My sister and I were talking about series today because our beloved cousin who happens to be a librarian called for advice about what to buy at the bookstore. Her only caveat? No series. She had been devouring a lot of YA for some time, and was all tapped out on multiple book stories.
This got me thinking. I sort of knew where she was coming from. Growing up, I couldn’t really afford to buy books. The library was my almost sole source of reading material. But it was hopelessly outdated. That meant, if a book was part of a series, I was highly unlikely to ever find any of the others, or more than a couple or so of the sequels / prequels. In fact, they were so behind, it took a recent Google search for me to realise that one of my favourite series I thought I’d read the entirety of as a teen actually had another book I hadn’t read because the library made no mention of it.
So I have a great appreciation for writers who tended to do stand-alones, like William Goldman or Stephen King, or writers like Ed McBain, whose 87th Precinct novels could be read out of order without feeling like you missed important stuff.
Still, I read a lot of series growing up, and I remember enjoying them all and actively wishing there were more books. I cannot tell you how depressing it was to get to the end of every Sherlock Holmes story ever written. It seems a lot of people agree with those sentiments because a recent poll I read said that most people (more than 50%) like reading series. And my debut novel is actually the first book in a series (I hope!), so I’m certainly not averse to them.
I think writing a series now is a big risk. Readers probably are getting fatigued. Every YA novel is part of a series now, it seems, and even romances are getting in on the act. Slyvia Day or E.L. James anyone? I can see how someone would get fed up of having to wait years to get to the end. Am I right, Song of Fire and Ice fans?
So to try and address the things that concerned me about recent popular series, I decided to try and write one that, much like Ed McBain’s work, could be read as stand-alones. Each book would resolve the central plot question and action so that the reader can move on having read the beginning, middle and end of a story. Sure, I end it in such a way that you know more is coming and hopefully, you’ll want to check out what comes next, but it was important to me make sure you got the answers you tuned in for in this book.
Another big risk in writing a series is the whole ending thing. I mean, I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that when I was growing up, a series ended very satisfactorily for the most part. Now, I think most series hit their best book around the second novel, and sort of take a dip by the end. See Hunger Games or Divergent, or even the very beloved Harry Potter. They were all very popular, but I think a lot of fans could talk your ear off on how to improve the endings.
The reason the end of a series might not quite live up to the books that came before could be because when a book is popular now, millions can obsess about it 24/7 on multiple social media sites, and find millions more people to exchange theories with. With all that written down, creating hype and a huge excited din, can any writer really live up to the shared thoughts and expectations of millions of minds?
Or is this recent perceived failure due more to the fact that writers have less support in creating their books now. Gone are the editors who were willing to mold and shape a career and an author. Now, there are publishing houses just looking to turn as quick a profit as possible, or writers who started out on their own, and because they found success, are left to their own devices as an independent money-making machine and expected to be the arbiters of their own work entirely, whether they switch to traditional publishing or not.
I think a lot of writers could really benefit from some editorial guidance when they are starting out, and most publishing houses simply don’t do that any more. Independent authors sometimes shun that guidance, or they try to pay for it, in which case, they get the luck of the draw depending on what they can afford.
It’s a conundrum I wonder a lot about because I’m both a reader and a writer and the thing I would love to see most is quality books out there that end as spectacularly as they begin, no matter if they’re being published traditionally or not. Nothing would make me happier than to have people read my books, get to the end of the series, and say, ‘Wow, I never saw that coming. That was SO much better than I imagined it would be. I don’t want this story to end.’
I think most writers want to do this. But how do we get there in a world where criticism can go viral in a matter of hours, and everyone seems to be trying to take the same path to success, sometimes to the detriment of originality and freshness? I mean, how many love triangles in post-apocalyptic YA do we really need? Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with such a set-up, but in the last year I read Hunger Games and Fifth Wave and a bunch of books that feel like varying degrees of quality in a very similar storyline.
