Mon
Apr 6 2009 11:50am

So, what sort of series do you like?

I love series because when I love something I want more of it. Sure I’ll buy an utterly new book by an author I like, but I also want to find out what happened to the characters I already know I care about. I never realised quite how much genre readers love series until I got published though. People are always asking me if I’m writing a sequel to Tooth and Claw (No!) and if I’ll write any more of the Small Change books. (No!) Some people really don’t want to let go. And of course I’m the same, when I heard Bujold was writing a new Miles book I bounced up and down for hours.

So, fine, everyone loves series. But what kind of series do you like?

The Lord of the Rings isn’t a series, it’s one long book published in three volumes for technical bookbinding reasons. Cherryh’s Union Alliance books are a series, they’re all independent stories with their own plots and their own characters, but set in the same universe. Away from those extremes there are Bujold’s Vorkosigan books and Brust’s Vlad books where the books are about the same characters but are all independent stories and you can start pretty much anywhere, and in contrast Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths books and Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet where the individual books have their own story arcs but the later volumes really aren’t going to make as much sense if you haven’t read the earlier volumes.

So, there’s style one, The Lord of the Rings, one book with extra pieces of cardboard.

There’s style two, Doctrine of Labyrinths, where you have some volume closure but need to read the books in order.

There’s style three, Vlad and Vorkosigan, where the cumulative effect of reading all of them is to give you a story arc and more investment in the characters, but it doesn’t really matter where you start and whether you read them in order.

And there’s style four, Union Alliance, where the volumes are completely independent of each other though they may reflect interestingly on each other.

I’ve been thinking about this because

Just as I’ve been thinking about the Vorkosigan books and the way they’re a series, Sarah Monette made a post in her livejournal in which she talks about the way her books have not had a series name or numbers attached to them, and how the reviews of the fourth book, Corambis, seem to assume that it’s a bad thing that it’s part of a series and you need to have read the others for it to make sense. And she goes on to ask some interesting questions about the marketing decisions made with those books.

Personally, I like all four kinds of series, as you can tell by the way I can come up with examples of all of them off the top of my head and from my own bookshelves. What I can’t stand is when I pick up a random book in a bookshop or the library and it’s part of a series and that isn’t clearly indicated anywhere on it. I’ve picked up random volumes that are clearly part of a series in style one or style two, read a bit, been utterly confused, and never looked at the author again. I hate this. But Sarah says this is what marketing specifically required:

(M)y editor told me that we couldn’t put Book One of the Doctrine of Labyrinths on the cover or in the front matter. Marketing wouldn’t let us.

She explained their reasoning to me: if a person buys a book and then discovers it’s part of a series, they are more likely to buy the other books, whereas if a person picks up a book in a bookstore and sees it’s Book Two, they won’t buy it. (I think there’s a self-defeating flaw in this reasoning, since it assumes that Book One will not be near Book Two on the bookstore shelves, but that’s neither here nor there.) Never mind the fact that a person who buys a book only to discover it’s Book Two is likely to be an unhappy person, and never mind that, since the damn thing ISN’T LABELED as Book Two, the person has no immediately obvious and easy way of figuring out either which series it’s a part of, nor which books in the series come BEFORE it . . . Marketing said, Thou Shalt Not Label The Books Of Thy Series, and lo, the books were not labeled.

Crazy for a style one or two series. But it’s going to work fine with a style three or four series.

Now the Vorkosigan books (style three) are very good about this. They don’t say “Volume X of Y” on them, but they don’t need to. But they do have a timeline in the back that tells you precisely how to read them in internal chronological order. When I randomly picked up Brothers in Arms in the library many years ago, I could tell it was a series book and read it anyway.

I wonder if publishers and marketing people are sometimes mistaking a style one or two series for a style three or four series, or mistaking what works for a style three or four series as something that ought to work for all series. Or maybe they want every series to be a style three series—in which case, they should perhaps mention this to their authors. Certainly nobody has ever said this to me, and my first two published books were a style one, and it looks as if nobody has said it to Sarah either. And are style three series what readers want? I mean I like them, but as I already said, I like all these kind of series.

How about you? What sort of series do you like, and how would you like it to be labelled?

58 comments
Jesús Couto Fandiño
1. Breogan
I dont know if it is me getting older or what, but every year I find myself liking series less and enjoying standalone books more.

The breaking point for me is trilogy - if your books are trilogy, I may get it. If your books are a "sequence" of god knows how many books and closure is not even in the horizon (meaning 3 more books are quite possible), I'm not going to pick it unless somebody tells me is mana from heaven, and maybe even then I will not (I'm not following Song of Ice & Fire more or less for that reason only)

Given that, I'm more partial to types 3 & 4, "series" that really arent, more like "stories in the same settings and with the same characters", which mean I can enjoy one, forget about it, and later find a new one on the bookstore and say hey, I'll buy that, I'm almost sure I'm going to enjoy it. Or not, or leave it for later, no problem :-P
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
Like Breogan, I am getting very hesitant to try a unfinished style one series these days, or even a style two, since it's often hard to tell if a style two will stay that way or turn into a style one.

This is partly because style one & two are often epic fantasy, which is a subgenre that I'm just not as interested in these days, but partly because I've been burned before. I know always talk about this, but King's Dark Tower series is my perfect encapsulation of the problem: first I waited and waited and waited and waited, and then when I got an ending, I loathed it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns.

Of course there's no guarantee that I'll be able to tell, from reviews, if a series does end well--lots of non-insane people apparently liked the end of Kage Baker's Company books, for instance. But the odds strike me as better.

