Mon
Aug 8 2011 2:00pm

What Ever Happened to the Stand-Alone Romance Novel?

High Noon by Nora RobertsOnce upon a time in Romancelandia, before there were Bridgertons, before there were Bullet Catchers, before Virgin River was a gleam in Robyn Carr’s eye, there lived upon this Earth a type of romance novel rarely seen these days.

Yes, friends, I speak of that rarest of literary unicorns, the standalone romance novel.

I’m not sure when standalones went out of fashion. I suspect it had something to do with the three-book deal in New York publishing. And with the need for authors to build reader demand. After all, it’s much easier to increase anticipation for an upcoming release when the reader already knows the characters you’re going to write about. And if you can build up that demand over the course of many books, as Jo Beverley did with Rothgar or Mary Balogh did with Wulfric, readers will practically weep with wanting that last book of the series.

Still, there are times when as a reader I just want a story that I know will be finished when I get to “The end.” A story where I don’t have to worry as I read just who that wisecracking sidekick character will be paired with in the next book. A story where a secondary character is just that, a secondary character. Though they might not be easy to find, standalone romances do still exist and to prove it, I’ve compiled a list of some examples.

First up is from the first lady of romance, Nora Roberts (or La Nora, as weAngels Fall by Nora Roberts like to call her). Every summer, with a comforting reliability, Nora Roberts delivers a stand alone romantic suspense hardcover. The first of these—indeed my very first Nora read—was the fabulous Angels Fall. When Reece Gilmore, who is dealing with some serious emotional trauma, and who is new to the little town of Angels Fall, Wyoming, sees what she thinks is a murder, nobody believes her. What follows is a gripping thriller, but also a tender, sexy romance, set in the stunning landscape of the Wyoming mountains. This was the novel that got me hooked on Nora. She might be better known for her trilogies, which also appear once a year like clockwork, but Ms. Roberts has an impressive number of stand-alones under her belt. Other favorites include Carnal Innocence and High Noon.

Untouched by Anna CampbellNext to the Regency, where families with at least five children—each named Sequel Bait—usually predominate we take a look at the exquisite prose of Anna Campbell. Though she came on to the historical romance scene with a splash with Claiming the Courtesan, the book that solidified my love for her is her sophomore effort, Untouched. The story of Matthew, Marquess Sheene, and the widowed Grace Paget, Untouched is one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished. Imprisoned by his uncle since the age of fourteen, when he contracted a brain fever, Matthew is now twenty-five years old and regularly subjected to tortuous testing to “prove” him mad so that his uncle can retain control of the marquessate. Uncle John brings Grace Paget to his nephew as a mere amusement, but what develops between them is far more compelling. With a virgin hero, a determined heroine, and a daring escape plan, Untouched is historical romance at its stand-alone best.A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James

From the angsty historical, we now turn to the lush, light fairy tale historicals of Eloisa James. Known for her complex interrelated stories, Ms. James has of late embarked upon a series of fairy tale retellings set in a world very like Regency England. She began with A Kiss at Midnight, a Cinderella story complete with a down-on-his-luck prince, a fairy godmother of sorts, a glass slipper, and a pickle-eating dog. This was followed up by When Beauty Tamed the Beast, featuring a hero with a remarkable resemblance to a certain grouchy television doctor, and a beautiful debutante determined not to marry the man of her father’s choosing. As always, Ms. James’s prose is exquisite, and with the small exception of a connected novella as a follow up to A Kiss at Midnight, these stories are concluded as soon as the reader reached “the end.”

The Conqueror by Kris KennedyAnother writer whose historicals stand-alone is Kris Kennedy, whose medievals make even this avowed medieval-hater pick them up as soon as they are released. Her first book The Conqueror was the one that hooked me, telling the story of Pagan and Gwyn, who are both hiding very big secrets from one another, and who are both nursing very big grudges against each others families. It’s a complicated plot that brings them together, but what ultimately sold me on the story was the chemistry between Pagan and Gwyn. Their love simply comes alive on the page. There’s witty banter (my weakness), smoldering love scenes, and the conflict between them is not about their relationship, but about their family loyalties. And it’s all deliciously self-contained. Despite the complex family relationships in the novel, it is perfectly stand-alone.

