“The ability to jump into untested waters is exciting for me as an author, and makes me think fast and hard about the stories and how they work for readers.”



Today, Scalzi stops by the NOOK Blog to share his thoughts on book series—both as a writer and a reader. His newest Old Man’s War book—The Human Division—is a series within a series consisting of 13 stories all released as stand-alone NOOK Books. Start the adventure with The Human Division #1: The B Team for just $0.99.





As an author, I am deeply suspicious about book series.


As a reader, you are now wholly entitled to roll your eyes at me, because my latest novel, The Human Division, is the fifth book in the Old Man’s War series. But stick with me a minute, because I do have a point.


For authors, a successful book series can be a blessing, because it means you have a built-in audience for your work -- people eager to pick up the next book to find out what happens in their favorite universes. But it can also be a curse: It’s easy to get lazy when you know that people are planning to get the work no matter what. It can also become a gilded cage: success at the expense of creative risk and growth.


And this is why as an author I am suspicious of book series. There’s so many ways to fall on one’s face while writing them.


So what did I personally do to avoid this creative faceplant?


1. Take time away. Four years passed between Zoe’s Tale, the last book in the OMW series, and The Human Division. This was intentional -- I needed enough time away from the series to decide where it needed to go next. In the meantime I wrote other novels, worked on a TV series and did other projects. When I came back to the series, I had new ideas and directions.


2. Give readers what they want -- and some of what you want. The Human Division goes back into the Old Man’s War universe, but it goes back into it on my terms: With new characters, new situations and new ways to expand what we know about that universe. It walks the line between keeping fans satisfied and keeping me engaged as a writer. I’m not just cranking out the book for the cash, I’m exploring possibilities. That makes me happy -- which ultimately will make readers happy.


3. Take risks.The Human Division is structured as an “episodic novel” -- thirteen individual free-standing episodes that each read as their own complete tale, but when put together show a larger narrative arc. Tor (my publisher) and I are doing that to experiment with what’s possible in today’s book market -- and we’re doing it because shaking up the standard novel form gives us different choices and ways to build the story. The ability to jump into untested waters is exciting for me as an author, and makes me think fast and hard about the stories and how they work for readers.


What makes me happiest about The Human Division is that we didn’t just grind out another book in a series. We used it as an opportunity to expand what’s possible, both in the story and in the publishing area. I hope you like the result.


Tell Me: Do you prefer series or stand-alone novels?


by Rontar on ‎01-15-2013 09:41 AM

For me there are good things about series and about stand alone novels. I do tend to read series, But I focus mainly on reading authors whose work I enjoy. Since a lot of them write a series, that is what I read. Some don't, however, and I don't enjoy their work any less than the series I read. Some of the most amusing comments I've seen you recieve fall along the lines of, "It's not OMW so I hate it, but I'm probaby ghoing to read it anyway."

From my non professional author perspective, I think the most important thing a writer can do is, as you mentioned, be engaged with what they are writing.

I'm looking forward to the next 13 weeks of episodes.

by TarHeelGirl00 on ‎01-15-2013 10:06 AM

When there is a character that I can especially relate to, then I really enjoy reading a series.  Series are great as long as the writing is kept fresh.  I find I like to mix it up---I like reading stand alone novels as well.

by Bibliophile1954 on ‎01-15-2013 11:28 AM

I do really like series, especially EPIC series, like LOTR, or The Shanarra Series by Terry Brooks.

by on ‎01-15-2013 01:47 PM

I enjoy reading a series, however I think each book in the series should be a stand alone novel.


I love LOTR, but this is not a series, instead it is one story divided into three  volumes.


by -denise- ‎01-16-2013 11:27 AM - edited ‎01-16-2013 11:37 AM

I prefer buying stand-alone novels from authors I do not know. 


Trusting that a book published as 'first in a series' will contain a complete story with a satisfying end point is difficult.  I sometimes feel that either the author did not even try to tie up the story lines but thought they would figure it out at some future point, or that the tantalizing endpoint is being held for ransom.


On the other hand, a second stand-alone novel set in a well-crafted universe feels like a gift. Of course I want to read a new tale by an author I trust with worlds and characters I have enjoyed before! Pratchett, Bujold, Christie, Beaton, Asimov, Sayers and many other authors leap to mind.


Perhaps I am misinterpreting the term 'series,' and agree with LarryOnLI  that each book in a 'series' should be a stand-alone novel.  I just never am sure if a 'first in a series' book contains a full story.


Looking forward to The Human Divisionexperiment; it will be interesting to see how you execute the concept!