Also, a style one series takes up more of my time, because if I read it as it comes out, I'll have to re-read when the next one comes out.
Lena Vogelmann
3. kalafudra
I don't really mind whether it's a series or not - if it's interesting, I'll pick it up, no matter how many books, if it isn't, I won't, no matter how many books.
If I like it, I'll continue reading (if there is something to contineu with). If I don't like it, I won't (no matter whether there's something to continue it with).

But I absolutely hate (and I mean _HATE!_) it, when books of a series are not labelled as such. And actually, I'm much less likely to pick a book up if I suspect it's a series, but I can't see which part it is. Because then I gotta go and do my research first (uhm, yeah, I'm kinda OC in reading books in internal chronological order). After I found out which the first part of the series is, I might already have found out that it really sucks, or that it's headed some place I really don't care about etc.
Also, I'm a Little Miss Scatterbrain... so I tend to forget the order of books within a series and then a small number somewhere on the book itself is really helpful.

This is of course especially true for style one and two, but also for style three and four - is a timeline really too much to ask for? I'm assuming that most people picking up books can read, so a timeline with a note saying: "You don't need to read the books in any special order to understand them completely, but if you want to anyway, here's a chronology!" should translate into the reader's brain as "You don't need to read the books in any special order to understand them completely, but if you want to anyway, here's a chronology!" And then the reader can decide for herself whether she wants to or not.

I think it's very sad if publishers/marketing dept.s/whoever feel the need to trick the readers into buying their books by making everybody's life more difficult and with a big potential of leaving everybody involved unhappy. And it does feel like cheap trickery, even if it's not intended as such.
Ursula L
4. Ursula
I've read, and liked, all types of series. But for a type 1 or type 2, I tend to prefer to read the series only after it is complete. A one or two year wait on a cliffhanger isn't fun, and there is always the risk of the author being hit by a Hypothetical Bus and never being able to finish the series. Plus I find I generally have to go back and reread the earlier books each time a new volume comes out, which is fine if the series is a great one, but for something that's good but not great, it may not be worth the effort.

I'm also more likely to start a type 1 or 2 series if I see that the author has already published several books, or a completed series. Book One from an author who's never published before, with no idea if they're the sort of person to follow through, or if their publisher is committed to the series, is a bit of a risk for the reader.
Jesús Couto Fandiño
5. Breogan
Oh yea, completed series get a + in my "next target to acquire" algorithm :-P

But part of my rejection about long series is that.. I dont know, but I find that when somebody has a clear story to tell, and manages to tell it, normally it doesnt take more than 3 books.

On the other hand, long series have a high probability of being: commercial interests keeping a franchise alive, a severe lack of editors to keep the writer honest, or just the fact that said writer doesnt really have any clear, concise idea to tell and is spinning the wheels
Torie Atkinson
6. Torie
I don't mind any kind of series as long as each book has its own arc that ends satisfyingly. I can't abide books that are merely cliffhangers, but I don't mind if there's a greater arc that takes a few books to accomplish.

A good trilogy will work that way--I just finished Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy and thought it fit the bill perfectly. Each book ended satisfyingly, but there was definitely a greater arc that tied all three together.

So generally, I think, I prefer books that are set in the same universe or with the same characters but that work on their own. That said, a good epic fantasy spanning many books is uniquely satisfying in a way unlike other kinds of books, but only (and I really mean only) if it's clear that things were plotted out from the beginning, with a natural conclusion. I hate getting to late books in a series and feeling like the author had no idea what was going to happen in the beginning and he or she is just making it up along the way before running out of steam and then slapping something together.
Will Ellwood
7. Will Ellwood
I just hate series of books in general. I've been burned too many times by books that have been stretched out into more than one book, or worse sequels that don't have anything to fucking say.

If a book is part of a series my interest in reading it drops by about half.

Give me standalone novels with new ideas every time.
Emily Cartier
8. Torrilin
Actually... In the US, the first edition of Brothers in Arms was the book that set up Baen's standard style for the Vorkosigan series. All first editions thereafter (and a lot of the combo volumes) have a consistent art style and are labeled as part of the Vorkosigan series. The art is a fairly logical visual followup to the "original" art for Warrior's Apprentice. (I can't swear to what happened to Barrayar as my parents only have the Analog serial printing... but the Miles books are consistent)

I'm not a huge fan of the look, but they *are* clearly labeled.

Most episodic series do well partly because they get a nice solid visual style and label early on. Happened for Vlad. Happened for Darkover. Happened for Pern.

The problem is it's very difficult to write a good episodic series. Instead, we mostly get serials. And as near as I can tell, the average reader thinks that anyone who publishes a serial in anything other than one volume should burn in hell and they don't care about the physics. (which is how we end up with all 10 Amber volumes bound into one book that promptly tries to fall apart)
John Frim
9. dayfax
I have to agree with Breogan. The older I get, the less time and patience I have for series and, frankly, 600+ page genre novels.

I appreciate an economy of style and my favorite genre novels are the ones that get you in and out of a story in a couple of hundred pages while still managing to tweak your brain (Philip K Dick) and punch your soul (Jim Thompson).

If I have to choose a model, I'd go with one where the universe is the same but the characters and stories necessarily aren't (LE Modesitt's Order Wars, or Iain Banks Culture stuff). Or one where the protagonist is the same, but the stories are different (Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming). That way I can pick and choose what I want without feeling like I'm making an enormous commitment in time or money.