What do you think? Do you think there are too many common trends in multiple book stories? What are you tired off? What can’t you get enough of? As a reader, do you think it’s still worth it for writers to do multiple book series? Or are you ready to set a dragon on the whole bloody pile of them?
8 thoughts on “To Read a Lot…Or Not”
One thing I noticed when I was doing a lot of book review posts on my blog is the Book Two Problem. The first book in a series will be self contained and end with no dangling plot threads. Book two? That’s all out the window. The easiest example is actually from film but the storytelling tropes are the same here even if the medium is different … Star Wars. The original is self contained but Empire just leaves you hanging for Jedi.
Anecdotal obversation, it seems to happen with newer writers. They write book one not knowing if it will sell yet and then the publisher wants a series.
I have more thoughts on this, which may be more on point, but I’m running late for work =D
I think that’s a very valid point. The Star Wars example was spot on. Looking forward to more of your thoughts!
I agree, there are so many book series now, and sometimes I find it hard to keep up the enthusiasm for them, especially if I read a few at the same time can get confusing! I am leaning towards stand alones, I like the resolution it brings at the end of the book, and it’s nice to put it down and move onto something new whilst feeling good about it, and not potentially having it spoiled by future books! 😀
I completely agree. I hate the lag time, only to find you didn’t like this book half as much. And the having to hide from the internet so noone tells you the end early!
So continuing on my thought train on book series… When I read a lot of space opera and epic fantasy as a kid in the 90s, massive page counts over multiple books was almost a requirement. There was a lot more free time to read when I was 11 though. I think that because it is now also a lot easier to find a bigger variety of books, it is a bit harder for me to get locked in to those five or eight books sets now. Usually, I won’t even read two of the same subgenre in a row anymore because of the huge variety in my to read pile.
I’ve been dragging my feet on Dance of Dragons because GRRM’s books don’t ease you back in to what’s going on. Nowadays, I think the best way for a series to survive (superstar Triple A titles exempted from this) is to have books that don’t require taking notes from one book to the next. Kevin Herene’s Iron Druid series is the first example that comes to mind. Because I bought book four today. I can read them two months apart and not feel lost. I don’t think it’s easy to balance moving on with the new book with a “Last Time” recap info dump. Hearne is doing that very well though.
So is it worth it to write a series? Absolutely. I don’t think it’s too hard to keep things fresh over the course of a few books. I think the important thing is to make it easy for readers to jump in and out of it. I don’t think as many people mainline massive sets all in one go.
I’m glad you posted a blog! I want my blog friends to come post in the comments 🙂 You’re welcome to say whatever you think!
I agree so much with your analysis. I’m not committing to a series now unless it has really captured my imagination. I don’t have to the time. I’ve come to really appreciate stand-alones, but I do love a good series. I guess I’m trying to have it both ways and I agree with you–the key is to make sure people can read on if they want, but get a complete story from each book.
Excellent post, I was thinking about the series thing today…I do think people are getting a bit burned out on seeing a book title followed by #1, etc. My immediate thought has become “Okay, so #1 implies it’ll end on a wicked cliffhanger and I have to shell out more money to feel even remotely satisfied that a partial-yet-complete story has been told.” I hope that makes sense…to me, to some extent, all books should be able to stand alone. The ending of one should make me WANT to read the next, but I shouldn’t feel cheated, or as though the entire book has already been written but chopped up arbitrarily into bits for profit. -Kate
Exactly! That’s what I think bugs me about some series today. It’s either clear that they forced a one book story into three or four, or they chop it at artificial cliffhangers to stretch the profit.
Some of the series I’ve read should be at most two books. But really, a lot of them never equal the joy of the first book. And that’s probably because that’s the one the author worked on the most and had the most time to perfect. After that, they’re on their own and it’s then you truly find whether the series has what it takes or not. But most people shell out money to see how it ends anyway, only to find that the whole thing petered out.
Absolutely NOT what I want anyone to experience with my own writing. So I’m trying really hard to make sure I don’t fall into that trap.