Can a novelologist earn a living writing standalone stories?  It’s a question that comes up a lot.  My answer to this is that, yes, it’s certainly possible.  I’m doing fine writing non-series novels.  Granted, I might be an anomaly, and because we don’t live in the universe where I am writing my 9th Gil’s All Fright Diner book, we can never really know if I’m doing better or worse in comparison if I’d chosen that path.  We can only accept the universe we live in and make assumptions from that.

I am fairly unique at this point.  I can’t think of many other novelologists right now who are doing what I’m doing.  I wouldn’t say it makes me a better writer than those who choose the more conventional path.  How can we even measure such things?  But I am definitely doing something different, and so far, it’s working.

There are writers who create shared worlds, populate them with dozens upon dozens of characters, and then just play with a few at a time.  This is very similar to writing standalone novels.  You can read most of the Discworld novels as standalone novels, for instance, and Christopher Moore’s books all seem to take place in the same continuity, though that continuity is so loose and flexible that, aside from characters popping in now and then, most the books could be considered standalone novels.

But I’m the guy who goes out on a limb and creates it all from scratch.  I’ll write about vampires, robots, trolls, gods, aliens, and incomprehensible monsters.  I’ll design worlds that are incompatible, that were never made to go together.  The retro-sci fi noir of The Automatic Detective is mostly incapable of blending with the fantasy of A Nameless Witch.  I’m not even interested in using the parallel worlds justification to allow them to crossover.  Maybe I’ll change my mind later.  But for now, Duke the werewolf and Mack Megaton, robot detective, will never bump into each other.

(There is a small reference to Gil’s in Divine Misfortune.  Not many people spot it.  It’s just for fun, not meant to imply that the two books are related in any wayAlthough, again, I could always change my mind.)

I pass no judgment, good or bad, on series books in fantasy / sci fi.  There are good ones.  There are bad ones.  But isn’t that true of everything?  I don’t think I am more creative because I have no interest in series.  Writing a book is a creative process, even if using an established world with established characters.  I think writing standalone novels gives me the illusion of being more creative.  It certainly has helped my burgeoning Hollywood career.  It’s given me more books to option, helped certain people to view me as a writer that isn’t easy to pigeonhole.  But even that Hollywood stuff is a lot of luck.  The right people at the right time.  I can’t explain it.  I couldn’t even tell you how to do it because I don’t know how I did it.  Other than write what I want to write and hope someone else out there likes it too.

It’s not a perfect system, but so far, it’s worked out all right for me.

So can a sci fi writer make it writing standalone novels?  Yes, he can.  At least, I can.  Make of that what you will.

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,


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  1. Nolly
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    The first author I thought of was China Miéville…but then I remembered he did have three books in the same setting, although they’re not really directly connected. Then I thought about Neal Stephenson…but there’s the Baroque Cycle. Connie Willis pretty much does stand-alones; Blackout / All Clear is one book that was too big to put in one set of covers. There are many other authors who mostly write stand-alones but occasionally have a duology or trilogy, like S. P. Somtow. Tim Pratt, I think, and Tim Powers, too. I’m not sure I can think of anyone who’s _never_ written a sequel, or perhaps more accurately, written a story that was too long for a single volume and thus turned into a short series. It’s certainly possible to succeed without writing long epic series, though.

  2. MindMeltMachine
    Posted March 15, 2011 at 1:58 am | Permalink


    Sure, sure, sure. The standalone novelist will always remain in good faith with the the great publishing wizards, but what about the lowly s.o.b. trying to channel Shakespeare on his Ouija board to come up with more than a page of material. Where does he stand? What steps should he take to reign in those ideas long enough to focus on a full script?

  3. Posted March 15, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    That said.. You shouldn’t rule out continuing the Gil’s All Fright Diner saga just for the sake of sticking to your guns. I think of all the novels you’ve written, that one is the most open-ended. More than once I have wondered what Duke and Earl are up to these days.

  4. Seek
    Posted March 22, 2011 at 3:35 am | Permalink

    Agreed. Don’t screw us out of the sequels! Have mercy!

  5. Posted April 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

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