Modern Bookselling

I am out of new reading material, so wandered by the book rack at my local Fred Meyer – a big box store. They typically have a pretty decent selection of both science fiction/fantasy and mystery, a couple of well stocked racks of both.

I prefer SF/F, but came away with nothing new. Why?

  • 75% of what was on the shelves was series fiction – and most of the books were book 2, 3 or 4 in that series.

  • 25% of the books (also mostly series) appeared to be paranormal fiction, many featuring the backside of some butt-kicking heroine who would be fighting vampires, demons, shapeshifters, etc.

  • 10% of shelf space was media tie-in books – Star Trek, Star Wars, Forgotten Realms, etc.

  • 3 or 4 books were vintage SF – a Charles Gibson, Timothy Zahn, Gregory Benford. Excellent books, but I’ve read them.

  • Of the several books remaining, most were by known authors I dislike (William Dietz, David Weber)

I can understand why publishers might want to publish series – they get stickiness, a set of readers that stay with the author through the series of books. I’d suggest, though, that serial works see a diminishing level of return, depending on book quality, publishing frequency and author prominence.

On the flip side, you get readers like me, who would love to browse a bookshelf and pick up a standalone book, but who are not interested in a middle book in a series (which is often all that’s available) nor a long term commitment to a given author.

I’d suggest that the sales lost in the latter case exceed the potential market retained through the life of most series, with rare exceptions.

Come on, booksellers, publishers – how about more standalone books? I can’t remember the last time I saw a one-off fantasy book. And while we’re at it, could we try to put out a little more space opera/hard SF and a little less vampire romance?

4 Responses to “Modern Bookselling”

  1. Janiece Says:

    Patricia McKillips writes decent stand-alone fantasy, if you’re interested.

  2. Konstantin Says:


    It really is surprising how many Vampire books are out there right now. I was trying to get something to read recently, went to B&N and it was all either vampire or Dresden Files.

    I settled on Ben Bova, who I haven’t read in the longest time. However, I do usually prefer sprawling sagas, at least trilogies.

  3. mattw Says:

    I’m with you Jeri, give me a good stand alone fantasy or sci-fi book. That’s one of the reasons I like Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series so much. It’s a trilogy, but I can pick up and read The Last Colony and pretty much know what’s going on without reading the other two. I get so sick of the same style when reading a long series. Even with a trilogy I sometimes have to take a break between books and find a new author.

    I’ve read a few books by A. Lee Martinez that are humorous fantasy books that are all stand alones. They don’t even necessarily seem to take place in the same “world.”

    Unfortunately, the book world today is just interested in what they know will sell, which is leaving a lot of good authors in the cold, providing readers with a lot of cookie-cutter plots, and really not benefiting the book industry from what I can tell. I have a friend that works at a independent book store (until March when the store closes, damn Barnes & Nobel) and he has a whole laundry list of what’s wrong with the publishing industry.

  4. MWT Says:

    I remember back in the good old days when Star Trek novels were all standalones, and they only published one every month or two. Nowadays it’s all series, and too much of it at once. Which caused me to stop reading them altogether.

    I’m kind of pleased to see so many vampire related novels on the shelves. Not because I particularly want to read them, but about half of what I write seems to be in the same basic genre. This means that if I ever do get my act together, maybe they’ll sell. *grin*