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What Happens to an Author’s Series Poll

[poll id="156"]

Hachette’s Little, Brown will publish writer David Foster Wallace’s unfinished novel called the Pale King. The story will include notes, outlines and other materials. I think the idea of the unfinished novel is cool but also frustrating. How unfinished is it? Will someone rewrite major sections in order for the story to be cohesive or are we truly getting the raw material?

When Robert Jordan passed away before finishing his last novel, Brandon Sanderson was given the honor of finishing the manuscript by Jordan’s widow and editor, Harriet Popham Rigney. The last Wheel of Time book is due to be released in the fall of 2009.

As a reader, what’s your preference?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

31 Comments

  1. Julia
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 07:51:10

    I would want both the unfinished manuscript and another author (hopefully one who was close to the original author) to finish. The Robert Jordan situation seems like the best possible option, since Mrs. Jordan will be finishing the actual manuscript. Plus, he had told her everything he wants to happen, I believe. (I stopped reading Wheel of Time after book 8 or 9, because the wait between books was too long, so I may have to completely reread them after the last one comes out.)

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  2. joanne
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 08:02:50

    I remember, not fondly, the book that came out after Agatha Christie died that was ‘finished’ by another author. It was sad, inappropriate, badly written and pissed me off. I wanted her to live and write forever but if she couldn’t then that’s all there is.

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  3. ms bookjunkie
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 08:07:29

    I’m not sure how to vote, it probably depends on the author. But I’m leaning towards another author finishing the series. Because even if they do a crummy job, at least I get some closure. (I do so hate it when a series is cancelled before the author -and I- are done with it! E.g. LKH’s Nightseer, Ann Maxwell/Elizabeth Lowell’s Firedancer, the Donovans…)

    When Dorothy L. Sayers passed away, she left behind a manuscript, or notes for one, for Thrones, Dominations which Jill Paton Walsh brilliantly compiled into a finished book. Then JPW went further and wrote another book, A Presumption of Death, using Sayers’ notes and ‘propaganda material’* which had been published in newspapers during WWII. The two books are fantastic, totally satisfying reads that continue the story of Lord Peter and Harriet (and Bunter!) in a way that is ‘all that is Sayers’.

    *Sayers wrote short pieces for newspapers during the war, detailing what was going on in the characters’ lives and how they were contributing to the war effort. Morale boosters, as it were.

    (Please note that the DLS facts have been filtered through my brain and may be off in funny ways… Buyer beware, or something.)

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  4. LoriK
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 09:45:54

    For me it depends on what the author left behind. If s/he left notes or an outline that told how the book was meant to end then I would be interested in having another author finish it. However, the author would have to be chosen carefully for the ability to write close to the original style. The biggest fan or closest friend isn’t necessarily the best choice.

    If the series author didn’t leave enough to know how the story would end then I prefer to just let it go. Without those notes it seems to me that anything another author would write would basically just be fan fic and I can do that myself.

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  5. Marcella White Campbell
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 10:19:33

    I wonder if the earliest example of this problem, at least in American fiction, was when L. Frank Baum (the original author of the 14-book Wizard of Oz series) died in 1919, and, a few years later, Ruth Plumly Thompson took over and wrote more books than Baum had. Fans are still sharply divided on whether her books were just as good, or bland retreads of Baum’s plotlines.

    I’m a series addict. I love getting to know a universe and its characters and just living there. I’ll read a series I have grown to HATE just to find out what’s going to happen to them. I’d probably like to see outlines and notes if nothing else was available, but that really isn’t the point of reading fiction, is it?

    Without those notes it seems to me that anything another author would write would basically just be fan fic and I can do that myself.

    Word. I am not a fan of sequels concocted by writers’ estates. See: Scarlett.

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  6. Nadia
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 10:29:09

    I think it really depends on whether or not people knew how the author intended the series to end. I don’t want to read some “fanfic” by the author’s widow(er) or publisher.

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  7. Lori
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 10:30:19

    I will be getting the last Wheel of Time book. I don’t know that my son will recognize the difference (that’s my hope anyway). He has loved every single book in the series, and, I imagine, will devour this last one as well.