If you like contemporary romance, and are having a tough time finding stand-alones, you might try checking out some of Harlequin’s category offerings. Though they are sometimes connected to one another, quite a few category romances are stand-alone in the true meaning of the term. And the good thing about category is that there’s a heat level and a content type for just about every reader.

If you like your heat level set to steamy, try picking up Sarah Mayberry’sCan’t Get Enough by Sarah Mayberry Can’t Get Enough, which has a wonderful stuck-in-an-elevator scene in addition to a tri-athlete heroine. If you like less heat, you might try Harlequin Superromance What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss, which made quite a few top ten lists of 2010, and pairs up a starchy librarian with a washed out rock star.

Though it might seem at times that the stand-alone romance has gone the way of the buggy whip, with a little bit of digging you’ll find that rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated.

So, tell me, gentle readers, have you seen any stand-alone books in the wild?


 

In the third grade Manda read both Little Women and Agatha Christie’s Towards Zero. Is it any wonder she grew up to write historical romance laced with mystery? Her regency historical romance, How to Dance with a Duke, will be published in February 2012 by St. Martin’s Press. For more information and an excerpt, check out her website at mandacollins.com. She can be found most days on Twitter @MandaCollins

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29 comments
Cynthia D'Alba
1. Cynthia D'Alba
I love the stand alone romance. But honestly I think that triologies have the potential for a built-in audience (unless you have a NAME, like Nora or Elosia) If you've got a strong first book in a series, a book that readers really love, then they will be inclined to snagged the others in the series when available. The downside to a series is when the books are spread out too far. For example, one book a year is just too far apart for me. I find myself waiting until the rest of the series comes out so I can read them back to back. I love how JD Robb's Eve Dallas series comes out twice a year. Almost perfect in its timing.
Manda Collins
2. mandacollins
Yes, Cindy, I think you're right about the built in audience. Definitely think that has something to do with why publishers love trilogies so much. I also think the three book contract is somewhat to blame.

What I like about Nora's stand alones is that they are reliable. If it's late spring/early summer, it must be time for a new Nora stand alone.

And I think you're onto something about stand alones being more popular among authors with established audiences. Though there are exceptions (see Kris Kennedy above) I do think it's easier for readers to accept stand alones from authors they know.
Cynthia D'Alba
3. Lily LeFevre
I think there is a big difference between connected books and series. Connected books, to me, are just ones that take place in the same world and sometimes involve the same characters. Those I like. Series (one big story broken up over several installments) drive me nutso. Connected books should function as standalones, even if they can be read as a series. But I do agree that it seems a rarity to have strict standalones these days...not sure I could name any of my go-to authors who don't at least write connected books. Thanks for the suggestions!
Cynthia D'Alba
4. Lisa @ OUAC
I too miss the stand alones! Where oh where have they gone!?!? I missed the days when I used to be able to go to the book store and just pick up a book to read. Now I have to worry if it's part of series or if I'm going to be lost stepping into book three without having read the first two. Don't get me wrong, I do love the trilogies and series too, but it's a little overwhelming sometimes!

I just have to say that I do love Campbells Untouched. One of my favorite historicals! Such a great book!

Lisa @ Once Upon A Chapter
Cynthia D'Alba
5. Grace S
My fave stand alone of the last few years SHOULD be the first in at least a trilogy or kicking off a series. It's Drink of Me by Jacquelyn Frank. I was completely hooked from the get go, sucked into this amazing world with it's complex society and really well fleshed out characters. Great character interactions, super dialogue, the whole she-bang. I was devastated to find out she has no plans to write another! ::banging head::
Cynthia D'Alba
6. LynneW
Two-time RITA winner Kristan Higgins's books (contemporary romance) have all been stand-alones to date.
Manda Collins
7. mandacollins
Lily, good point about the distinction between series books and connected books. I can see how series books would be tough to deal with. Lots of cliffhangers if you read them as they're published.