PS: Interesting that you note the marketing guys are still behaving as if it's 1995. It seems to me that the bookstore-shelf model is growing increasingly irrelevant in the face of Amazon, smartphones, ereaders, and Kindle 3G-everywhere access.
BryceL Liskovec
10. likwidoxigen
I really love the Terry Brooks (The Sword of Shannara books series) style of a series. You can pick up any of the books and make it through with fairly little need to read the other books and yet if you read them all in order you don't feel like you had to sit through any mind numbing repetitive back story.
Richard Fife
11. R.Fife
I enjoy Type 1-3. Not so much a fan of Type 4 because I like having a strong chronology/story arc to the characters. And I agree with Torie: I don't overly like cliffhangers, at least not early on. Wheel of Time has had some pure cliffhanger books in its later parts, but that wasn't so bad since I was already deeply invested with the characters and storyline from the first five well-wrapped up books, with the first three having very nice "everyone gets back together FTW" endings.

But yeah, I loathe with the whole of my bitter, twisted heart when a series is not labeled well with chronology. Heck, this is the very reason I have yet to pick up the Shannara(sp?) series. I have no clue where to start in that universe, even after reading the back-copy of 10 of the books in Barnes and Noble, and I'm a stickler for "published order". I can understand on the first print not putting "Book One of X" just so, without Book2+ available yet, it can stand as the possibly stand-alone book it should be, but for Cthulhu's sake, label the later (mass market, etc) editions! Or a chonology, that'd be nice too.
Will Ellwood
12. mkd
I'm with R.Fife re: character development. I like the ginormous epic fantasies, but Terry Pratchett does a lighter version very well with the books centering on Vimes. You could pick up any of the books independently and be just fine, and, especially in the later books, get a nice dose of character development, but if you read them in the order of events you get an even better look at the character and his larger development arc.
Paul Eisenberg
13. HelmHammerhand
A number of years ago, I started reading Harry Turtledove's alternate histories. I enjoyed the characters and what he did with the genre, but there never seemed to be any resolution. Instead of a well crafted story, the series seemed to degenerate into something I likened to a soap opera. So I stopped and never returned.

From my earliest days, I was taught that a story has to have a beginning, middle and end, and the lack of an end for me is rather offputting. It's one reason I never picked up the Wheel of Time.

That said, good books always leave me wanting more. Had Stephenson continued his Baroque Cycle, I might still be enthused and gobbling them up well into book 8 or 9. But probably not. It's just too hard to stay interested in an arc that traverses more than 4,000 pages.
I also feel the gigantic, neverending series route is a sign of laziness in writing. It's hard to finish a story satisfactorily, and I get the feeling that some writers just avoid doing it altogether. Or at least put it off.

I just finished Vernor Vinge's "A Fire Upon the Deep" and loved every second of it. Now I'm looking forward to "A Deepness in the Sky," which I understand is set in the same universe, but completely apart from the characters and even places set in the first.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think that's my favorite model for conceptual continuity- creating a fascinating place, and then telling all the stories that occur there.
Going back to Stephenson, it's like the relationship between "Cryptonomicon" and the Baroque books. Completely different books with a few threads in common (the largest being not the ancestral links between the characters, but the exploration of the workings of commerce).

So I guess that puts me in columns one and four.
Leigh Butler
14. leighdb
Ironically, all things considered, I've tended these days to rather avoid style one, unless they are already finished. Okay, you can stop laughing now.

I do enjoy series in the manner of, say, Jim Butcher's Dresden Files (synergy!) which is style two, because as you say, there is closure as well as ongoing plotty fun. Is it just me, or is pretty much every series in the urban fantasy subgenre more or less this style?

As for the Vlad books being style three, that's only mostly true; even Brust says he recommends against starting with Teckla.

I don't actually like style four, I don't think; I may be metaphorically stoned for this, but after reading and greatly enjoying A Fire Upon the Deep, I started A Deepness in the Sky and was perturbed enough by the lack of continuity that I drifted off it within a hundred pages - even though I knew going in that none of the characters would be the same. I dunno.
Richard Fife
15. R.Fife
Leigh, I actually lost connection with Dune because of that same thing. I wanted to read about the times and trials of Paul, and then I only got two books of him, so set apart in the series that they might as well have been stand alones, and then he is a background character in book 3 and dies, then book for is like several thousand years later. Oi. Which is why I stopped after book 3, even knowing Paul is "resurrected" later in the series or whatever.

And I am still laughing, by the by.
Will Ellwood
16. Tom L Waters
I like your categories.

I enjoy all four types, and I want the first three to be labeled as a series. (Even for type three, I very much want to start at the beginning.) I find it really annoying to basically have to conduct an internet research project to figure out what's connected to what and in what order.
rick gregory
17. rickg
I dislike the type 1 series the way it's done these days because it's almost always a marketing thing vs a story that actually requires multiple books. Too often, series of this type feel padded so that they take more space and can be a series versus being a rich, complex story that just could not take less space.

I also grow suspicious when virtually every thing by an author is a trilogy or longer - is it done because the author is so full of amazing intricate worlds that they can't write a one book novel? Or because they can pump out words and series sell?

Unless a series is 1) a trilogy (not longer), 2) done and in paper and 3) getting very good reviews I just won't buy a series where each book doesn't have a resolution and where they have to be read in order. Books set in the same universe? Sure. With shared or the same characters? Ok. Books that follow a story but where they all come to a resolution at the end of each book? Of course. Books that follow a marketing plan so that author and publisher can extract more money from me with less effort? No thanks.
Chris Taylor
18. Sidereal
I used to like all four types, but I look at my TBR shelf and I see multiple "book 4" waiting to be read, all of style 1 or style 2. When the gap between publishing the books is long enough, I want to reread the previous books. But it's getting tiresome to do all the re-reading when there are so many new books I could be reading instead. So these days I'm being very careful about style 1 or 2 series, and instead preferring style 3 or 4.

I'm liking the Vlad books, Butcher's Dresden series, and Green's Nightside books as style 3 or 4. Even though they are really style 2, Stross's "Clan" books are coming rapidly enough that I can still remember the major plot points from one to the next.

