Ask any reader what they prefer: stand-alone or series and you are likely to get a wide variety of responses. A series is a banquet for an author. They have plenty of time to prepare a wide variety of viewpoints, character development and story to suit all the characters on their canvas. But a standalone is a once in a lifetime opportunity to tell the story or not.
In other words, the sun rises and sets on the world created within a standalone between the front and back covers. Arguably, a sequel can take readers back to world of the standalone, but a standalone by its nature does not need a sequel to answer any questions or tie off any storylines. The standalone itself delivers the complete tale.
The Nature of the Romance Novel
Most romance novels are designed to be standalones. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl overcome obstacles. Boy and girl live happily ever after. The HEA is somewhat indicative of the story's self-encapsulation. Yet, in many paranormal romances, the series is the thing. You see characters again, their love story is complete, they've found their other half, but they are still fundamental in future tales.
In Nora Roberts' Sign of Seven trilogy, she told a three part story with six people who are all present from the beginning of the first book to the end of the last, but the focus tightens on each individual couple for each book. In many ways, their love stories are interwoven through the larger tale that encompasses the town and the lives of all the characters.
This type of serialized storytelling is becoming more and more popular in both urban fantasy and paranomral romance. It's actually quite hard to find a standalone or even sell one anymore.
The Best Standalone Novels
I can rattle off a list of great series in nothing flat (I'm sure you can too). In fact, most anyone who is a fan of the two genres mentioned will recognize a wide variety of series that are available. So I thought I would try to list off the best standalones (Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance) I could think of and here they are, in no particular order.
1. The Stand (Stephen King)
2. Firestarter (Stephen King)
3. War For the Oaks (Emma Bull)
4. Lightning (Dean Koontz)
5. Stardust (Neil Gaiman)
6. The Princess Bride (William Goldman)
7. Sacred Ground (Mercedes Lackey)
I know there must be more, but those are the seven I can think of. I went and scanned my bookshelves, then my TBR and nearly all the books fall into a series of some kind, some loose, some tight, some the same narrator, some not. Standalones are a rare beast in these genres.
Arguably, most Stephen King novels are standalones, but he is more a horror/thriller writer than a paranormal or urban fantasy. I think The Stand qualifies as dark urban fantasy while Firestarter is definitely urban fantasy or at least a little bit steampunk. The same can be said for Dean Koontz. I chose Lightning because it's probably one of the best time travel tales, I've ever read.
I have to wonder, is the business aspect hurting the storytelling aspect? Food for thought.
What standalones can you think of?