Nov 13 2008 2:48pm

Avoid or Anticipate?: The Problem of Series

I’ve noticed a funny thing. I’ve had over a dozen and a half novels published since late 1994 when my first novel, Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls came out. During that time, no one has ever come up to me and heartily thanked me for writing a stand-alone novel.

Seriously. You’d think someone would have done so, given the lack of respect that series, especially fantasy series, get. But no one ever has.

Yet out of my nineteen novels, only eight are in series (two different series, actually). There have been plenty of opportunities for people to praise me for writing just that one novel. However, usually the response when I say, “No. I don’t have any plans to write a sequel to Child of a Rainless Year” or whichever book is under discussion, comes in the form of suggestions as to why I need to write more about those people and that place.

While I’ve never been praised for writing a stand-alone, I’ve had a lot of requests for sequels—and not only to novels, but to short fiction as well. When I finished the Wolf Series (which starts with Through Wolf’s Eyes and ends with Wolf’s Blood) I had copious e-mails asking if I was really, really done.

Some kind folks even pointed out minor elements I had left open. I felt genuine appreciation that these numerous someones could put that much energy into picking apart something I’d written. However, I also pointed out that, short of blowing up the world and turning out the lights, there is no way to absolutely, categorically end a series.

So it seems that readers like Fantasy and SF series. Yet, apparently, the fastest way to fall from grace is to write one. Books in series seem to have a lower shot at award nominations. Later books in a series seem not to get reviewed as often. (Please note I said “seem.” I haven’t done the math.) People will avoid novels with “Book One of the...” on the cover.

Why, then, are Fantasy and SF series the girl everyone wants to date, but no one wants to take home to mother?

Fantasy and SF series are too often an excuse for writing one novel that spans several volumes. Unlike Mysteries or Thrillers, which have a set goal, Fantasy and SF series can go on and on without closure.

Why did this become acceptable? Partly because, when more complex Fantasy and SF stories began to be told, the market simply wasn’t ready for Fat Books. Lord of the Rings is one story. So are the first five Chronicles of Amber (and the second set, too). But in the age of the skinny paperback, these complex stories had to be split up, and readers became conditioned to the “weak middle book,” lots of repetition, and all the other things that can make series weak.

Another problem is the time lag between books in a series. I know that I almost didn’t read the Second Chronicles of Amber because I’d noted a five year lapse between the copyright dates of volume four and five of the first set. I told the excited friend who called me with the big news that there was more Amber, “I’ll wait.” (Then because of a camping trip, I didn’t wait, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I was very aware of these twin pitfalls when I started the Wolf Series —which was my first project I planned as a series. For the first part of the problem, I decided to take one of my favorite mystery writers, Dorothy Sayers, as a model.

In Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels, Peter has a problem to solve: a body in a bathtub or whatever. While he solves that, he also must deal with personal challenges: unresolved romantic attachments, post-traumatic stress disorder, his relationship with his immediate family. By the end of the novel, we know who the body in the bathtub was, but the personal problems may or may not be resolved.

I like this approach, and although my novels aren’t murder mysteries, I try to pose myself a question at the start of each one, a problem that will be resolved by the end. This isn’t always easy, and I don’t think I quite managed with the end of Wolf Hunting but, overall, I’m happy with what I did.

I’m trying the same with Thirteen Orphans, the soon-to-be-released first novel in the “Breaking the Wall” series. These novels are shorter than those in the Wolf Series, so achieving this was harder to do, but I tried.

The second problem (delay) is solved—at least on the author’s side of the equation—by applying fingers to keyboard and tail bone to chair. And working—hard.

Okay. ’Nuf said from here.

How do you feel about series? Avoid or anticipate?

rick gregory
1. rickg
Avoid, mostly. But let me be clear - I'm talking about actual series where Book 1 leads to events in Book 2, etc., not about books set in the same universe, sometimes even with some of the same characters, but that can be read independently. In fact, I wonder if the latter is more what people are asking for when they ask you for sequels - they like the world or the characters or both, but that doesn't have to imply a serialized story. I'm thinking of Scalzi's OMW novels, John Barnes' A Million Open Doors related novels, etc.

