He is the author of the novellas Crawl and They Call the Wind Muryah, along with two anthologies (Dark Tidings Vol. I & II). He has had numerous award-winning short stories appear in Farspace 2, Writer’s Bump, Far Side of Midnight, Spectacular Speculations and SFH Dominion, among others. Hunters is his first full-length novel.

Ever restless, he currently resides somewhere in America.

Hunters is available to buy from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

For centuries, vampires have owned the night. And in Fort Worth, Texas, master vampire, Louis Riordan, aims to keep it that way. With the help of Lin Tang, his lethal enforcer, he will unite sixteen of the continent’s top master vampires into the most powerful undead alliance the world has ever seen.

Rumors abound that Lin Tang’s most hated enemy, Cantrell Ryker, has returned from the grave and there are hunters in town, ready to take back the twilight. Vastly outnumbered and outgunned, with dissension in the ranks and a traitor in their midst, these hunters fight for humanity side by side. They now have a weapon that could turn the tide of the age-old war between man and vampire once and for all…


So what do you think everyone? Do you love a series or do you prefer stand alone novels? Got any favorites when its comes to a series? Leave a comment, together with your email addy or website so you can be contacted, and you'll automatically be entered to win. Tweet or f/b the competition (and let me know in your comment) and you'll be given an extra entry!

Good luck everyone!


  1. I love series because you can really escape into a world and cast of characters- it's like making a couple new best friends and going on an adventure with them. Some series do go on forever and I have lost interest, others end when I want them to continue. It just depends. But done right, a series is the way to go- they pull in readers like nothing else.

  2. Thank, Roxanne. That was an interesting answer and you made very good points. Methinks I'll be asked to turn "Hunters" into a series.

    Guess I'll have to restructure my stand-alones.

  3. I write and let the story decide what is going to happen. I do have projected series' but they can stand alone and don't end with cliff-hangers, but continue onto the next book with a different plot & adventure for the characters. The stories I do have are already mapped out and once I have a trilogy for instance - that's it. It stays a trilogy. I have no desire to die before a series is "finished" ;-) nor keep readers wondering what the heck is going on - like Martin's Ice and Fire series. So I hope writer's in Indie land, who are working on series' - know when to quit while they're ahead.

  4. Nicely said, RL. I think that's a big problem with a lot of writers, even the veterans like Stephen King. I still wonder if King had a definite ending in mind for the "Dark Tower" saga or if it just got away from him and took on a life of its own.