And I am not reading any new Wheel of Time books until they are ALL done, and then I'm reading the whole series from start to finish. And then I'll use them to build a latter day Tower of Babel.

Sidereal
Elizabeth Coleman
19. elizabethcoleman
I'm all about the worldbuilding, so my favorite series are the ones like Darkover, which span huge periods of time and characters, sometimes with short multi-book arcs within, and in Darkover's case, volumes of short stories to fill in gaps and add bonus details.

I don't know why it's so hard for books to get labeled. Just the other day I wanted to read a book by a pair of authors I know, and the one at the library wasn't marked. There wasn't even a list on the inside cover showing the books in order. I read it and was all, "uurr... stuff's happening." Too much stuff. Later, the internet told me I'd picked up book 5 out of 6! *

I can live without resolution--heck, making up your own theories is sometimes more fun and satisfying than the actual ending--so I don't mind buying books before the series is done.

* One of my useless superhero powers is the ability to read series backwards. I don't know why, but when I randomly pick up a book, whether at the library or store, it is inevitably the most recent. I stubbornly muddle through, despite my confusion.
piaw na
20. piaw
I definitely dislike Type 1 series nowdays, mostly because of Robert "died before the finish was completed" Jordan, and George R. R. "One whole book where nothing happens" Martin. That said, something like "The Black Company" is a very good example of a coherent, well done Type 1 series.

I'm a big fan of Iain M. Banks and Alastair Reynolds' series, however.
Luke M
21. lmelior
Great discussion...you guys are making my reading list longer and longer. Laughed out loud at Leigh @14 (sorry Leigh, love your re-reads).

I don't think I can say much that hasn't already been said, except that I don't mind one way or another, as long as it's done well. I'm thinking that just because you've read any number of series that fit one style that you didn't like, I don't think you can really say you dislike everything done in that style.
Richard Fife
22. R.Fife
A thought: my biggie is that book one needs to stand alone no matter what. Book two can have a cliffhanger if its a trilogy, otherwise, my rule of thumb is the first 3rd to half of the series needs to have satisfying endings before cliffhangers start ending the books instead of climaxes and denouements.
rick gregory
23. rickg
The excuse for long series seems to be worldbuilding... but does it really take thousands of pages to build a convincing world? Frank Herbert did it in one book in Dune. Tolkien in The Hobbit or Fellowship. Yes, there's more detail that can be brought up, but sheer detail does not equate to worldbuilding.
James Goetsch
24. Jedikalos
George R.R. Martin's recent famously unfinishing series has left a bad taste in my mouth for that kind of series: I was so into it and then that last one added nothing and its all just hanging there and now I refuse to read any more of it even if it comes out and everyone says it is amazing: I'm just sick of thinking about it now!

I will go with style four--Union Alliance type--from here on out.
Madeline Ferwerda
25. MadelineF
I enormously prefer style 3. Style 4 can be nice; I like the way there are common threads through a lot of Andre Norton's space books, frex; and I enjoy shared-world short story books.

Style 2 is pushing it... Maaaaybe there's something worthwhile there, but usually it's just "a bunch of stuff happens and then there's a reveal or somebody dies"--that is to say, something kinda meh happens that doesn't really pay it off for me in terms of the energy invested into the book.

I scorn style 1. Like rickg, I feel that most of the time it's the mark of an author who has a cement truck full of words and by god he's going to start pouring. I like books to be about something, and that many words obscure the point... And I feel most of the time that's because the author hasn't really thought about the point. Just read a bit of a book that had mostly chapters of doomed character's POVs, and marvelled that someone could again and again waste 40 pages of my time without giving me a reason to give a damn... I guess the author was aiming at explaining the story, but the tedious way he went about it, he'd have been far better off to just state flat out in one sentence "the king lived in a state of pleasant denial."
C C
26. Hatgirl
Style 2 - volume closure but need to read the books in order.

The Dresden Files are such a good example of this done well. And that's also how I treat a Style 3, whether the author likes it or not ;-)

I'm also rather fond of a Type 1 "Really Only One Book" when they stick to the predicted number of books. Like Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series. 7 days, 7 keys, and exactly 7 books!
Will Ellwood
27. OtterB
I'm not wild about Style 1, although I will read one if recommended when I have all volumes available.

I'm okay with Styles 2, 3, or sometimes 4, but agree that it's helpful to have them labeled in some connected way, especially for a style 2 when they should be read in order. With 4, like some other people mentioned, I sometimes am disappointed that the same characters don't show up again. Other times, if the new characters are engaging enough, that's okay, and recognizable cross-connections are a pleasant bonus.

I have mixed feelings on the marketing of a style 2 or 3. It's true that I don't normally buy volume 2 of something I haven't read volume 1 of. If volume 2 catches my interest in the bookstore, but vol 1 isn't there, I'm likely to come home and check out vol 1 on Amazon. On the other hand, books labeled "Volume 1 of the NotherFantasyWorld Chronicles" tend not to grab me either. For better or for worse I tend to let series get a couple of books in before I decide if I want to go back and read the beginning ones or not. I suppose this is hard on authors who need the sales numbers to make the later volumes happen. It does at least give them a positive trend through the series.

And another good Style 2 series not yet mentioned is (are?) Jane Lindskold's Firekeeper books.
Will Ellwood
28. sunjah
I'm with Breogan et al. My tolerance for types one and two has declined with age and experience. I am more likely to try them if there is a reasonable number of volumes (3-4) and/or all are published. My personal suspicion (as an educated reader, not a writer) is that a good well-plotted story arc can be told in 3 or 4 books in most cases with rare extensions to 5 for good reasons. Backstory, sidestory, and afterstory can then be published as... other books(!) with their own story arcs,thus satisfying the readership's clamor for MORE without bloating the main series. Or one's heirs can publish reams of appendices, a la JRRT. ;0)

Type 3 is my favorite sort of series. Best of all worlds as far as I am concerned.