The other reason I avoid actual series aside from what you mention is that I often feel they're padded specifically to BE series. A 300 page novel that could have been 200, but since it's a planned series of 3 novels and 600 pages is a book... John Wright's Orphans of Chaos felt like this to me - nice writing, but obviously planned as book 1 of a trilogy and thus not a complete story. Contrast this to Sanderson's Mistborn which is a well written book that is, on its own, a great read. It tells a complete story and could have been a standalone novel, but there are some loose ends that lead to another story.

And, it really does depend on the series length. A trilogy is one thing.. a nine book series? I've never started one and I doubt I ever will.
2. dwndrgn
I like both series and stand-alones. I don't have any mislike for series other than having to wait for the next one...rarely I'll wait for them all to be published to start reading #1, but I do know people who refuse to begin reading a series until they are all out.

As far as having those books reviewed, I think it is a matter of wrong place, wrong time - if the reviewer has not read book #1 or #2 or whatever, it is very difficult to agree to do that review. And if they review it anyway, the review can be flawed from lack of information.

I anticipate all good books whether they have brothers and sisters or just cousins...
Chris Meadows
3. Robotech_Master
I like series, when they're good. (And I am unashamedly one of those who wants to see more Wolf stories.) Why should we only just get to know and like the characters from a single novel and then be left without knowing what happens next?

A good series (Vorkosigan, Liaden, Kencyr to name a few) gives us the feeling we've got a relationship with those characters. We get to follow them through their lives, not just a literary one-night stand. It allows a kind of depth not possible in a single book.

Of course, the frustrating thing about them can be the time it takes between volumes coming out. The Kencyr books have always gone a year or two between volumes if the readers were lucky, and more often five or ten given P.C. Hodgell's travails with publishers publishing one book and then going under. My preference is to discover a good series after most of it has been written, as it reduces the annoying nailbiting time. :P

It should also be noted that the series thing brought annoyance to a lot of people after Tor's first e-book giveaway, when readers discovered that most of these books were the first volumes in series (or in some cases, the first volumes in multi-part novels—I'm looking at you, Peter A. David's Darkness of the Light) that were not available electronically (or in the case of PAD's DotL, at all).

That led to more than a little frustration on the part of people who wanted to dive right into the next part of the adventure but had no way to (legally) do so. (And probably some lost sales for Tor from people who illegally did so.)
Geoffrey Long
4. geoffreylong
The model you describe is similar to what Jim Butcher uses in The Dresden Files and is deployed quite frequently in TV series like House – and is most definitely the difference between series I really enjoy and series that I find somewhat dangerous. I gave up on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series because I found it so egregiously guilty of not making any major progress in each book, whereas in something like The Dresden Files you have these semi-encapsulated narratives that make each novel independently enjoyable while still driving the overarching narrative forward.

Getting back to TV, Joss Whedon's shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly handle this episodic-plus-overarching-narrative model fairly well, as does Eric Kripke's Supernatural, while Abrams' LOST and Tim Kring's Heroes are both more strictly linear and thus make each one feel more like a dedicated investment (and thus result in wavering ratings as old fans drop out and new would-be fans are scared off). I suspect this is also why Abrams' new show Fringe has, so far at least, stayed closer to the monster-of-the-week model - which, of course, is so named after Chris Carter's The X-Files. I think Whedon, Kripke, Kring and Abrams all look at Carter as the patron saint of how to handle long-running seriality in non-soap opera television, but I'm not sure any of them (or any of us, for that matter) have really figured out how to definitively solve the problem yet.

So, all that said... Frankly, I rarely pointedly avoid 'Book One' or 'episode one' of anything unless I'm unsure if I'll like it. If it looks like it's right up my alley, I'm all for it, but if it's something I'm on the fence about, then yeah - I'm more likely to pass on it than if it were a one-off. (Of course, I'll also pass on it even if it looks like it's really up my alley if I don't currently have the time or money for it; as soon as people start bundling extra time and money as pack-ins for their stuff, please let me know!)
rick gregory
5. rickg
TV is different, though. Aside from season breaks, you're only waiting another week to see the next part of the story. A book series could easily span 4,5, 6 years. Look at Rothfuss' next book in the The Name of the Wind trilogy. Written, apparently ready to go, but the HARDCOVER won't be out until 2009.

