I like stand-alone books and books in a series, spin-off books and even spin-off novellas. Essentially, I’ll read anything as long as it has a solid plot and good writing. Following the life of a series regular or reading about a brand new character both have their pluses and minuses.
Let’s start with books in a series. When I pick up the latest one, I feel like I’m bumping into an old friend at the grocery store. As I read their story, all their quirks and character traits come back to me, making me feel comfortable at the familiarity. Of course, if I read too many of those books in a row, as I’ve done with the Stephanie Plum series, some of those traits start to grate on my nerves. What was funny in the first book or two can become downright annoying in the next. When that happens, I know it’s time to put the series aside and move on to a different author.
That’s when I usually turn to a stand-alone book. Sure, it will take me a few chapters to get a handle on the main character to the point where I feel like I really know them, but the upside is that I have no expectations. Everything feels fresh and new and like I’m meeting a new friend. The downside is that if I fall in love with that particular character, I’m never going to see them again. It’s like meeting someone for the first time at a party and clicking with them right away. You spend the night talking and laughing at one another’s jokes but then you part ways, never to hear from them again and regretting the fact that you didn’t ask for their contact information.
From a writing standpoint, I can certainly see the appeal of a one-off book. There’s no commitment for future books, so you can do whatever you want with the main character, even kill them off at the end. You don’t have to worry about giving the character a job or hobby that might not hold up for another ten books or so. One-offs are a great way to try something different, either with character development or writing style. And if you normally write a series, sometimes it’s nice to take a break and write about someone else. Not only is it fun to work with a new character, but it can also spawn ideas for when you return to your regular series.
If I had to choose between reading only one-offs or only books in a series, I don’t know that I could. There are things I like about each category. Fortunately, I don’t have to pick one over the other. With so many books available, the only question is which book I want to read next.