I was willing to start Bujold's Sharing Knife books before they were all published b/c 1)I like everything else she has written--unlikely I will be disappointed 2)her blog posts indicated she knew fairly well where she was going with it and was well in the grip of the story as it were. I can't really imagine her getting lost partway.
Estara Swanberg
29. Estara
I tend to follow authors and worldbuilding, so any loved author can sell me the first book of anything. However if I don't like it I won't buy the rest if it is a series. I'll just wait until they set up another world or series or whatever.

I prefer big books though, whether series or single books. Ilona Andrews just released Magic Strikes at only 300 pages, that's too little Kate& Co.!

With new-to-me authors I tend to read reviews from trusted sources first, I've come across a lot of authors this way that I didn't know of when their books came out the first time.

With a huge series like Wheel of Time I would usually also prefer the series to be completed (it lost me after book 6, but not because of the slowness of release).

On the other hand C.J. Cherryh is releasing the first book in her fourth trilogy about the Foreigner universe at the end of the month and I have that on preorder, because I've loved the previous nine books set there.
Will Ellwood
30. Ishkandar
I like all styles !! However, I positively detest those authors who start a good series off and then descend to pot-boilers by book 3 or 4 and carry on churning out book after book without any real substance.

Those who read avidly and catholically (with a small "c") will know who I mean. I truly admire those writers who have the guts to say enough is enough and stop a series even though they may not make any more money out of that "universe" and have to slog hard to create a new "universe" to write new novels in !!

What also upsets me is when an author splits a large novel into two or more books (probably for commercial reasons). I know that authors also have to eat but this is a bit much !!

My preference is for style 3 !!
Will Ellwood
31. Tom L Waters
I was surprised on Sarah Monette's blog thread to see the editor describe the Harry Potter books as a series that could be entered at any point (type 3) in our lingo here. I can't imagine anyone wanted to read these out of order, with so much of the fun being surprise revelations about the characters. These are type 2 for me.
Will Ellwood
32. R. Emrys
I like all four kinds of series, when they're well-done. I even like Type 5 sometimes--multiple volumes that are basically the same characters doing the same sort of thing--when I'm too sick or tired for anything other than a reread, but don't actually want to read anything that I've already read. There are worse things than popcorn.

If forced to choose, I'd say something like the Vorkosigan saga would be my favorite. I love the way Miles grows and changes over the series timeline, so that eventually we get to compare his reaction to parenthood to Cordelia and Aral's. This is something that series can do that single books can't--show growing up as a gradual process rather than a bildungsroman-style rite of passage.

I am absolutely rigid about reading series "in order." Usually that's chronological order, but if people I trust tell me that publication order is best, I'll go with that instead. I refuse to read in random order and have been known to wait years to find a Book 2 that's out of print before reading everything else.

On the other hand, I'm happy to read a good series that isn't finished yet, even when I know the ending may never be written. My life is measurably better for reading the first three books of Diane Duane's Door Into Fire, for example. What I won't bother with is a series where everyone tells me, "It gets really good in Book 3." There are plenty of good books in the world that I can read without reading two bad books first.
A G
33. grilojoe77
I find that I really enjoy the kind of series where you don't HAVE to read them in order, and the character lines start to intersect in really interesting ways because they aren't tied to each other chronologically. Like the Harry Potter books (sorry, couldn't think of another series right off the top of my head) are linked not only by the story but by the story's chronology as well. Releasing the books from such strong ties, to me at least, liberates the stories to explore those places where they intersect with each other rather than having to proceed from event to event. The series I have in mind isn't sci-fi by any means, but each installment explores the characters and situations in interesting ways.
Liza .
34. aedifica
I see a lot of comments here from people who don't want to have to re-read the previous books when a new book comes out. For me it's just the opposite: if a series is good enough that I want to read the new book, I'll enjoy the excuse to go back and re-read the previous ones (not that I needed an excuse).

Of the types you mention, Jo, I like two, three, and four. You can tell by that that I want some degree of closure in each volume. I also, like so many others here, want to know the book is part of a series, and whether or not to worry about the order! Beyond that... if I see a new series by a favorite author, I'll read it; if my sister tells me to try it, I'll read it (she and I have very similar tastes in books); and if I keep seeing a book recommended over and over, I'll read it.

What I haven't seen mentioned above: I rarely start reading a series if all the books are over two inches thick in paperback. I don't like books to be *too* short, but after a certain point I get fatigued almost no matter how good a book is. It's got to be a very good series indeed to keep me reading super-thick-book after super-thick-book.
Will Ellwood
35. Rikka
All of the above but I normally feel left out in the cold when I finish standalone books. Oftentimes I want more and am not given it. I adore long series (6+ books, better if above 9 volumes) I'll read anything, though if there is a specific chronological order I will NOT read the books out of order. The Lost Years of Merlin series by T.A. Baron was spoiled for me in third grade because I read book three before book two and now I cannot do it. I check obsessively to make sure that I'm not starting in the middle of a series.
seth johnson
36. seth
I like the series that revisit a concept to provide more clarity. I don't care if it's the same characters or not. In fact, I avoid books that are just the ongoing adventures of a set of characters.

Ringworld is an ideal example of a series that works well for me.

I am frustrated by series without a clear order. Foundation bewildered me because I couldn't tell if I should start with the prequels or not.