Another thing that I dislike about some series is when a book that could be a single novel is broken into three. That makes me feel like the series is a series not for writerly reasons, but to extract maximum revenue. Money's good and I like to see writers make it, but artificially making one book into 3 for that reason just rubs me the wrong way.
6. pussreboots
Thank you for writing a stand alone novel. I enjoyed it. It's also the only one of yours that I've read. It's refreshing to see a stand alone genre book.
Paul Howard
8. DrakBibliophile
To me there's two types of series. One is the "I have a big story to tell which will take more than one book". The second is "I like this character/world so I'll use it again".

Both can be good or bad. Jordan's Wheel of Time (type one) suffered because he got 'side tracked' from the main story.

Type two goes bad when the author tires of the character/world but keeps writing just for the money. Doyle tried to kill of Sherlock Holmes but got convinced to bring him back. However, some people say that the Holmes stories after the return of Holmes didn't match the earlier stories.

I personally enjoy either type of series.

While I do enjoy a stand-alone novel, to me the mark of a well written story/novel is that the reader wants to know more about the characters/world.
9. kenjiodayakaru
Regarding book series, I figured there was something to learn from television. Right now I am getting through a 60+ chapter book/series. Instead of figuring out ways to slice it into a trilogy, would it not be profitable in an e-book sales standpoint to release small packages of 2-3 chapters a month? The video game industry is testing this form of sales in releasing the bases of their games and producing the rest of their intended product in a series of episodes. With books, each 'episode' would be cheap and keep a steady stream of interest with readers. Polished, finished books would still be in demand. The Anime industry has been playing with the idea of "pay online per episode, get that amount off the final product price." That would be an added perk to this system.

My main question, as a writer getting ready for first publication, is whether or not it is best to start by selling a completed trilogy or a standalone novel.
Liza .
10. aedifica
I think my favorite situation is to find a book that can be read alone, but has other related books (same author, same world, possibly same characters). I think Steven Brust's Jhereg novels work pretty well that way; one can read them (well, the first several of them) in any order, and if one likes the style/world/character one can keep reading, and the more books one has already read in the series, the more little details one appreciates in the book at hand.

I did something similar with Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series--I read the first several books entirely out of order, reading each one as I laid my hands on it. I don't think that was an ideal way to read that series, but she's a skillful enough incluer that it worked OK there too.

I wish more series were written that way! For me it's the best of both worlds--no end-of-book cliffhangers for a sequel that might not be available right when I want it, but I still get more books about the characters and/or world that I enjoy.
Stefan Hayden
11. STHayden
TV shows have the same problems next to movies. The Wire is a great example of a show that could not get an award (even though it deserved many) because the reviewers were only required to watch one episode that made no sense out of context.

How do you even review the 6th book in a 10 book series? It's hard to give it a review independent of the other books. it's hard to tell some one they need to read 5 other books before they can review the book.

I think one reason series are not loved as much is precisely because there are no good ways to get authors awards and so some of the best authors stay away from them.

Clearly many series sell really well. Writing a well thought out multibook series is an art form that is just not respected.

Perhaps there needs to be awards geared specifically toward series. But even then how would you do it? Yearly? Series don't start or end at the same time.

If there was a good way to give awards or recognise authors who can do good work in a multibook format I think more people would be apt to respect them more.
Sherwood Smith
12. Sherwood
I love series that are actually one long story, a roman fleuve. But that story must contain interlocking arcs, for lack of a better way to say it. A single quest whose completion stretches ahead like a mirage, while the characters encounter adventure after adventure but never materially change, is less likely to catch my eye any more than an episodic mystery series in which the detective never gets older, never changes, just solves mystery after mystery...but never really goes anywhere.

Now, some readers read for those mysteries, and for the adventures encountered on the quest. I tend to read more for character than for puzzles, or for magical places and beasts, so when the characters don't really change, I lose my momentum as a reader.
Clark Tracy
13. claatra
my rule is to read a series only if I've read two or three stand-alone books by the same author and only if there are only four or five books in the series. I really get upset when I read a bloated four or five hundred page book that is just setting up another four or five hundred page book that I have to slog through and repeat five or six times only to get to an unsatisfying ending. I try to only get involved with one or two series a year, otherwise I could spend forever reading only two or three different stories. The exception to all this is Dune, but Frank Herbert wrote each Dune novel as a stand-alone that could be understood without reading the others, although it really helps. I am a little leary of starting in on the Brian Herbert/Kevin J. Anderson books because there are so many and I don't know if they are written as stand-alone's or as continuations with no resolution. It's really a big problem.
Jennifer L. Meyer
14. JLMeyer
I like series. It usually gives me something to look forward to and speculate about.