Lisa, I know what you mean about the anxiety associated with connected books. I'm not totally opposed to reading out of order, but given the choice I prefer it. And isn't Untouched wonderful? Sigh. Such a fabulous book.

Grace! You've found the problem I sometimes have with standalones--great characters you want to have their own stories. As a writer, I know sometimes a secondary character is just a secondary character, but oh there are some who are just crying out to be a hero or heroine. Sounds like the Frank book is like that for you. Condolences:(

Good example, Lynne! Kristan Higgins is definitely someone who is keeping the standalone fires burning. Thanks!
Evangeline Holland
8. EvangelineHolland
One of the reasons why I love Liz Carlyle's earlier books is because the characters shared a "world" rather than being part of a series (in the romance genre's use of the word). I'll also add Eloisa James' Duchess quarter and Desperate Duchesses series as a group of connected books that focus on the "world" created by the author. One of the downsides of trilogies--especially back-t0-back trilogies--is that if book one doesn't hit it out of the ballpark, I'm a lot less likely to pick up books two and three.
Cynthia D'Alba
9. Jeanie Pavel
I feel like authors of romance books feel pressured by publishers to create series of books in order to make more profits on a particular story line or group of characters.
Manda Collins
10. mandacollins
Evangeline, I like those world-building books too. A lot. And EJ and LizC are two of my favorites at it. You feel like know what that world is like, who you'll run into at a party, and which modiste all the women prefer to use. But I also feel that way about James' fairy tale stand alones, so I don't necessarily think that good historical world building is exclusive to connected books. It's just easier to define a world when you've visted there more than once;) Still I get what you're saying. Especially when it comes to trilogies. Especially when you're trying a debut author.

Jeanie, I don't necessarily think publishers are actively pushing authors to write series of books. I think authors themselves see what seems to be selling, and wanting to sell their books too they take the same approach. I think that it will take to bring back the stand alone is someone writing a really phenomenal stand-alone that makes a ton of money. Then you'll see other authors going back to them.
Cynthia D'Alba
11. T.M. Burnstad
I also enjoy a good stand-alone book. I can't count the number of times where I've picked up a new book in the store or library only to discover that I have just read the first in a new series and the second won't be released for months! While I like a trilogy every now and then, sometimes I like when the story finishes on the last page of the book. I read a lot of Nora Roberts because she offers both but thank you for suggesting some other authors who have great stand-alone books. I'll be sure to check them out!
Manda Collins
12. mandacollins
I think that frustration of starting the first book in a trilogy and having to wait months (sometimes years) for the next one is on reason publishers came up with the back to back trilogy, T.M.

I can't tell you how quickly I devoured the first three in Mary Balogh's Bedwyn series. There was even a marketing campaign for them, though I can't remember what it was called. I just know I LOVED not having to haunt the library and bookstore in hopes of seeing the next one was out. (This was of course back in the pre-internet days. Or at least pre-ubiquitous internet.) That's not to say I didn't still haunt the bookstore and the library, because that's just how I roll. But at least I was secure in the knowledge that the next book was coming next month.

Hope you enjoy the suggestions:)
Cynthia D'Alba
13. Janga
I confess I'm a series addict, one who is willing to wait a l-o-n-g time when necessary to read a secondary character's story. I waited for Jo Beverley's Rothgar most impatiently for seven years and about twice that long for Rogue Dare's resurrection. The wait for Connie Brockway's Giles Strand may set a record for fans waiting when his story is finally published next year.

But I do think some series continue past the life of the series, and I sometimes just want to read a standalone book. I skimmed my book calendar for the rest of the year, and Kristan Higgins's Until There Was You (October 25, 2011) was the only certain standalone on the list. Since Teresa Medeiros writes mostly standalones, her December 27 release The Pleasure of Your Kiss may qualify. I can always reread Kathleen Gilles Seidel or Carla Kelly.
Cynthia D'Alba
14. Santa
Now you've gone and done it! I didn't realize I missed stand alones until you listed such great ones. More books for me to get my hands on. I really didn't give it much thought but I have to say I really enjoy Harlequin Historicals and many of them are stand alones. Just enough to keep me returning to those authors not for their cast of characters but for their ability to tell a great story.
Anna Bowling
15. AnnaBowling
I love the standalone novel best of all (might be the only one, but oh well) - there's nothing that satisfies me like getting to the end of a great love story and closing the cover as the hero and heroine sail off into the sunset, allowing me to imagine their lives from then on. I would love to see more standalone books available for variety's sake.