Also, elderly authors should avoid publishing a first-of-a-series book that has a cliffhanger ending. Go read Pohl's "World at the End of Time" (which is awesome) and you'll wish he had the youthfulness to write the sequel that's missing.

Seth
Judith S. Anderson
37. jskanderson
I like all the styles. I like the feeling of being submerged in a different universe and that is the feeling I get with a long series or book. Kate Elliot's Crown of Stars series had me floating for months. I just finished Catherine Asaro's Skolian books. They are terrific, and like the Miles books, they can be read in an internal chronological order or order of publication.
Will Ellwood
38. EmmetAOBrien
Gosh, there's a lot of dislike for stories too long to reasonably be bound with a mere two pieces of cardboard out there.

In contrast to breogan@5, I do not believe that all the clear stories worth telling can be fit into three books, even three books as hefty as the Baroque Cycle (and even then, I count Cryptonomicon as part of that story, and have not yet entirely given up hope on Stephenson at some point writing and publishing the supposed far-future thread of that story.) Given the choice between a standalone book by a new author and a series by a new author, I will tend to favour the series; that goes much more strongly if there are two or three volumes out already so that I can be reasonably confident it won't be orphaned in mid-series, and, yes, more strongly again if it is clearly going to be long. I firmly believe that the space available for very long-form narratives is as different from that for a 90,000 word novel as that is from a novella, and for obvious practical reasons it's a much less explored range of space.

A new series offers me the prospect of much longer pleasure than a new individual book, which at the speed I read is not a minus. An ongoing new series offers the pleasing prospect of rereading some or all of the volumes in preparation for each new one coming out I like knowing that a large series has an overall shape, be it Brust's one-book-per-House-with-bookends for Vlad or Butcher's twenty-casebooks-and-big-apocalytic-trilogy or even Mike Carey's six-book-arc with potential for another such if the first one does well for Felix Castor, if I understand it correctly. On the other hand, I really love Cherryh's atevi books too and if there is an overall series conclusion planned there I've yet to hear of it. And, much though I love and reread some standalone books, that is never going to give me the experience of reading the first of Stephen King's Dark Tower books when I was nearly Jake's age, and the last when I was nearly the age Roland is in the first. Being part of my life that way, in that precise shape, is unique to long ongoing series.

piaw@20: I think the "one whole book where nothing happens" criticism of GRRM is unfair because there really isn't any sense other than the physical in which the most recent of those is a whole book. But then, I don't grok people objecting to books where people we have emotional investment in die, either. (How else is one supposed to believe some kinds of jeopardy are real ?)
Kate Nepveu
39. katenepveu
aedifica @ #34, I like re-reading, but I just don't have _time_.
Will Ellwood
40. Rikka
I'm in the middle of the Baroque cycle (just bought The Confusion the other day) and I have to say, it's right up my alley. I feel like I can just meander through the story... I adore Neal Stephenson so much.
Sherwood Smith
41. Sherwood
I love all four styles, though I really hate waiting between books.

I've been collecting the Sarah Monette books and Bujold's latest to read in one fell swoop, now that the fourth of each is out.
Sandi Kallas
42. Sandikal
I like books to have an ending. I can't stand cliffhangers. I will not start multi-volume epics unless I'm reading it for one of my online reading groups. I just don't have the patience or the attention span to read thousands or tens of thousands of pages for one story.

I do like books that re-visit characters and places. Charles de Lint is one of my favorite authors in this respect. Kage Baker's The Company series works for me because each part has a beginning, a middle and an end but is part of a larger whole. That's what I like.
rick gregory
43. rickg
@38... at least in my case the dislike isn't for stories that really do take more than one volume or even three to tell. It's for the conceit that all fantasy stories need that much space. As a great counter-example, I'd not read any Bujold at all until a few months ago and picked up Curse of Chalion. A great book, a fully realized world with interesting characters - in one volume. I'm sure she could have dragged the story out into 3 volumes, but it would not have been better for it (and yes, I know about Paladin of Souls). There's nothing so special about fantasy that all of the stories written in the genre require long series - it's a choice and often a poor one since the story being told doesn't need that space.

Authors that *always* put out series and rarely or never do single volume make me suspicious that they're doing it for the money or because it's easy to revisit the same universe with the same characters. I mean, ALL of your stories are so intricate that they need several books to realize? REALLY? Color me very skeptical.

On the other hand the minority of authors that pull off a multi-volume series that's compelling over most or all of the volumes leave me in awe.

PS: I finally read Monette's post on this and it and many of the comments seem very focused on the needs of the author and the publisher with little appreciation for the reader. It was an interesting experience, like dropping into a different world. But when she criticized the reviewer for mentioning that the book under review was volume 3 in a series and wouldn't make much sense to those who'd not read volume 1 and 2 my immediate thought was... "well, that's good of the reviewer! They're not out to sell the book, but to talk to the potential reader..."

My point? The problems with writing, selling and publishing a long series over several years are not your readers'. If you choose to do that and not to make each volume self-sufficient or to recap things... don't blame us if we don't want to buy volume 3 because we can't find volume 1 anywhere.
Will Ellwood
44. Carl N.
I flatly will not read Style 1 (the "n"-ology) by an author I do not know and/or trust. The evidence from my reading is that such works are borne of an author's inability to self-edit and a publisher's willingness to let an author get away with it so that more volumes can be printed (and, thus, more money is made.) Give me an author who has learned some discipline over a writer who has none when I am plunking down my book-buying geld.

I find that I want to read books that let me revisit characters the author has crafted so well that I fall in love with them and want desperately to find out what happens to them next. This is what Lois McMaster Bujold has done so well with the Vorkosigan series, and why I eagerly await the next promised installment. That would put me firmly in the Style 3 (The Series) camp, I suppose.