As for series set up, I like it when some type of closure is achieved by the end of the book and I prefer it if the character/personal issues are addressed with a few being solved (and possibly new questions brought up). Also some overall arc question that is addressed and finally delt with by the end.

I dont like reading series when the author is tired of writing it. It shows in the writing.
james loyd
15. gaijin
"People will avoid novels with 'Book One of the...' on the cover."

Not as much as they avoid "Book Four of the...". I'm far more likely to give Book One a chance and see if I like the series, but there's no point in reading Book N if I haven't read Book One yet.

That said, I'm off to continue Ender in Exile.
16. danceswithwaves
I think there are two types of series. One is the type where there is one main plot, one main plot-arc, going on throughout the whole series, and each book has it's own climax, but we're really waiting for the big one -- the plot binds the books together. Two is the type where there is one plot-arc per book and perhaps each arc feeds into the next, but they are all seperate and finished in each book -- what binds these books together are the characters.

Then there are the books that are in the same world and often deal with the same characters or you meet the same characters although they're now minor characters. That I don't technically call a series, but it's something.

I like series -- both kinds -- and I will start a series for various reasons. One is that a friend recomended it, two is that I've read other stuff by the author and like him/her, three is that I'm in the mood for one type of series or another and I pick it up at the library.

The point about being in the mood for the type of story is a biggie. You're getting a different deal as a reader in a type one story versus a type two story, and if you think you're getting one thing when you're getting another -- that's where you get disappointed. Sometimes you can know beforehand, but sometimes you just have to say 'look, lots of books, I'll take my chances.'

My favorite types of books are short type one series (2-4 books) and then the "somethings" where you meet the same characters again as side-characters or main characters in a companion story.
Debbie Moorhouse
17. GUDsqrl
I tend to avoid them. It's hard to get the first book in a series, it's even harder to get all the books in a series, and it's a huge financial commitment--especially when you don't know how many books there'll be.

All those Aubrey/Maturin books have cost me a fortune! lol
Amy Paul
18. redtailedhawk
I adore series. The longer, the better. I would adore series with multiple book over 800 pages. If I like a world and a cast of characters, I don't want to leave them.

I hate running out of book before I'm ready to disengage from the story. Series enable me to skip right on to book 2. I don't like waiting for book 3 to come out, but I will, and I'll be in the bookstore on the release date with my hand out for it. The employees at this bookstore know me by name and know which authors I'm in the store for.

I don't care if the series continues with the same characters or is only set in the same world. Both have their charms. I'm as big a fan of Hodgell's Kencyrath series as I am of Modesitt's Recluse Saga. I like them because they tell good stories in worlds I like, with characters I like, and they keep going.
19. cbyler
I think the "two types of series" remark applies to TV, too, at least potentially, but the only type one television series I know of was _Babylon 5_. And JMS had to revise several times for casting problems and nearly had an entire season canceled.

I'm wary of type one series over 4-5 books (although I quite enjoyed Elliott's Crown of Stars, which is 7) but there's no effective limit on type two series (which are often nicknamed after their main character(s) - Holmes, Wimsey, James Bond, Vorkosigan, Aubrey/Maturin, and potentially, Temeraire come to mind, although some of those are outside the F/SF genre).

It's also possible to combine the two by writing several type-one series that are related to each other in the same way individual books of a type-two series are. Mercedes Lackey springs to mind, but I think the Amber books actually fit this pattern too - each set of five is type-one, but the two sets have a type-two relationship to each other.

Some of my favorite authors have written both types of series - for example, Bujold's Vorkosigan and Chalion universes are type two (the only characters the third Chalion book has in common with either of the other two are the gods), but the Sharing Knife series is type one.
Alida Saxon
20. alida
I am leery of a big series. I like to walk away with something being resolved at the end of a book. Sure, more can go on in that universe, but I don't like the rest of a conflict being held hostage, especially if it hasn't been published yet.