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  8. Rene
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 10:48:50

    In truth, there are a couple of series from an author that I think could be written better by somebody else at this point.

    I think it depends. Caleb Carr was invited by the Conan Doyle estate to write a Sherlock Holmes book and I really enjoyed it. Carr kept the spirit of Conan Doyle while adding a little bit of his own voice to it.

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  9. rebyj
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 11:43:37

    People all over are lighting candles and praying to their gods and goddesses that Karen Marie Moning stays healthy till the last 2 installments of the “Fever” series are out!
    *grumbles about cliffhanger endings*

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  10. Darlynne
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 12:00:53

    Ellis Peters. When she died, another Cadfael mystery was in the works, but her will stipulated that it would never be finished by someone else. Initially, I grieved on many levels, although the last book revealed that both she and Cadfael looked back on their lives with serenity and no apparent regrets. Her voice is what drew me to the series and it is only her voice I would want to hear.

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  11. Jessica D
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 12:37:51

    I eagerly read The Salmon of Doubt, which included fragments of a sixth Hitchhiker’s novel, after Douglas Adams’ death, but I am not at all interested in Eoin Colfer’s Hitchhiker’s book. It has nothing to do with Colfer. I wouldn’t want it if it were any of Adams’ close friends and collaborators doing it either. It’s just not appropriate. Leave the legend alone.

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  12. Bev Stephans
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 12:52:20

    I’ve had too many bad experiences with someone picking up where the author left off. I love series books, but I want them by the original author. If said author dies, then that should be the end of it. I too want closure, but not at the risk of bad writing or writing that doesn’t resemble the original author.

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  13. Evangeline
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 13:03:43

    Leave it alone. The author who “finished” Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers irritated me so much, I refuse to read a series/book completed by another after the author as passed away–even if they’ve left copious outlines, notes and have discussed the book with other people.

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  14. Marianne McA
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 13:16:45

    It’s the sort of thing I actually worry about – either the author dying before I know what happened, or me dying, not knowing what’s happened…

    I’d be happiest with the author’s notes, or someone who knew the author explaining what would have happened: I might grieve for the book that never was, but as long as I knew how the story resolved itself, I’d be content.
    Another writer writing the story wouldn’t work, because that wouldn’t be canon, so I’d always have doubts how it really ended.

    As for indivdual books, I don’t really see the point of someone else finishing them: be a neither fish nor fowl thing. I think I read a version of Jane Austen’s Sanditon that someone else had finished – years ago now – and it wasn’t up to much. I preferred the way they published P.G. Wodehouse’s last book – the work as far as it went, and his notes for the rest.

    Having said that, I agree with Ms Bookjunkie that the Jill Paton Walsh books are worth reading – not as good as the originals, but good fun nonetheless.

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  15. MaryK
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 13:51:15

    @ms bookjunkie:

    which Jill Paton Walsh brilliantly compiled into a finished book.

    That’s good to know. I’ve wondered if that book was any good.

    @LoriK: I completely agree. Authorial voice is very important to my reading experience. To me, the same characters written in another voice are different characters.

    So, I’d rather an unfinished series than have an ending with the “wrong” voice which would be infuriating rather than simply frustrating.

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  16. Cathy
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 14:06:25

    I have mixed feelings. I voted for “I’d take anything,” but really it would depend on the series.

    For a series that was a more general, ongoing, “new adventures in the life of…” kind of thing, I would not want any additional works published. If the author is dead, then the series is over, in my mind.

    If there was some kind of ongoing cliff-hanger kind of situation (like “who is Collan” in Melanie Rawn’s Exiles series), then I would want an unfinished manuscript or notes, etc.

    I feel like an author’s world is their own sandbox, and I’m not interested in seeing someone else’s sandcastles there. I know there have been some great examples of one author finishing another’s work, but there have been many other examples of it going badly and the books selling only on the strength of the deceased’s name. And, how many times have we seen old series dusted off for marketing reasons – new Jason Borne novels even though Ludlum is dead, or yet another half-finished world of Tolkein’s when the LotR movies came out. It’s just not my cup of tea.

