Of all original novels published each year, how many are sequels or books in series, and how many are independent, original, stand-alones? Take a guess before reading further.
For some time now I’ve been toying around with maintaining tallies of how many new books in our field are published each year that are in each subgenre (SF, fantasy, or horror), and more interestingly, how many are stand-alone singletons as opposed to those that are parts of series, or sequels to earlier books. As I compile the online “New Books” listings every week or so, I am numbed at times by how many books are Xth volumes in seemingly endless series. It seems as if the majority of original books in SF/F/H are sequels and series, not independent stand-alones. This seems especially true in fantasy… at least in ‘urban’ fantasy.
I started tabulating novels published last year, 2009, but have never finished — the task required reviewing records of some 400 or 500 novels published that year in my database and setting appropriate fields, which sometimes could be derived straightforwardly from the descriptions I had already written for online posting, but which at other times required me to go out to Amazon.com or look up a Locus review in order to glean enough from their descriptions to categorize them. I still haven’t finished all those, but more recently I did spend an hour and did the categorization for the more modest number of 2010 novels published so far this year, and have set up an initial page with the results.
There’s a little table of subtotals at the top.
Perhaps it’s no surprise to anyone — but there are more fantasy novels published than SF novels! More than twice as many, in fact. Also, unsurprisingly, confirming my impression, the majority of the fantasy novels, some 80% of them, are books in series.
I should stress of course that I don’t pretend the lists on these directory pages are comprehensive — there are likely dozens, if not hundreds, of titles that I haven’t seen, or have noticed but not bothered to compile. (Locus Magazine does try to do a comprehensive job of this, and they do update running counts of new books published each month, but only categorize them by type of book — novel, collection, anthology, etc. — not by genre, or standalone/singleton.) Still, the titles I do overlook, deliberately or not, tend to be the fantasy and horror titles, since those are more apt to be marketed as generically vague. As I’ve mentioned on the weekly bestseller pages, there are dozens of romance novels with possible fantasy elements published every year, many selling quite well, which I don’t bother to compile (and I suspect Locus Mag doesn’t track all of them down either). And the whole field of YA fiction, where every other novels seems to have some fantastic element, is another area that I admit isn’t covered very well on the website. There is only so much time.
Thus, my little tally most likely underestimates the dominance of fantasy series, if anything, and in turn the number of genre books that are parts of series.
So what does this mean?, is it significant?, or already obvious to everyone and hardly worth mentioning?
One thought I have is that this shows how the sf/f/h genres, moreso than ‘literary’ or other genre fiction, are analogous to film and TV, where the most popular items tends to be sequels and series. Conversely, the films that are not sequels — and the novels that are not sequels — are more likely to attract critical attention and awards. TV, on the other hand, tends to reflect the gravitation in pop culture, including sf/f/h, away from singleton stories to ongoing stories of scope and complexity that was impossible before the age of DVD sets — and online booksellers that made acquiring past volumes of book series so easy.
A corollary here is that, for those readers of sf/f/h (including most reviewers, I might guess) who are less interested in repeats of familiar material and more interested in what’s new and completely original, is that they have a lot less to read than it might appear, given how many hundreds of original books are published each year. This is a *good* thing — ignore all the series and sequels, and it’s not impossible to keep up with what’s new.
The new page isn’t quite fully automated, but it will be shortly, and will be updated regularly (once a week or so) with all the other directory pages. And I may break the tallies down further, by subgenre varieties within each sf/f/h grouping.