Style 2 (Book X of Y in The Saga) has never been to my taste, really, for many of the reasons already cited.

Someone mentioned the "Shared Worlds" (multiple authors in a single sandbox) style. Would that be Style 4 (The Universe), or be another category that fits somewhere between 3 and 4?
Will Ellwood
45. DianaH
I'd like to posit a fifth style as a generational series. Jennifer Roberson's Chesuli series is a good example. Books 1 and 2 are in the same generation and so are books 5 and 6, otherwise each book features the child of the previous book's main character, six generations in all, IIRC. This fits in with style 2 in that you have some volume closure but need to read the books in order, but doesn't have the same characters.

Style 6 might be the very popular romance style of following each member of a large family (one book per family member) or of a group of friends as each one finds their soul mate and goes off happily ever after. Examples include Julia Quinn's Bridgerton family, Jo Beverley's Company of Rogues. Of course this style fits very well with style 3 in that it doesn’t really matter where you start and whether you read them in order, but you won't get any overall storyarc, except "happily ever after" or maybe seeing your favorite character's kids in the book about the favorite character's little sister.

Stephanie Laurens used style 5 in her Cynster Novels and style 6 for the Bastion Club. Johanna Lindsey's Malory family combines both styles first with a book for each family member then a book for various family members' kids.

I like them all, but I also wish the books that should be read in order be numbered, or failing that, had a chronology. Otherwise, you're accidentally getting spoilers for previous books.

Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books have a timeline with books listed at where they belong in the history of Valdemar.
Jo Walton
46. bluejo
DianaH: There are very few generational sagas in SF. Darkover is one. And Kerr's Deverry books are almost one. I'm sure I'm missing some, but there really aren't many. I don't know why not, as it seems like it's as ideally suited to the form as historical novels.

As for your proposes sixth kind, I've never read anything like that, and I can't think of anything even a bit like it in genre. Again, I don't know why not.
Will Ellwood
47. mgan
I think some series are type 1 published as type 2 for business reasons rather than literary reasons. I do believe this is the case with Bujolds latest Sharing Knife series which I loved reading but felt that it should have been a two book series instead of a four book series with books 1&2 combined and 3&4 combined. I felt particularly "left hanging" at the end of book one.

Another thought...I don't know if this is a "type" of series or not but a few times I have come across a series of books with interwoven timelines and characters. Often each book revolves around a particular character and the others play minor roles. Key events in one book are depicted from a different POV in the other books. I find these interesting, and fun to read.
Stefan Raets
48. Stefan
We're about to embark on a full re-read of the Miles Vorkosigan series at Beyond Reality, reading one book per month for the next 12 months, starting on June 15th with Shards of Honor. I linked to this post there because the point about different types of series is excellent. While I completely agree that it's a type 3 series, I still decided to go with the internal chronology for the re-read, because I think it makes the most sense for newcomers to the series.
Jo Walton
49. bluejo
Stefan -- you might want to look at my posts on the Miles books, all posted here with the tag "Vorkosigan saga". I did a publication order re-read, though I usually also read them in internal chronological order.
Stefan Raets
50. Stefan
Jo - I read them with great interest and plan to link back to them when we read the books in my group. Your posts were what got me interested in re-reading an entire series in the group - we usually read single books, but I thought it would be rewarding to go through an entire series with a bunch of people and really sink our teeth into it.
Will Ellwood
51. Foxessa
Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is multi-generational. It combines elements of sf&f (time travel and a bit of clairvoyance -- something like, anyway), historical novel and romance.

They can be read as discrete parts of a series, though they may make an arc. This reader much enjoyed the first volume, but got less interested by each subsequent installment and quit reading by the end of the third, though the series continues. That immediately there were hundreds of other titles out repeating what is now forumla and a subset of Romance/Fantasy genres has doubtless had an effect on perception too.

This is another reader who has no time at this stage in her life for 600 pp. plus volumes in a style 1 series that go on beyond 3 installments, for all the reasons others have mentioned, including the volumes of 'why did you bother with this one? nothing salient happens here.'

But there are exceptions to this. Kit Kerr's Deverry books are among the exceptions, for example, for excellent reasons.

Robin Hobb is a style 1, like Bujold, who is trusted by her readers to not do the ever-expanding style 1. They, like Kit Kerr, are trusted also to deliver the next volume in timely fashion. I havae tremendous admiration and respect for these 3 examples, and the others like them.
Kristen Day
52. enlotta7
I like all types, but lately I'm into Fuyumi Ono's The Twelve Kingdoms (Type 4?). It's interesting in that the history of a Chinese-based fantasy world's kings (one each kingdom and the timeline's not set so far apart that you don't get lost as to who is who) is really tied into the world itself. Many of the same characters appear in different volumes, either as main, supporting, or side characters, but each of the volumes can be read seperately.

Unfortunately, the publisher has only translated and released 3 volumes, so I have to wait another year for the next one (grrr), but it'll be so worth it. Its appeal lies, I think, in both the characters and the world-buliding.

Foxessa-I loved the first couple of Outlander books! So good. But once her grown-up daughter appeared I got bored. It just didn't hold my interest.
Ursula L
53. Ursula
For a different datapoint on labeling series, a friend of mine is heavily into the Christian Romance genre. (Particularly the sort set in Amish society.) She uses a wheelchair, and I frequently will take her to the bookstore and push her around, so I get to observe her buying habits.

In that genre, there are a lot of series, and authors with multiple series. The convention is that each book is labeled, on the cover, with the name of the series and the number within the series. Sometimes on the spine as well, making series-shopping easy.

So the aversion to labeling series clearly isn't a universal one in the publishing industry.