Have to agree, Untouched is one of my favorites as well, and I'd like it to remain exactly as it is. Another standalone favorite for me is Tapestry by Karen Ranney.
Manda Collins
16. mandacollins
Janga, I was right there with you waiting for Rothgar and Dare! And good call on Teresa Medeiros. She has a couple of connected, but for the most part she does write stand-alones. I still haven't read Seidel, though I do have her in my gargantuan TBR pile. So many books...

Santa, I like Harlequin Historicals for that reason too. Some are connected, but they seem to do a larger percentage of stand-alones that most other pubs. Sorry about adding to the TBR pile. Them's the brakes when you frequent the blogs;)

Anna, I definitely think more standalones are coming. At least, the success of Kris Kennedy seems to indicate it. And wasn't Untouched fabulous? Sigh. Love that book so much. Thanks for the rec of the Karen Ranney book. I've never read her, so she'll be a fun new addition to my own teetering to-be-read stack.
Cynthia D'Alba
17. Teresa49
Samantha Hunter is an excellent stand alone author for Blaze. She did write a couple of series, but for the most part her books are stand alone.
Lindsay Beeson
18. lindsayb
Call me crazy, but I love series! I especially love series when there are several books out and I haven't read any of them yet. There's nothing quite so satisfying as starting a new author, only to realize they have 10 books out in a single series. I do like trilogies- especially when they are released within a few months of each other. I enjoy stand-alones.. especially Nora Roberts.. but my favorite romance and urban fantasy books are almost always in a series. I know it's hard to wait for the new ones to come out, but to me, it's worth the wait. I love reading stories based on secondary characters. I love trying to figure out which character is going to get the next book. I really get into characters and like to watch them grow over prolonged periods of time!
Manda Collins
19. mandacollins
I like Blaze, but I haven't read Samantha Hunter before. I'll have to check her out. One Blaze that I really loved was Ms. Match by Jo Leigh. Fabulous ugly duckling story. And it's stand alone.

Prajna18, I hear you. I love connected books too. And you're right about urban fantasy. Heck, being part of a series is one of the biggest selling points for urban fantasy. What's cool to me is that there are choices out there for people who love series and people who love stand-alones. It might be a little tough to discover stand-alones but for those who are interested, they're there.
Sangeeta Joshi
20. Geets
I'm ambivalent. One one hand, I love the stand alones. One story, with a subplot, maybe, but when it's done. It is DONE. But I also like the trilogies. The great thing about Nora's past trilogies is that one can read them out of order and not feel as if you've missed something. They stand on their own. I remember reading Born in Ice first, not realizing it was part of a trilogy and when I met Maggie and Rogan, wondered if they had their story. Nora is wonderful and the seamless intertwining of characters. That said, when it's done. I want it to be DONE. For example, I was FINE with how Nora ended her Chesapeake trilogy in Inner Harbor. I had NO need for Seth's story. But honestly, I feel the fans who wanted, demanded Seth's story (since the trilogy centered around this 10 year-old boy and the secrets about him), wore Nora down until she finally wrote his story as a hc stand alone. Then there were the clamors for "what about Aubrey?" "Do Aubrey and Will get married?" etc., etc. It drives me nuts! Plus, I thought and still think Seth deserved a better heroine than that Drusilla person. The in deaths are a different kettle of fish, as it is a series, with the same basic set of characters, and Nora/JD Robb, gives us a different case with each book. But that's just me.
Cynthia D'Alba
21. RC
I love to read a good stand alone but I have to say I get a little giddy when I see a trilogy (especially if I discover it after all three are out). After the first book I usually want to know what happens to the other people in the books. I loved Nora Roberts bridal quartet. It is one of my favorite series she has written.
On the other hand...I have been pulled into a series by a great first book just to find 14 books later...I am sick of the story and want to see an ending but know I will keep buying the books until the series is complete because....I have alread invested so much time.
And see, I am going to waffel on my last statement because one of my favorite long running series is the "Sookie Stackhouse" series. So, I guess it just depends on if the story continues to grab me.

