JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Must Every SF/F Work be a Series?


Asking for a friend.


Actually, I’ve just started listening to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast–yes, I know I am a bit late to that game–and the first episode I chose dealt primarily with writing series.

Here’s my thing: I generally find the idea of planned series to be morally objectionable. More often than not today, works are developed into series solely for marketing and profit concerns, not because the story requires it. This often leads to stories that could be completed in one volume being broken up and expanded for the sake of serialization and increased sales. This isn’t just a book thing; look at how taken Hollywood is with series, sequels and reboots. Hollywood even took the last book of already a long, repetitive series and split it into two films (Mockingjay). It has always struck me as a dishonest way to treat customers.

The author interviewed during the podcast episode in question, and one of the hosts even, discussed planning works as a series from the outset, and going from one series into a new series.

Of course, there are may benefits for a author writing series. Among those discussed on the podcast were expanding the author’s presence, being able to promote book 2 when you do launch and release events for book 1, and having intersecting works to keep readers engaged (read: strung along).

But what are the benefits of series for the reader? I’m a consumerist by ideology, and I think the needs and rights of customers should have primary emphasis. Yeah, I might be in the wrong business. Also, as a writer and storyteller, I think the story should take primacy over marketing concerns. But this is probably an easy way to not be successful in the current market.

Speaking of consumerism, the second episode I listened to dealt with an equally troubling problem in my mind: preorders.

As with series, there are benefits to authors doing preorders–the ability to promote unreleased works at the launch events of earlier volumes being, again, a primary one. But the current preorder, early access culture of entertainment is ripe for abuse.

One such issue was brought up during the discussion that represents precisely why preordes are problematic, and both the hosts and the person being interviewed (the founder of SmashWords) were far on the wrong side, as far as I am concerned. The problem of missing released dates was mentioned, and the SmashWords founder criticized Amazon for punishing authors who missed their prerelease deadlines, while staing his platform would never do so. He even went as far to suggest it was okay for authors to be late by weeks. No mention was made on how this would affect readers.

Why shouldn’t authors who miss their deadlines face repercussions? How is it acceptable for an author to break their promise to consumers, ones who have already given up their money in return for nothing but such promises? How can that be acceptable behavior?

I don’t plan to begin writing series after series. While I have some works that have the potential for sequels, I did not write them with that in mind, and I don’t plan on writing my future novels and novellas that way either. I am all for writing multiple stories in the same setting, with the same characters (such as my Storm Hamilton stories), I write each to stand alone. The exception being my fantasy series Call of the Guardian, but that was written for a serial publisher. Even so, I only have two seasons of that series planned, not three or six or ten. If I write more in that setting, I plan them to be independent spin-offs.

So my question for all of you is: does everything have to be a series? Must we use exploitative marketing techniques like serial planning, preorders, and other things that are not in the best interest of our customers?

I am really torn by this. I want to be successful and make money, but I also want to follow my moral views as well. Is that even possible?

I’d love to hear what you have to think about this.

Thanks for reading.



15 Responses to Must Every SF/F Work be a Series?

  1. I don’t see anything wrong with penalising authors for missing their preorder deadlines. You’d be punished in any other business, so why should publishing be any different? As I reader, it really sucks when you’ve been looking forward to something so much, ont to have the release date pushed back and back.

    As for series’, I like a series but I agree, they work better when they are stand alone novels with an overreaching theme or idea. The way some self published authors chop up their series of e-books feels more like they’re releasing chapters rather than books sometimes.

    • JM Williams

      Right. The series I have enjoyed most started as one book and then became a series later with popularity. You can still read book 1 by itself though. But I hear new authors talking about they’re working on a three book series and its the first thing they’ve ever released.

  2. When I write, I have a a stand-alone in my head and if I get to the end, I might consider a sequel, But as you also said, I don’t go in with a sequel in mind.
    At the same time, I’m writing a novella series and the reason for it was to write more, and shorter. I can churn out a new story every few months to get me writing more often. And produce more works in a shorter amount of time. Like R.L. Stine.

  3. I have never started out to write a series, but some stories are longer than one book. There is a preponderance of trilogies in fantasy and the series in the speculative genre in general. Although I don’t think it’s necessary. Sometimes a story can be told in one book.

    • Thanks for commenting. Books can be long, if they need to be. If it’s one story, how about a 700 page single volume, instead of two 350-pagers, or three 200-pagers? Stephen King’s IT is like 1100 pages long. If released today, it would be at least two, if not four or five books. I think, often times, the choice comes down to money and that alone.

      • I still buy books vs e-books so I wouldn’t buy an 1100 page book because I wouldn’t want to carry it around. Of course, in this digital age, page length is not such an issue.

        • JM Williams

          One of my publishers said to us that he thought print books are going the way of the collector’s item. Most people who buy print now do it in order to have something to display. In that sense, a 1100 page tome might be more appealing than something too skinny.

  4. I’ve written stand-alones and serials (series). I agree with many of your points and have read series where the writer really should have stopped with the first book. I’ve also read stand-alones where I was so invested in the characters that I wanted more! I think it all comes down to the quality of the story, it’s consistency and cohesiveness, the reality induced by the author, and the emotional impact of the characters. I’ll pay for books to get that, and books are still the cheapest entertainment around.

    Now, as an author and a relatively unknown one, I do break my books into reasonably-sized chunks, about 300 pages or so. A reader is much more likely to take a chance on a 300-page book than purchase a 1200-page book! Personally, I would not buy a 500-page book from an author I’ve never read. So for me, it’s not really about money (since this is a career that isn’t very lucrative in the first place); it’s about readership and how I encourage readers to give my books a try. That said… when an author breaks a 300-page story into 3 novellas, I think the motive is suspect, and I find that immensely annoying. Writing should be about the stories and engaging the imagination, not wrestling an extra buck from readers.

    Great topic! Thanks for letting me chime in. 🙂

    • JM Williams

      Great comment! I really wonder about this. I think some readers today look at that page count, not as a task to complete or a reflection of the writing quality (as in is this author concise or a rambler?), but as a measure of value. For, say, $3.99 I could get a 300-page book or a 600-page book. If the ratings are about equal, why wouldn’t I get the longer book and get more for my money? I do this myself with audible. I look at the length and will almost always take a 12-hour audiobook over a 7-hour one. Of course, I am buying books from major authors and publishers, so I have good feelings about the content.

  5. As a reader, I love series, if they wrap up a separate plot in each book. I drop a series if book one is a cliffhanger, but I can stick with a series for 20+ books if I like the first one. If I enjoyed reading about Spaceman Spiff punching aliens in the face, then I know I’ll like other books about Spaceman Spiff punching a different group of aliens in the face. So, I consider series to be a benefit for readers in that respect. There’s a discussion at Bookstooge’s blog about people re-reading books, and one cited reason is they want something they’ll like after some disappointing reads. A series fills that role for me, as I don’t re-read.

    From a marketing/business standpoint, I don’t know why we’d ever move away from series. The author has put in the work developing the setting/characters, and for the publishers, the book has a consumer base ready to go, not to mention possibly bringing some new readers to the original work. I could see consumers heading away from series if every novel coming out had an original idea and was really well-written, but I don’t see any signs of that happening.

    • JM Williams

      Good point about each book having a separate plot. I think that’s important. But I also think that doesn’t come, or at least not well, when the work is plotted as a three book series rather than one book, with some sequels written off the success of the first. That is where I find the habit most troubling, that writers and publisher plan these thing as a long series from the start, unsually for financial rather than storytelling reasons.

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