I’ve been reading Footfall by Niven and Pournelle lately. It’s the second joint of theirs that I’ve read, the other being Mote in God’s Eye.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that they’re basically writing epic fantasy where they namecheck Carl Sagan.
>epic fate of the world stuff
>monsters and magic
One of the places where these works are different from most l’epic fantasies is that they’re self-contained works. You get all of your heroes, villains, factions and whatnot, and you get your complete story, beginning, middle, and end in one go.
Lately, there has been some very loud complaining that the market seems to be shifting against Epic Fantasy, and the blame is, naturally, being put on people like Martin, Rothfuss, and Jordan. Yes, sometimes authors never finish their foreverlong series cuz they get lazy or don’t have an ending planned and find they’ve written themselves into an inescapable corner. Other times, authors die, leaving their story to be completed by others.
But there’s also a general shift, I think, in what readers are wanting: stories with payoff. It’s not just a question of whether a series will finish, it’s a question of will it stick the landing and make the lead-up worth the investment. If a series goes for 5 books, and the ending sucks, readers might feel cheated by their investment in the previous 4 volumes. It’s been speculated that one reason Martin can’t finish his series is that he realizes he can’t offer any satisfying payoff in a series that was about destroying tropes and expectations of Epic Fantasies.
Conventional wisdom has been “Write long series to boost your numbers and milk the fans of your series.” There’s an assumption, with some data to back it up, that standalone books are harder to market than series, in part because series can build momentum.
But momentum is not exclusive to series: telling good stories and establishing a solid track record builds momentum, too. Michael Crichton only wrote one sequel, and he likely whiffed it to not become the series guy. Dick Francis’s stories were mostly standalone, though thematically tied. Tony Hillerman’s mysteries are part of a series, but they’re all standalone stories. There are not intense debates over the read order of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple books.
While everyone loves Tolkien, and some will go out of their way to posit him as a herculean be-all, end-all of fantasy, one of the examples no one wants to follow is “write your story first.” Tolkien submitted Lord of the Rings as a complete work which his publisher broke into separate volumes due to the length. He did not write the first 20% of a story and hope it did well enough to justify writing the other 80%. But no, some would argue, it’s impossible to expect that authors wanting to follow in Tolkien’s footsteps, these hypothetical “Tolkien 2s” as some writers have referred to them, follow their idol’s example and write their whole damn story before asking for reader buy-in.
While it’s taken awhile for us to roll out Mongoose & Meerkat serially, it was actually brought to us as a finished work. It could’ve been published as a single doorstopper volume, but it worked out better for us, and hopefully for Jim, to publish the stories first serially in the magazine and then as collections as the serialization progressed. But the series has been in the can since at least 2017, and we’ve had the full publication arrangements for it in place since at least 2019.
Wild Stars is a bit of a different animal, and I think that the realities of today’s market is what makes it a tougher sell for us. While Wild Stars is unfinished, we stepped in as publisher VERY late in its history [nearly 35 years in, to be exact], yet 2/3s of the Wild Stars in print now has been both written and published in the last 4-5 years. If anything, our own publication schedule has been slowing Michael down since his retirement, but we can only manage serializing and publishing one Wild Stars book a year. This year, we begin serialization of the 7th installment, collection of the 6th, and Michael has already shown me the draft for the 8th book in the series. While most of the Wild Stars adventures work as stand-alone stories, the length and history of the series, not to mention the drastic shift in mediums might make entry into the series somewhat daunting for new readers.
However, if you are waiting for Wild Stars to be finished before committing to the series, please know that I do not think you are, as one FamousTM Epic Fantasy writer so recently put it, an “entitled little shit.” Instead, let me say that I hope that you will check out the series when it is finished, which should be around 2028 at this rate. By then, we will probably have 3 coffee table omnibus collections, each collecting four volumes of Wild Stars. If you’re wanting to give the series a shot now, however, you can pick the first omnibus up for $68 + S&H if you use the promo code WELCOME15 at checkout.
Or, if you just don’t like huge sprawling epics or even series at all, we invite you to check out Misha Burnett’s upcoming anthology, Small Worlds, or his Chinaski Award-nominated An Atlas of Bad Roads (audiobook coming soon), Erik Rugar, or Endless Summer.