I do book swapping and used book buying, so I tend to save those books I'm unsure about for discount prices. The only time I've broken this is when I can get my hands on a book in the store and read a few pages of the start and finish. The start of the book really has to grab me if I'm going to put up with any To Be Continued situations at the end.

I'm sure I'm missing some good books this way, but I've no lack of books to read regardless, so I'm not motivated to change my ways.
Becca Hollingsworth
21. bibliobeque
If I ever get to meet you I will thank you effusively for writing stand-alone novels.

I read books in series too, of course, both Type I (one story, too big for one book) and Type II (related stories in the same world or with the same characters). I prefer the second type, largely because I think a lot of authors of the first type of series are just having fun tinkering with clocks and running up and down secret stairs when they could have finished the story long ago. I give up after two or three books with no discernible forward progress.
Chris Meadows
22. Robotech_Master
I think the problem with long series is that as they go further and further on, people feel like they don't have a good enough jumping-on point to get into them, and so don't bother picking them up. Later books almost always undersell earlier ones.

Baen has done a good job of getting around this with David Weber's Honor Harrington series, though. At first you could get the first one, then you could get the first few, and now you can get the entire series thus far for free on the Internet, legitimately. That lets people who want to catch up, and it seems to keep Weber's books selling.
Sandi Kallas
23. Sandikal
I avoid series. I think Rickg pretty summed up my opinions in the first comments.

Jane, I've never seen your books in the bookstore. However, you're on my radar now, so I will be keeping my eyes open. I've been avoiding fantasy because of the epic series trend that dominates the market.
King Rat
24. kingrat
To paraphrase my mother, you want praise for doing something you are supposed to do?

(Yes, I snark.)
rick gregory
25. rickg
GUDsqrl makes a point that I think should be amplified... if it's a linear series (Type 1 above, where you mostly need to read the books in order), finding book 1 can be a PITA. I cannot reald John Wright's Golden Age trilogy yet for this reason - I can find the middle and end novels easily... but the stores near me don't have the first book. Sigh...
Sol Foster
26. colomon
I tried to come up with some sort of rules for how a series should be written, but it seems to me that Xanth does everything right (series-wise) and Aubrey/Maturin does everything wrong, yet IMO the former is complete dreck and the latter is one of the great works of 20th century literature.

It seems to me that a series has the potential to amplify a writer's characteristics. They let a lazy writer be even lazier, and a writer who drones on endlessly fill up thousands of pages without ever reaching a conclusion. But they also give good writers a wonderfully rich canvas to work with.

I think a lot of the bad reputation out there comes from two trends. The first is the unnecessary rehash sequel, where the primary motive obviously was "the first made money, so let's do it again!" The second is the dreaded Epic Tolkien With The Serial Numbers Filed Off series. And of course, series are hard to give awards to, and it's not clear what the point of reviewing, say, book 13 is -- probably everyone has figured out whether they are interested or not by that point.

Still, I guess for me it comes down to this. There is no reason that "a single novel" is the perfect length for a tale. Some tales make brilliant short stories. Some are great novels. And some are wonderful long series. I'm glad "Fondly Fahrenheit" was written, and I'm sad that O'Brian never finished book 21 of Aubrey/Maturin.
27. Mr Wesley
Personally, I prefer the stand-alone novel or the episodic type of series over the "one story/many books" kind of series, because I like to read a variety of styles of books, and I have difficulty committing more than a month at a time to one universe.

Having said that, Mike Stackpole of the podcast has made an excellent point in regards to ANY series: I will never pick up any Book 4 of a series unless I can find Book 1. If the earlier books in a series are out of print, there's virtually no point to buy the later books.
Jane Lindskold
28. janelindskold

Amazing comments.

Thanks for the thanks...

And, dear Snarker, no, I don't want praise. I want clarification of puzzlement.

You folks are contributing to such!

Matthew Brown
29. morven
Too many TV series end in one bad way or another bad way. These two are:

1: Cancelled before completion. If you're lucky, the show gets a season, or half a season, or two episodes, or whatever to wrap itself up in some kind of conclusion, however forced and unsatisfactory. The unlucky series just dies, mid-stream.

2: The ideas finish before the show does. Show tries to drag on to keep viewership which eventually tails off and it gets killed.