Oh, and does anyone else wish that every once in a while an author would do a follow up book? Like 15 years later? Sometimes I want to know how things are working out. LOL
Manda Collins
22. mandacollins
Hmmm, Geets, I dunno. I can see what you're saying about the Chesapeake books, but I liked Seth's book. Of course it might have been because I loved that world and appreciated the trip back. And you're right about Nora's trilogies being good as stand-alones. I've read a few of them out of order and was able to figure out what was going on with no problem.

LOL, RC, I think what you're saying is that you want what you want. :) I'm the same way. My response to everything is "it depends." Because as soon as I say I prefer a good meaty series, then I'll think of a series I'm tired of and wish would just end already. And as soon as I say I'd rather read stand-alones, I'll fall in love with some secondary character who I think desperately needs to have his story told. As for the follow up book, I'd love that for some of my faves. Sort of like Julia Quinn's second epilogues. I wish more authors would do them.
Sangeeta Joshi
23. Geets
Manda: I'm not saying I didn't like Seth's book. I did. I loved revisiting with Cam, who is without a doubt, my favorite brother in this series; and revisiting with Ethan and Phillip as well; I just thought Drusilla was too colorless for Seth. I guess the point I was trying to make was that I was fine with how the trilogy ended. I wasn't burning or needing or wanting to have Seth's story, if that makes sense. That's the point of a trilogy, isn't it? 3 and that's it. If Nora had decided to do a SERIES, that's different. I've loved her since I was a preteen, and she's given me tons of great stories over the years, but I feel her last two trilogies and the quartet, were weak. Which is why, I suppose, I tend to re-read the ones I love and thought were the best. I'm loving Anne Stuart's Rohan series, and can't wait for the next installment.
Manda Collins
24. mandacollins
Ahh, I see what you're saying now. And it makes sense. I was actually a latecomer to Nora so I've still got a LOT of ground to cover catching up. At least I know I won't run out of her books anytime soon;)

I've enjoyed the Rohan series too. With the exception of the third, where the hero went too far even for this anything goes reader. I think my favorite was the second. I've got the fourth but haven't read it yet.

Does anyone else find it ironic that in this conversation about the stand-alone we keep going back to series?
Sangeeta Joshi
25. Geets
"I've enjoyed the Rohan series too. With the exception of the third, where the hero went too far even for this anything goes reader. I think my favorite was the second. I've got the fourth but haven't read it yet. "
Well Manda, I thought what he did was vile, but then again, I'm someone who's also a Johanna Lindsay fan, and if you ever read her A Pirate's Love, THAT was going too far, considering what happened to the hero's mother. I've always liked dark stories, though I also enjoy Julia Quinn's much lighter fare. Back on topic--I think I much prefer the stand alones, because, if it's a good story, then everthing's there and I can look forward to the next new book, with a NEW story, new characters to fall in love with, etc., etc. The problem I see with books that are considered a series is, or if it's in the same universe with the same characters, introducing new ones, is that things, plot points, things the main characters did, tend to get changed/retconned, or maybe it's the authors who just forget. It's frustrating to me as a reader, because I'm so anal-retentive and I have such a good memory, that I remember nearly everything. So, when I catch a goof or mistake, it irks me. Maybe the authors/publishers need to get better copy editors, or something to avoid that. For example, in the In Deaths, in the first book, we're told that Roarke, the hero, bought the mansion he lives in and made sure all the comforts were there and installed whatever security and decorating with the best his money could buy. In the last two books, it's now being told that he built said mansion when he moved to New York. I know, it's just a little thing. But it's a little thing that I consider important and that shouldn't have been changed. And the Chief of Police, until a few books ago, was known as "Chief Tibble" is now Commissioner Tibble. See? little things, but they all add up. With the stand alones, these kinds of changes or mistakes don't happen.
Cynthia D'Alba
26. Lily LeFevre
@Mandy #24 - What's funny? That's my fav in the Rohan series. Probably because he went too far, if that makes sense? Bc then we get to see how awesome she is to come out on top of that war. :)