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  17. Nonny
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 15:08:36

    Other; it depends on the situation.

    Robert Jordan is a special case. As I understand, he had plenty of information about the last book already written, and the estate and publisher worked together to find someone that had a similar enough style that it wouldn’t be jarring. The series had been going on for 20+ years and does have a definite end; it’s not an “open” series like many mystery books or urban fantasies.

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  18. ldb
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 17:23:35

    I think I’d like to say leave it as is, but chances are I’d read it so I can’t say that NOT writing it is what I’d want. That said the ONLY way I’d be at all satisfied is if the author did have a complete outline and story arch already done. In that case the story remains the same and while the way that story unfolds might change, at least I’ll know what happened.

    Of all the books I know that have had this happen Scarlet is the one that comes to mind, I think things were best left with MM, who I don’t think planned another book, at least then Scarlet and Rhett wouldn’t have had a brain transplant.

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  19. Caty
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 17:43:25

    Depends. If the author left drafts and detailed notes, and someone else is very carefully chosen to do the ‘finishing off’, then I don’t mind that. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt: I too loved the Wimsey novels that Jill Paton Walsh finished off.

    If the someone else is doing their own work with the original author’s characters, I’m not keen.

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  20. cecilia
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 17:56:54

    @ms bookjunkie: I have Thrones, Denominations, but to me it stands as a lesson to avoid books finished by other authors. I didn’t enjoy it at all – it didn’t ring true to me.

    Probably if I really liked a series, I could be sucked in to buying another book in the series by someone else, but just because I’m weak, not because I think it’s a good idea.

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  21. DS
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 19:35:21

    I held my breath until the last book in the House of Niccolo series by Dorothy Dunnett was finished. If she had not been able to finish the series I might have read an unfinished version but it would have been very hard to find a writer with a similar style– maybe Patricia Finney as P. F. Chisholm. Her Sir Robert Carey mysteries had a touch of Lymond.

    But then there are the V. C. Andrews books. I was never an Andrews fan– I haven’t read any of her books but they were everywhere. From what I heard Andrew Neiderman has written more books by V. C. Andrews than Andrews did. That seemed a cheat to me.

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  22. Bonnie
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 19:40:04

    No way. If the author can’t write it, I don’t want to read it. Don’t care about notes and/or outlines.

    In my mind, it wouldn’t be the same. And I’d hate it. It’d be a fraud.

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  23. Marg
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 20:03:06

    I am really torn because if there is a clear outline of how the series ends then I would like that closure, but then if the continuing author was rubbish then I don’t really want to read them finishing it off either!

    Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky was published with notes about the remaining parts of the book and was a big hit. Maybe part of that was the author’s own story playing a part in the public reaction to the book.

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  24. SonomaLass
    Mar 03, 2009 @ 21:04:34

    “It depends” for me, too (aka “Other” in this poll). If the author left clear notes, if the estate has the right motivation (finishing the story for the fans, not just making a bunch more money), if the author hired to tie the loose ends together is competent, then yes. Otherwise, please no.

    As for various examples noted above, I like the Jill Payton Walsh completions of Sayers, although I actually thought the second one, Presumption of Death was better than Thrones, Dominations. Nothing like as good as Sayers at her best, but readable and fun. I don’t like Ruth Plumly Thompsom’s Oz books much; as a kid I read them because they were better than nothing, but I quickly learned that I preferred to re-read Baum’s instead. I think Baum and Tolkien were the authors who got me hooked on re-reading favorites, because after The Hobbit and the great trilogy, none of Tolkien’s variously finished stuff worked very well for me.

    I like Brandon Sanderson as an author more than I ever like Robert Jordan, so I’m excited about him finishing The Wheel of Time with book 12 (or more — he’s prediction around 700,000 words now, so I expect it will be two or even three actual volumes when Tor publishes it).

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  25. JulieLeto
    Mar 04, 2009 @ 10:01:54

    I think I’d want to know what happened to the characters, but wouldn’t necessarily need to read the books written by someone else. Maybe every author needs to leave a “what happened to” document in their estate papers.