Very rare is it to find a TV series that finishes what it has to say then ends when it should.

I think there's the same problems in serial fiction. Series never getting finished is one problem. Series that go longer than the author's love of the subject matter or their ability to continue to be creative within it are another.

It's incredibly easy to be indulgent in series fiction. To produce flawed work because either (a) the readers want more, or (b) because the author gets lazy/complacent.
Matthew Brown
30. morven
It also strikes me, reading through the above comments, that many successful series manage to be a mix of danceswithwaves' type 1 and type 2.

That's what I like about P.C. Hodgell's Kencyr books, for one thing: there is, sure, an overall plot, a destination, in there somewhere (though with the denouement comfortably far off right now; no way can she end this in less than 3 more books, I think, and it could easily stretch out longer) but the storytelling has a lot more to do with the type 1 style.

This is probably why her fans haven't given up despite the 24 years in which only 4 volumes have come out. The stories are satisfying within themselves. There's no "weak middle book" (something writers of *logies need to work really hard to avoid).

Hodgell hasn't been indulgent with herself or her readers, either; there are plenty of places where she could have stopped and just given us More Of Juicy Same. She could have written a ten-book series just within her first backdrop, Tai-Tastigon; other writers have with similar material. Instead, she's left the reader satisfied but not glutted; each book is new, in a new setting, new crazy flights of imagination.

I think that's possibly part of the key; never indulge the reader by giving them what they think they want - every single drop that can be squeezed out of a setting or a story or a situation or a character. Leave more for the reader's imagination. Let their mind fill in more. Much better to do that than leave the reader (and author) tired of the scenery.

It strikes me that Hodgell's Jame and Miles Vorkosigan have a HUGE lot in common, too ... it would be a scary reality if they could meet; what would withstand them?

They're both vortexes of chaos, destruction and renewal, unable to pass through a place or a life without changing it and perhaps destroying it. I think that's part of the successful series, as well; things must change. None of that carefully setting the pieces back where they were in the beginning, as if it's the tide washing away the footprints in the sand. I hate that aspect in series; where nothing changes, where the book is effectively meaningless, just a stretched out and pointless diversion.

(They're also the same archetypal character in that they're the loner seeking to belong yet at the same time glad of being different; set apart by physical difference from their kin; both with the same facility to become different characters in other peoples' settings; and both with the same crazy urge to run TOWARD the loud noises and shouts, rather than sensibly in the opposite direction.)
Madeline Ferwerda
31. MadelineF
One trouble with episodic series that hasn't been mentioned is that, when they have an overarcing plot, there must be continual motion on it. Take the Anita Blake books: the first few, you're like, is she going to go with the vampire or the werewolf? Vampire or werewolf? V? W? And then you realize that this overarcing thing is a lie and nothing will ever change. At which point I usually decide the author is screwing with me and abandon everything they write.

Whereas with something like the Skeeve books, it's clear that it's just going to be a couple of guys bouncing around the universe and that's all you get, and if that's what you like, yay, and if not there's no expectation that it's ever going to have a payout. (At least, I remember the Myth books as books with no overarcing series plot.)

Looks like it's pretty easy to come up with excuses to hang onto your characters and write another book, instead of completing the farreaching change that you started. Lot easier to start trouble than to end it.

On the two ends of the overarcing plot spectrum, Bujold does excellently because Miles does have to bite a lot of bullets. Brust does excellently because it's not a focus that books hang on, the question of Vlad's old soul and WTF is up with it.
Matthew Brown
32. morven
MadelineF: I agree. I can tolerate, as you say, series in which it's pretty much laid out that there's no over-arching plot, and that the main characters are going to exit pretty much the way they went in.

If the author sets up a belief that there's going to be progression, then there damn well should be progression. Even if there's no big ultimate aim. There's no big overarching Big Idea at the end of Miles Vorkosigan's journey, but every book changes him. He's never quite the same going out as going in, at least because as you say, he has to bite a lot of bullets; he's going to take damage and is going to have to heal, and won't be quite the same again.

