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Simply put, I've been noticing a general truth in bookstores: Nearly every new book on the shelf is part of a series - this is doubly true in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres, but no less true in others.

As a writer with no ambitions to write series and preferring to focus on one-shot works, does one still stand a chance in the world of modern publishing?

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    "this is doubly true in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres, but no less true in others." What? If it's doubly true in 2 genres and no less than doubly true in others, then the truth level is the same in all genres. – Dan C Jul 13 '17 at 18:53
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    Let t(genre) indicate the trueness of the statement "Nearly every new genre book on the shelf is part of a series." Note that t(genre) is between 0 (false) and 1 (true) for all genres. Given that t(SFF) = 2 t(other) and that t(other) >= t(SFF), we conclude that t(SFF) >= 2 t(SFF), so t(SFF) = 0. Then t(other) = 0 as well. The statement "Nearly every new genre book on the shelf is part of a series" is completely false for both SFF and other-than-SFF, i.e. for all literature. – MissMonicaE Jul 13 '17 at 19:46
  • It isn't just novels. Look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. – Shane Jul 13 '17 at 21:47
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In the SF and fantasy genres, there has been a clear market trend over about the last 30 years toward both longer books and series. You can see this pretty clearly if you walk into a bricks-and-mortar used book store. Short standalone books are common only up until about the 1970s.

One reason for the change in length may be because of the gradual slide of the magazines into irrelevance. E.g., when Robert Heinlein was at the top of his form ca. 1965-1970, he would publish his best work first as a serialized novel in a magazine, and then as a book. That only works for books up to a certain length.

Robert Sawyer is an unusual example of a successful SF novelist working today who publishes mostly relatively short standalone books. Several of his novels, including some standalones and some of the first installments of his trilogies, were originally serialized in Analog. Sawyer's example shows that it is still possible to sell standalone SF novels. His first novel was a standalone.

It's hard to say whether the trend toward series is an evil moneygrubbing thing by the publishers. It may be partly that, but I suspect there are also a lot of genre readers who actually enjoy reading series. (I'm not one of them.) The trend toward greater lengths would seem easier to explain as arising from the preferences of most readers. I don't see the commercial advantage to a publisher in selling a thicker book rather than a thinner book.

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    "I suspect there are also a lot of genre readers who actually enjoy reading series. (I'm not one of them.)" I am! When looking for something new to read, looking for a bigger series is probably one of the first thing I look at. – Shane Jul 13 '17 at 21:42
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I think you are looking in the wrong part of the bookstore. Certainly that is not true in general fiction (by far the largest part of the fiction marketplace). There are plenty of best selling authors who do not write series. John Grisham is a good example, or Michael Crichton.

It also depends on how you define series. There are a number of novelists who write independent works featuring the same characters, but with no other real continuity between one story and the next.

I just took a look at the latest NYT bestseller list and more than half the entries are clearly not series, while several of the others appear to be series only in the weakest sense of featuring the same characters as previous books, not as continuing an ongoing story.

  • Would you mind providing some examples of unrelated stories which feature the same characters? This seems like something I should be familiar with but sounds very strange. – sirdank Jul 13 '17 at 18:33
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    @sirdank Many (all?) Dan Brown's books feature Robert Langdon but other than that most of them have no other clear connections to each other nor they acknowledge each other's content. (At least I think so, last time I read him was a decade ago) – Maurycy Jul 13 '17 at 18:55
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    John Grisham's first book: 1989. Michael Crichton's first book: 1966. Question is asking about new writers trying to make a name for themselves. I'm not sure how you think that someone who would be 75 years old is a good example of a new author. Hell, that you couldn't come up with any household names of standalone authors from the past 10, 20, 30, 40, or even 50 years is a damn good indicator that the opposite conclusion from your answer is true. – Shane Jul 13 '17 at 21:43
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    @sirdank There is not much of a thread connecting Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books. Ryan's career advances with each book, but that is not what they are about. Similarly there is little continuity between Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee novels, Craig Johnson's Longmire mysteries, or even Richard Cornwall's Sharp novels. You can pick up any book and read it entirely independently of the others, read them out of order, it will make no difference. – Mark Baker Jul 13 '17 at 23:13
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    "It does not matter if the writer is young or old" It matter a great deal! The public is far more apt to buy anything that's from a well established name. People don't buy Nike because their Indonesian slave labour is better quality than Payless's. Big name authors like Stephen King, John Grisham, or Michael Crichton could practically poop on a paper and make the bestseller list. Some random new author can't do anything similar. This question is asking if someone today can still do what those people did 50 years ago. Pointing to them as affirmative examples isn't the strongest of evidence. – Shane Jul 14 '17 at 14:38
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Like Hollywood, the publishing industry prefers known winners to unknown qualities. If you are successful with a series, odds are good you could get a standalone. But that is something to discuss with an editor.

