The Neverending Story: When Enough Is Enough
Connected books, featuring different protagonists set in the same world, have long been a staple of romance and series books, featuring the same protagonists, are starting to see an increase. As a reader, I am starting to suffer reader fatigue from the connected and the series books. Romance authors, more and more, have seen that connected/series books sell well. Roxanne St. Claire shared in August 2006 that her career really took off with the release of the Bullet Catcher series. She claims that readers do not want stand alone books and are disappointed to find a book that has no connection with others. In the article, St. Claire brings up the point that worries me as a reader the most: when creativity is shoved aside by marketing.
However, I do believe this phenomenon has changed the playing field for genre and commercial fiction writers. It has an impact on the kinds of stories that are told, the speed with which they are published, and the eventual success (or not) for writers who may not be hardwired to think in terms of connected series (or may not be able to produce them fast enough to feed a hungry market). I hope it doesn't impact creativity.
Not every writer is well suited for the connected or series book, just as many authors are not suited to the short story or the anthology length story. Not every author can make third book as compelling as the first within the same construct. The current demand for series books creates a writer’s dilemma of sacrificing soul for sales. If you want to skip the history and go straight to my rantings and ravings, click here.
The Connected Book
Connected books have long been a staple of romance. The Grand Dame of romance, Georgette Heyer wrote three connected books sometimes known as the Alastair trilogy. Barbara, the heroine of An Infamous Army, was the granddaughter of Dominic and Mary, the protagonists of Devil’s Cub. Leonie and Justin, of These Old Shades fame, were the parents of Dominic. The Old Shades was originally published in 1926.
The 1980s saw an explosion of connected books. Johanna Lindsey began her Malory saga in 1985. Catherine Coulter’s Star series began in 1984. Julie Garwood had loosely connected books beginning with The Lion’s Lady published in 1988, followed by Guardian Angel in 1990. This series was ultimately concluded with Castles in 1993. Linda Howard’s Kell Sabin series was published in the mid 1980s. Nora Roberts’ first book, Irish Thoroughbred book 1 of 3 in her Irish Heart trilogy, was released in 1981.
Mary Balogh, Liz Carlyle and Eloisa James take the connected books to new levels by creating their own full societies within the ton with their own families who are related, either by birth, marriage, and friendship. When reading their books, I often need a cribsheet to keep everyone’s connections straight.
The Series Books
In very recent years, the connected book has given way to the series book. JD Robb and Laurell K Hamilton have greatly influenced publishers and authors in this. The series book is an ongoing saga featuring the same protagonists. The series book has been a staple in the mystery and the sci fi genres. Some credit the rise of the trilogy or series book in science fiction to Tolkien. This is a wide misconception. Tolkien intended for the Lord of the Rings to be one book. The publisher, for cost and marketing reasons split it into three books.
David Eddings, famous writer of the Belgariad series intended for his series to be a trilogy. Eddings was told by publisher, Del Rey, that the price of a paperback could not be more than $3.00. To meet that market specification, Eddings’ three book series was split into a five book series. Eddings claims that it would be better as a trilogy as that is how he intended it, but having signed the contract, he was bound to follow his publisher’s dictates. It is said (although I could not find an attributive source) that the Mallorean series was intentionally written over five books to match the the original set.
The Eve Dallas mystery series appeared on the scene in 1995. Eleven years later, this series is still selling strong with the latest installment, Born in Death, released November 2006 and debuted at No. 3 on the NYT Bestseller list. I strongly suspect that the success of the Eve Dallas series sprouted series like Kyra Moray by Deanna Lee, Samantha Jellicoe by Suzanne Enoch, and Marisela Morales by Julie Leto.
The rise of the paranormal (attributable in large part to Laurell K Hamilton and Buffy) begot any number of copycat authors such as Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse; Sunny’s Mona Lisa; more recently Cameron Dean’s Candace Steele books.
To varying degrees, I have enjoyed all the authors named above but each one of them has only a few books out and their ability to carry on the series remains to be seen. The series can quickly become stagnant if the same emotional conflict is replayed again and again. But the series book presents more problems that tedious repetition.
Lack of Closure
I attribute the demise of the Luna line to the fact that so many of those stories were series books where only one tiny part of the overall story was given away in the first book. Of the Luna books I have read, only two authors wrote a connected books rather than series book and those were Mercedes Lackey and PC Cast. Every other author I read had a series: Laura Resnick, Rachel Lee, Maria Snyder, Laura Ann Gilman, CE Murphy, Susan Krinard. That’s too many series in which a reader must be invested. Further because of the Luna restructuring, few of those series will be resolved for me.
I get frustrated at the end of book one when nothing is finalized. We await closure or become so disinterested that we provide our own closure. I found after reading Magic Study by Maria Snyder that I have no desire to buy the final entry in the “study” series in hardcover. I’ll probably wait for the paperback or get it from the library. Too many questions are left unanswered which actually makes me more disinterested than anticipatory.
An Unwilling Financial Investor
Why should the reader become invested in these series when there is no guarantee of a resolution. The onus is on the reader to carry the series forward. For example, reader Avaron Dale was interested in Cora Zane’s new book but was put off from purchasing it when, despite it being marketed as a series, the continuation of the series was dependent on the sales of the first book. Ms. Zane originally intended for the book to be a standalone. Sasha White blogged about this today and expressed my sentiment much better:
But I think it's tacky to do keep reminding your readers that you need them to buy your book during a specific time – to say to readers, “If you like this series, and want to see the next installment, but this one now, or the publisher won't buy my next book.”
Sure, that may be savvy marketing, but no reader wants to feel like she has to shill for the author. I want to shill but I don’t want to be made to shill. I don’t want to become an unwilling financial partner in a book by which I am responsible for the sales of a book in order to see a resolution for the characters.
Dependence on Connection Diminishes Growth for the Author
Returning to St. Claire’s above quoted statement, there is a real problem for authors. Once you are branded as the author of the sexy bodyguard books, what else are readers going to allow you to write? Unless authors, early on in their career, establish a certain voice rather than a certain series, will readers follow them at the conclusion of their series or will the reader feel betrayed? For the author, the decision to invest time in a series must take into the consideration of the length of the series and what change will do to the future of their career.
It’s the Author That Sells
Finally, just because you write a series or connected book doesn’t mean that you are going to sell. The author, the voice, the idea, all have to resonate with the reader. There are as many failed authors of series as there are failed authors of single title books. Jennifer Crusie is a perfect example of an author who writes single title, unconnected books but still has a strong, bestselling career. Very few of her books are connected. I would read Sharon Shinn if she never wrote another series book because her writing is so beautiful. When I finished M.A. Evereux’s book, The Claiming of Moira Shine, I didn’t necessarily want to read another book in that world, I just wanted to read another Evereux book.
Just Tell the Story
Ned has been watching Six Feet Under on Bravo and I have been googling it. I read an interesting comment by the creator Alan Ball:
In November 2004, series creator and executive producer Alan Ball announced that the fifth season would be the show’s last. The producers and writers felt that after 63 episodes they had told their “story”.
From everything I’ve read, it was the right decision. The series didn’t linger too long. It resolved all the dangling plot threads. It provided closure to the characters and the viewers. It left the viewership wanting more, but still satisfied. Can we really say that about many series books these days? Are authors really telling the story until its complete or do they keep writing way past the natural and organic ending to the frustration of readers?