Vlad doesn't CHANGE as much as he LEARNS, both about himself and about his world. The progression there is knowledge, not movement.
L J Young
33. ljyoung
I look forward to reading your stand-alone novels, of which I have only read 7 so far. I have some of the Wolf series, but when we moved, they were not packed in the same box. And, since we do not have enough bookshelves yet for all our books, some are still in boxes in the garage and some in boxes in the basement. I do not want to read the series until I have them all together. But, I am thrilled to read any stand-alone novels I come upon in a box. We stocked up on lots of books when a local bookstore went out of business - it's hard to resist 75% off. Thank you for writing stand-alone novels. I actually read one of them last weekend.
J Dalziel
34. BunnyM
Allow me to say that I have read Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls several times and adored it each time.

And pretty much everything else I'd say seems to have been covered already, so I'll leave it at that, other than to say thank you for writing Brother.. , as I love it to bits, and no doubt will continue to do so for years to come.
35. Gwen2
I enjoy both stand-alone and series novels. But there is very little as annoying as picking up what appears to be a stand-alone novel only to discover at the end that it is actually the first in a series and only provides minor resolutions. If a book is in a series, I want to know, upfront, what I'm getting into.
Sandi Kallas
36. Sandikal
Gwen, I might suggest that the only thing more annoying than finding out you've picked up book one of a series is realizing that you've picked up book 2 or 5 or some other one in the middle.
Blaine Moore
37. Zackalthair
Most of the time, I love series so long as the books are good. The only problem I have with it is that it's very annoying when the series gets too long (I'd consider 8 or so books too long) and you can't tell which comes when, or when you can't find the first book in the series.
Rich Rennicks
38. RichR
This is a question that causes me plenty of stress as a bookseller.

I tend to try to avoid subsequent novels in a numbered series if the first wasn't a hit for our store. Even if it was, I often find it harder to justify display space for those subsequent novels (or at least not for long) because I see the market as limited to those who have already read book 1, so they are often just spined out on the shelf.

On the other hand, while a numbered series is ongoing, I will keep quantities of all the books on hand while we have some sales (and usually multiples of the first book), as I've observed that some people are more inclined to start a series when they see that they can return and get the next books in the series easily. This is probably good for bringing new readers to the series, but can be problematic for some stores as it requires you to carry more inventory than if all the author's books were standalones (and often slow moving inventory: the first and most recent books always have the most sales, the in-between books just chug along unless you have a bookseller really handselling the series) -- so many just cut the cord and carry the most-recent book only.

(And I'm not implying that stores would/should simply drop the pervious book once a new one comes out. If an author has multiple standalones, you can handsell each one individually, and any can be an entry point for a reader new to that author. If they're all part of a numbered series, who's going to randomly start with #3?)

Then there's the problem of time. Some series develop over years, and sometimes the first books in the series go out of print before the last books are released. That's when I throw up my hands in frustration.

So I think you're dead on with your Lord Peter-model, wrap up the major question in each book but keep the character's lives and adventures moving forward to be resolved in future books. And don't let the sales dept. put book 2,3 etc. on the covers.
rick gregory
39. rickg
I was with you right up to "And don't let the sales dept. put book 2,3 etc. on the covers."

I HATE it when I get home and find out that the book I thought was a standalone is part of a series. HATE IT. The hate (OK dislike... ) is lessened if the book can be read and enjoyed much as a standalone, but I still don't like the deception. I understand your issues... but not being upfront with readers seems wrong. And to me, a series of standalone novels with only slight evolution is very different than a true series where you really need to read all of the books.

I do wonder if future in-store print on demand technology could help with t he stock issue. Or ebooks, though those present other issues for independents.
Rich Rennicks
40. RichR
@rickg You're right. Sorry, didn't mean to advocate misleading the reader. Not sure why I wrote that. Waffling on too long as usual.
Anna Victoria L
41. AnnaVi777
I like to read. In general. If a book is good, and the ending ties up most points, I am perfectly at ease with it being a standalone. However, when the character's story has not been told in its entirety, and you know to the depths of your soul that it should continue, and grow and develop as a child would in the womb, then you can only hope that the author would continue their work upon such a thing, rather than leave it in an unformed state. I have read Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls more than once, and fully enjoy it. It is a good example of a book written to BE a book, not a series. Its ending leaves you thinking that there SHOULD be more, yet dreading the outcome should that happen, knowing that the story has finished telling you what it would.

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