The majority of the books I’ve written are linked (Greg Mandel) or were devised as trilogies and series right from the start (Night’s Dawn, and the Commonwealth universe). Great North Road is a standalone book in a completely new universe; more, it’s likely the only story I’ll ever set there. Why? The Commonwealth (and Night’s Dawn universe) are popular with my readership, they’ve got the scope to accommodate a dozen future storylines. Why do something else when those would be guaranteed success.
I get uncomfortable with being too comfy, is the answer. There are a lot of themes and people I want to explore and write about that would suffer if they were forced into existing set ups. Besides it’s fun coming up with a whole new universe, its society and technology and inhabitants. Worldbuilding is what I enjoy. And with a fresh blank screen I have unlimited possibilities to play with. Things that simply can’t fit into existing timelines can be incorporated, and the new universe bent around them.
Standalones have their downsides. All those lovely ideas, forever entombed in amber, leaving me unable to get them out and play with them again. But I think the expectation for a standalone is higher, especially for the reader. There are no certainties, which is the foundation of Science Fiction. The novel once again becomes a exploration into the unknown.
So why even bother doing trilogies or series? Why not always leave people wanting more, surely the ultimate definition of success. Some part of the answer lies in the nature of publishing itself. You see I actually consider Night’s Dawn to be a single story, that for practical reasons (size!) had to be published in three parts. Same goes for the Void Trilogy, and the Commonwealth saga books. So in fact I’ve actually only told two stories from the Commonwealth, they just got spread over five books. Given that it’s now developed into a civilization spreading across over a thousand worlds, with a 1500-year timeline (a lot more if you count Raiel history), there’s a little scope there for me to write a few more stories without retelling or resorting to the familiar.
In fact I’ve already signed up to write another two Commonwealth books, the Chronicles of the Fallers. So I’m not yet at the point of leaving it behind. When those are finished I’ll consider where to go next. Which is almost a saga in its own right.