Until comparatively recently, in the speculative fiction field, fantasy was the home of the endless, or seemingly endless series, while science fiction sported stand-alone titles or short series. From what I can see, now there’s little difference between fantasy and science fiction in the sense that more and more of new S.F. titles being published are those in a series… long series after long series.
What’s behind this shift? My gut reaction, unsupported by any statistical or other empirical evidence, is that it’s the result of the confluence of marketing gurus and the ever-decreasing attention span of the vast majority of readers, who tend to forget authors more quickly if they don’t see their books on shelves or the internet equivalents. It’s also easier to market a series by an author than individual stand-alone and unrelated novels, and a series also provides marketing continuity.
I’ve already noticed that the sales of my books drop off far more rapidly after the book is released than was the case a decade ago. Part of that is, of course, because more sales come from Amazon and other online sources than ever before, and many of those sales are pre-release, something that was effectively impossible before internet marketing, so that a greater percentage of sales occur either before a book’s release or fairly immediately after release. Another factor is the decline of mass market paperback sales, which often persisted in significant numbers for months, if not years. Now those continuing sales tend to exist only for on-going series, especially those with media tie-ins.
With comparatively fewer and fewer titles being released in mass market paperback, and those being printed in smaller numbers for most authors, authors of single books lose market presence, because readers don’t see their books for as long on shelves or on new release lists. The answer? Write books in a series. I’ve also heard from at least a few up-and-coming writers that editors and agents want a commitment to a series.
Personally, I’m finding it harder and harder to discover stand-alone SF books, and I can’t believe I’m alone. At the same time, it’s also very clear that stand-alones generally generate far less revenue than volumes in a series, which is why I write fewer of them. But I haven’t given up yet. Whether I do, in the end, though, is up to the readers, and whether you buy the stand-alones, such as Solar Express, which will be coming out in November.