Monday, December 19, 2016

SHOP TALK: How and Why Book Series End

On a book review blog last week, the talk turned to the way series end. The blogger had been disappointed in the last book of a series (I honestly can’t remember if she said which series it was) because the author had left some things open-ended and questions unanswered. She felt cheated to have invested so much time reading a series only to have it just…end. The question was: Does the author owe it to the reader to give a series a satisfactory conclusion?

It was clear from the responses to the post that a lot of people do feel cheated by the end of series, and that the blame gets placed on the author. A few years ago, because I was a reader long before I was an author, I would have agreed with them.

As a reader, I understand the frustration. I mean, a lot of people obviously didn’t like the way Charlaine Harris ended the Southern Vampires series, aka Sookie, but at least she ended it. Kim Harrison was very forthcoming about when the Hollows series will end, and she managed to tie everything up very neatly.

But you know what? Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison are best-selling authors, who can dictate the length of their series. They can wrap everything up in a pretty bow and resolve all the questions.

The rest of us schleps? Not so much. Let’s look at my Sentinels series as an example of how a series works in the real world. I turned in the manuscript for book five, BELLE CHASSE, on January 4, 2015. It came out on Nov. 8, 2016. There is one more book planned in my mind for the series, but the publisher hasn’t decided whether or not it wants to continue.

If my publisher decided that no, sales have sucked and they don’t want to publish any more, in their mind the series is over. They make that decision, not me.

EXCEPT these days, authors of orphaned series have options they didn’t have even five or six years ago. They can self-publish and continue the series. If the Sentinels series is orphaned, I can and will put out at least one final book to wrap things up. A publisher doesn’t feel loyalty to readers, but to bottom lines, and that’s the way business goes. Authors, however, owe their series readers a conclusion.  

I have no answers here—every author is different in how he or she chooses to handle the ending of a series. And I think it’s inevitable that some readers will be disappointed. I just thought it important to point out that a suddenly abandoned series usually doesn’t happen because of anything the author does or doesn’t do.

So, what say you? Have you been disappointed when favorite series ended without a satisfactory resolution of story? Do you think authors—or their publishers—have an obligation to readers to put out a final series book that wraps up the storyline?


Christine Glover said...

I just wrapped up a series myself because the third book no longer suited the publisher's line. They were great about letting me wrap it up. I know my readers want me to write another story for a secondary character, but I have moved on to other projects. It's one thing to have permission to move forward, but another to keep revisiting the series when I don't have my rights to the first two books. I'm just glad I was able to deliver book three.

I am an avid reader of many series... and it's so true... the author in a publishing house doesn't have the control over when things will end. That's based on sales and marketing dept. decisions. I haven't ever been disappointed by a series ending. I have, however, been disappointed by a series that goes on and on and on while not remaining fresh or unique. I think that is worse than an ending book that doesn't always satisfy the reader. But that is just my opinion.

At the end of the day, I hope you are able to publish all your books with your publisher and then move on to other projects.


Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks, Christine! Yes, I agree. A series can definitely go on too long. I've been pretty clear that there might be other books set in my Sentinels series world, but that series and that storyline has only one book left, whether my publisher produces it or whether it's left to me. And you're absolutely right! The author has to not only look at what's selling--because readers can be lovingly loyal--but what he or she can continue to keep fresh and moving forward.

Aidee Ladnier said...

I'm not a huge series reader because I get burned out on them. But that said, there are a few series that I return to because the writer does manage to make them seem fresh. I have a hard time writing series for the same reason. I want a new adventure.

Suzanne Johnson said...

That's interesting, Aidee...I've always been a big series fan so it's felt natural for me to write series. That said, I'm working up a proposal for a standalone suspense (not romance) since that genre seems more amenable to standalones. Sci Fi is quite often standalones. But most of the romance genres seem to trend toward series. I'm not sure about YA. The disadvantage to a series, of course, is that if it gets orphaned and I as the author feel an obligation to finish it out for the fans, I'm spending X number of months writing a book that few people will buy.

Nothing in this business can be easy!