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  26. Anion
    Mar 04, 2009 @ 10:54:30

    Lol, I was going to say basically what Julie said. I put “Notes, anything” because I’d want to know what was planned next and how everything resolves itself ultimately. And I have writers I love who don’t write series books–I’m thinking of Barbara Michaels here, who writes series as Elizabeth Peters but not as Barbara, really, unless you count the Georgetown MacDougall trilogy–but whose work I just love so much I’d be happy to read half the book and her notes on how it ends, you know? Because every word is something to treasure.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with another author finishing the work provided their voice is similar or close. Being the morbid little thing that I am, I have actually considered what I would want if I were to die before my any of my series finished, and I do have an extremely talented friend who I think would do a fine job working from my notes. Her voice isn’t exactly like mine but I think it’s close; I have total faith that she could provide readers with something at least satisfying even if it isn’t exactly what we all hoped for. Her own published books are certainly popular enough.

    The thought of dying before completing any of my series fills me with sick dread.

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  27. Twila Price
    Mar 04, 2009 @ 13:50:26

    There are a few authors that I’d do most anything to know what happened to their characters (e.g., Kate Ross, author of the Julian Kestrel mysteries, who died mid-book of the fifth book afaik) and for them, I’d take notes, I’d take continuations (though they would have to be by someone who was close in style), whatever, just so long as I knew what HAPPENED to the characters.

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  28. kirsten saell
    Mar 05, 2009 @ 12:46:43

    When he died, David Gemmell’s publisher decided to have his wife finish his Troy trilogy, and I’m so glad they did. He’d written about 80k on the third book, and I heard she did a wonderful job completing the project.

    Now I just have to wait for the end of March, and it’s mine. All mine!

    I don’t think it would be necessary with projects like the Jason Bourne books, or Nora’s In Death books, because (unless I’m mistaken) those books each stand alone. But dang it, if it’s a true trilogy or whatever, I want to know the end.

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  29. KristieJ
    Mar 06, 2009 @ 21:06:02

    My vote was for leaving it alone. There is just something to sad and melancholy to me to read a book that was started by one person and finished by another. I even have problems reading books written by authors that are contemporaries of mine that have died.

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  30. CD
    Mar 09, 2009 @ 17:47:58

    It really depends for me. If the author epitomises a particular style then probably not. Exceptions including Christopher Tolkien whose painstaking editing of his father’s work is obviously a labour of love rather than of profit.

    For writers where the story is the thing, then no real problem especially if the person finishing their series is an established writer in their own right and it’s clear that it’s another writer, which is the case with Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan.

    “I like Brandon Sanderson as an author more than I ever like Robert Jordan, so I'm excited about him finishing The Wheel of Time with book 12 (or more -’ he's prediction around 700,000 words now, so I expect it will be two or even three actual volumes when Tor publishes it).”

    I agree – Sanderson is a much better writer than Jordan, especially in terms of character. It would be interesting if he tried to copy Jordan’s stylistic flaws as well as follow the outlines of the story.

    Also, I actually really liked Sanditon. OK, it isn’t classic Austen by any stretch, probably even if she’d finished it, but Another Lady did fine finishing the story. I wonder if we would find who that writer was…

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  31. Andrea S
    Mar 12, 2009 @ 10:38:05

    I think it very much depends on situation (like many others).

    I’m amazingly glad the Wheel of Time series is going to be finished – not being able to find out what happens in the end would be many, many years of torture. But we all know that Jordan left detailed notes and gave the outline to a few people. He prepared for someone else to finish his work and the new author is going to try and do him justice.
    So if it is a series with hanging plotlines and character arcs unfinished, I would really want the novel finished (or at least all my questions answered).

    But if it is a series without hanging plotlines, I don’t think it should be finished. Books with the same main character without a real character arc or book-to-book plotlines can be finished as the author left them. Those people who want to continue just to make money often end up screwing up the series. Or writing inferior books.

    So mostly I think Jordan is a strange case. I’m happy for it and I’m reading the book when it comes out, but continuations generally scare me.

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