Is it just me, or does it seem like almost nobody writes stand-alone works of fiction any more? At least in my favorite genres, science fiction and fantasy, every book that comes out these days is number something in the so-and-so series. Don’t get me wrong: I have enjoyed many series, and they can be rewarding in their depth and scope. However, sometimes I really enjoy reading a single book that is complete and self-contained; there’s no need to remember what happened in earlier installments and no frustrating wait for the next sequel.
I suspect part of it is that once an author has invested himself or herself in the creation of a world and populated it with interesting (hopefully) characters, the temptation must be immense to make use of all that work in subsequent books, rather than going through the whole creation process again. This is probably especially true in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, which generally requires a lot of such world-building.
However, I also like to blame it on what I think of as the “Hollywood syndrome”, which can be summed up as: once you create something successful, repeat it over and over rather than taking a chance on something new. In the world of publishing, I don’t know how much of that is pressure from the publishers on the authors to repeat what sold before and how much is the authors either wanting to capitalize on what made them some bucks (and who can blame them) or fearing failure if they try something new.
As in most things in life, it’s probably a combination of all those influences and others I’ve not thought of, applied in varying degrees in different circumstances. At least my favorite living author, Sir Terry Pratchett, though mostly writing books in his “Discworld” series, has the the decency to have each such book be a stand-alone story that can be read in isolation, and he jumps between a number of story arcs with each new release, so it’s not like reading a linear, closely coupled series of books such as the late Robert Jordan‘s “Wheel of Time” series.
I do wish, however, there were more modern authors like my all-time favorite, Roger Zelazny, who could spin out a wonderful series (see his “Amber” novels) while also creating marvelous stand-alone books, epitomized perhaps by Lord of Light
Hey, if there are any authors out there who both write series and for some reason read this blog, too, how about leaving a comment here to let us know what your rationale is for serialization?