  • Indeed, it is money. As necessary as the publishing houses are, the more powerful ones are those that care most for greed, not art. Ergo they get more money and clout, and become dominant. – can-ned_food Jul 13 '17 at 14:58
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Series basically comes down to one main goal... money! It is also easier to write because they don't have to spend time creating a new world and new (well completely new) character sets and can just pick up where they left off. Even if the stories are unrelated, a large part of the work is world setting and character creation. Everything these days is about mass production and how fast you can release content. A series pretty much nails both.

For fantasy, that's just the way things go though. People want to read an epic adventure and not part ways with their favorite characters. That being said though, you can argue that The Hobbit does exactly as you are looking for. It tells of an epic story in a singular stand alone book that is unrelated to a series. Lord of the Rings series you can argue is a continuation from The Hobbit, however you can read both separate from each other without issue.

I would imagine that publishers generally want to know what your future plans are with stories. Everything these days wants to be turned into a franchise. Movies, Books, Shows, Clothing, Toys, Video Games, you name it they will try to ride the tails of your successful book. The more content you release for that story, the more they can in turn sell and market. That is also though how you would make your money as you only get something like a dollar per book sold after all is said and done. The more content and royalties you can hand out, the more you make off of your story too.

In the end, whether you have a series or a singular story, what matters is the content. You aren't going to sell a series if book one flops no more so than you won't sell a singular book if it flops. There is nothing wrong with writing non serialized stories! Just be prepared that you may get some fan mail demanding for you to continue the book with a new story so that they can see what other shenanigans your MC gets into. Quality over quantity will always prevail. There is only so many books to a series, movies to a series, shows to a series, that someone can write before it becomes stale and riding the wave of success as it's only driving force.

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    "Series basically comes down to one main goal... money!" ... "People want to read an epic adventure and not part ways with their favorite characters." Either you believe that anyone who gives the audience what they want is a money grubbing sellout, or, these two statements contradict. – Shane Jul 13 '17 at 21:46
  • @Shane The author and publisher cares about money, readers care about a quality book. They don't contradict. Just 2 different points of views. Not all readers also care about series just like not all authors care about writing series. It's a generalization that needs to be mentioned to provide a balanced view point. – ggiaquin16 Jul 13 '17 at 21:48
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    Exactly, Readers readers care about the quality of the book! And they like longer serieses. Ergo, creating a series increases quality of the work. Which means that the main goal of writing a series is to write quality. The only way to take that and come away with "Series basically comes down to one main goal... money!" is to believe that the only reason anyone would create quality art is because they are greedy and money grubbing. That's rubbish. People write series even when it is free fanfics. But the main goal of a series is to make money? – Shane Jul 13 '17 at 22:00
  • "Just be prepared that you may get some fan mail demanding for you to continue the book with a new story so that they can see what other shenanigans your MC gets into." So it would make people happy if you turn it into a series. But, the only reason to make people happy is money? Actually making your fans happy isn't even a consideration? There are zero authors that put reader satisfaction above their paycheck? This worldview is well beyond cynical :( – Shane Jul 13 '17 at 22:04

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