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Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Challenge and Reward of Writing a Standalone Series

by Korina Moss


Cozy mysteries are my favorite kinds of books to read because they are generally standalone series. I know standalone series sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s really the best of both worlds. Although the series is a continuation of the same characters in the same town, each book’s mystery is complete--it stands alone without plot cliffhangers. I love these types of mysteries because even when I’m racing to finish and find out whodunnit, I don’t want it to end. I always want to continue to follow the characters, even doing their routine things. Just give me a few more chapters of them eating breakfast… working together… doing anything so I don’t have to leave them yet! 

I always start with the first book in a series. Being a writer of a standalone series, however, I’m aware that the first book a reader may pick up may not be Cheddar Off Dead, the first book in my cheese shop mystery series. The challenge comes in writing descriptions that draw new readers in but don’t bore those who are well-versed in my fictional town of Yarrow Glen. A friend of mine who’s an avid cozy mystery reader was put off by an author whose long-running series she loves, but who describes the town and characters the same, verbatim, in every book. As an author, I understand the temptation—it’s difficult to find new ways to describe people and places when you want new readers to know the same things that old readers know. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Sue Grafton in how cleverly she not only made her recapped descriptions work but made them comforting to return to in each book. 

The best part of writing this kind of series is being able to develop my characters and their relationships over many books. I was thrilled when my publisher offered me a second contract to write three more books in my cheese shop mystery series, for a total of six books thus far. It means I can think more long-term about my characters, and it allows them more room to grow. My readers can get to know them even better and see how their personalities and relationships change over time. When readers open another cheese shop mystery, I want them to immediately feel they’re back among old friends. 

The second cheese shop mystery, Gone For Gouda, releases on September 27th and is available for pre-order. Cheddar Off Dead is available wherever books are sold. You can go to for more information. 

Are you like me and always start a series from the first book or do you pick up the latest book? 


Jim Jackson said...

I pick up whatever book attracts my attention -- often that is the latest, since that is the one the author is pushing. If I enjoy that book, I'll go back and read the series from the beginning. That said, I have met a lot of readers who are like you and prefer to start with book one, which is why that book is often the best selling book in the series.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I usually find a series after it's been around for a few years. If I like it well enough, I backtrack to the first book.

And I detest writers who use the SAME PARAGRAPH describing the main character and setting in every single book.

Kait said...

I don’t mind starting in the middle, but if I like what I read, it’s back to book one for me! Looking forward to Gone for Gouda!

KM Rockwood said...

So often readers (including me) pick up a book mid-series (usually on loan from a friend) and then want more!

I think a series you describe, where each book stands alone although there is a series arc is the way to go.

Shari Randall said...

In a perfect world, I'd always start at the beginning, but I often discover series mid-stream.
Margaret's comment made me think of a book my older daughter loved, The Baby sitters Club. The spin off, Baby sitter Little Sister, began with the exact same description of her situation. "I'm a two-for. I have two houses, two..." and onward. We can all still recite it, after 25 books!

Leah Dobrinska said...

I do prefer to start at the beginning of the series. I like to think I can pick up on little details that have been carried throughout and it makes the follow-up books even more enjoyable.

Lori Roberts Herbst said...

I'm in the "start from the beginning" camp. I wonder if it is a psychological measure of my linear thinking and obsessive organizing. Flexibility is not my strong suit...
You know how TV series do the "Previously on..." Wonder why that works for TV and not books...

Korina Moss said...

Ha, Lori, you know I have wanted to make that a trend!!
That's so funny, Shari.
I agree with you, Leah.
Margaret -- I wholeheartedly agree!
Jim, KM, and Kait - I used to get most of my cozies from the library, so I'd look for the first, but in a pinch, I'd go with whichever one they had. Mine do have some spoilers if you don't read them in order just for the sheer fact that some former suspects are still around! There's no way around it.