@Geets - the difference between reading books together and writing them 5 years apart? But IMO inexcusable....that kind of inconsistency drives me BATTY. It is 2011. We can digitally search texts for all relevant details. It's not hard to fact-check. Grrrrrrrrrr!!!!!
Sangeeta Joshi
27. Geets
LOL, Lily! I understand the argument about reading books together as opposed to years apart--but here's the irony; I had taken a 2 year hiatus from reading in deaths, due to losing my job and not having money to buy them. Yet, when Picked up the last two anthologies and last two full books, I recognized the discrepancies immediately. Nora really should just hire me as her copy editor. :D
Cait Voss
28. Cathiewannabe
Is it too late to comment? 'cause I have a real bitch to pitch at /about Diana Gabaldon! I got hooked on the OUTLABNDER SERIES when she was up tp book 3 and so I had a ways to go before I was panting for the next Claire and Jamie installment. But here we are, 10 years later, having been promised that the d*** thing would be over about book 6 and are we on book 8? or 9? And the last one should have had a big Epilogue that said TO BE CONTINUED SOMETIME.!!!
I really ticked off the fans on 1 group when I stated that DGs bored, stuck, and she backed herself into a corner when she made it clear that Jamie can't timetravel and she dare not kill him off! So what? Is he going to like forever? H***, am I? or maybe we'll die together.

I do like stand alones, but I think one of my very favs is Jennifer Crusie's WELCOME TO TEMPTATION. Then, She did write a sequel eventually - FAKING IT, Davy's story; but as it was WTT was fine. Now there's a rumor that FAST WOMEN is getting a sequel. These books are fine by themselves, but what the hay? There's another built in audience.
I am a big fan of Nora; I consider the Irish Series about the fairies, Chicken soup for MY soul as well as the Chesapeake Bay Quinns. As the the IN DEATH SERIES; They remind me of a cop series on TV - LAW AND ORDER, so They are is a different set-up. As well as, Julia Spencer fleming - Russ and Clair in upstae NY. Read Them! and tune in next week. Also, Is Stephanie Plum a series or a 'back next week'?
I've read Anna Campbell and she reminds me a lot of Julia Ross (not a series writer). Robin Schone wrote 1- 2 book series, GABRIEL'S WOMAN and THE LOVER ; I recommend her.
Sandra Brown has a new book coming out soon, a stand alone, I believe.

Anyway , thanks for putting up with my rant and rave out of the way about DG!
Cait
ps Current ly listening to the Pink Carnation Series and the William Monk Series Oh Geese....I am a series junkie!
Manda Collins
29. mandacollins
Well, Cait, I feel your pain about Gabaldon. I flaked out on that series with A Breath of Snow and Ashes. Which I bought but never read.

I am a huge Jennifer Crusie fan and I like the way she does connected books. They're connected but you can read them by themselves and not miss much.

I totally LOVE your description of the In Death books and the Julia Spencer-Fleming books as akin to a television series! That makes me much less anxious about starting to read them. Thanks!

Oh, Julia Ross!!! I miss her so much. Her book The Seduction has a special place on my keeper shelf. I agree that Anna Campbell's style is similar. At least she's still writing.

I haven't tried Sandra Brown, though I'm a huge romantic suspense fan, so I guess I need to get on that.

Hope you're enjoying the Pink Carnation series. I discovered them last year and devoured them over the Christmas break. If you've gotten to Turnip's book, be sure to read the extra scene she just wrote for his wedding night. It's hysterical.

Thanks for commenting! And it's never too late on the internets!
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