I'm not sure what type of series these are, structurally, as I haven't read more than one or two of them myself. (I see little point in romance where the climax of the book is a marriage proposal, without even a kiss, and half the text is evangelizing exposition rather than story.) Back matter of the books suggests large families with many daughters/female cousins, and marrying off one per book.
Walter Underwood
54. wunder
Hmm, generational sagas. Do Bilbo and Frodo count?

Elizabeth Moon's books starting with Herris Serrano are sort of generational.
Will Ellwood
55. J'
I actually think this may be changing (the marketing, that is) because genre fans do indeed love series - more is more! I have noticed a lot of brand new author debuts, especially in urban fantasy but also in SF, say Book 1 of Blah Blah. And, more surpsingly, I have seen expedited releasing too. Book two comes out 3-4 months after book one, and book three comes 3-4 months after that. See the new Spellcrackers or House of Comarre series as examples.

And, older series are being reissued with series names and numbers on them. Perhaps Sarah Monette's logical reasoning has played out. In any case, I do love series. I prefer those which all take place in the same universe (Valdemar, Vorkosigan) without strict order, but will also read those that build volume by volume (Dresden Files, etc). But no matter what type, I feel the same. I want more, more, more for as long as the quality holds.
Will Ellwood
56. John Cowan
An example of a type 5/6 fantasy series (though there are both fantasy and non-fantasy books in it) is Madeleine L'Engle's Kairos/Chronos series, of which A Wrinkle In Time is the best known (it's part of the Kairos sub-series). There are books about various Austins, Murrys, and O'Keefes set in different generations (giving it a type 5 flavor) but it's also very common for major characters in one book to be minor characters, or even just barely mentioned, in another (type 6).
Rikka Cordin
57. Rikka
After reading the third The Lost Years of Merlin book before reading the second and feeling like it utterly ruined the first part of the series (which I read and reread anyway) for me at the tender age of 8, I am wary around large serieses, especially ones like the Vorkosigan Saga, because I want to read them RIGHT and I do not want to get spoiled for starting in the wrong place. (Right is normally internal chronological order, with the understanding that prequels are prequels and are to be read in publishing order.) That being said, once someone, like RobM did for the Vorkosigans, gives me a reliable order that I can check for agreeability elsewhere, I like these sorts because I can reread one without feeling like I need to reread all. You can kind of romp about happily in them.



That being said, I actually love trilogies of trilogies (which, in my experience, are sometimes Style 1s and sometimes Style 2s), with overlapping characters and in the same world. Jacqueline Carey and Robin Hobb both sort of did that and they are among my favorites.

I celebrate stand-alones and believe all authors should have at least one so I can read their stuff without committing to a trilogy, or 8 books, etc. That being said, they are almost never satiating and I almost always turn to fanfiction to fill the hole they leave behind in my bibliophilic soul.


Regarding the labelling/marketing, I actually twitpic'd about it the other day. I hate when it's impossible to tell from the outside cover which book in a serires comes first. (I'm serious that The Lost Years of Merlin scarred me. I was totally spoiled for the whole Rhiannon is his sister thing. Whomp.)

http://t.co/ZRgCysNv

edit: Re: Dune. Don't you know you were supposed to read the first one and forget the rest ever existed? That's what I did and I'm much happier for it.
Will Ellwood
58. satudo
Personally I love styles 1-3. However I can't Stand 4. Rather I can't stand certain kinds of 4. If you throw a ton of short stories at me all set in a similar setting in anything outside of comedy I just drop it.

My favorite books by far are from guys like David & Leigh Eddings, Eric Flint, John Ringo, Raymond Feist, Gordon R Dickson, Patricia Briggs, Robert Aspirin, Terry Pratchet, or Mercedes Lackey.

All of his/her books have similar character arch-types which can be found in all of his/her other series. They usually have around 3-6 different voices that he/she uses to tell every story. Usually every section/book comes out in 300-600 pages, something i can carry around and read in my car while waiting for the engine to warm up. Or read in line at the 7-11. Most of the series come out in 3 book trilogies or 5 book (iad's). The authors usually have a world of their own, rarely do they use any historical reference beyond ideas for conflicts. Conflicts are resolved, characters age, and although one problem solution may lead to another, the initial problem does resolve.

My favorites tend to be books like the 'Redemption of Athalus' is a one book stand alone with characters and a world completely cut off from Eddings other works. Yet it's still the same voice, the same humor, similar friends and associations. The rogue, the playful demanding female, the over smart child, the witch/temptress, ect. It's like listening to your uncle or an old friend, as you wander once more into their fantastical world. It's a mental voice/song that I could listen to for all of eternity. Smoky mirrors obscuring an all too familiar form.

The same can be said for Mercedes be it in her Vladmar or the Obsidian Throne series. Short handy trilogies but with an over all chronology and consistent history. All told/voiced by that familiar mental/vocal pattern. I've read every single book she's published and yet the one I keep coming back to over and over. 'Take a Thief' I've had to purchase a third copy recently, the other two were falling apart beyond what mending I could manage with book tape, glue, and patience. It's that one book that if you read it and enjoy it, you will love all of her other books. The comedic style, trial, personalities, and eventual 'inevitable' victory in whatever form it might take.

I hate the wheel of time, the sword of truth/empire, and similar 'epics'. Which require you to read the entirety to enjoy the individual meanwhile spamming it across 8-15 'novels' which force you to remember details and plot points 'foreshadowed' 2k plus pages back. These books have little to do with loving attachment.

These things you could kill a horse with either via bludgeon or digestion. Your preference. I enjoyed them for the first four or five 1k page novels. After which I thought up a real ending. Occasionally I torture myself by going back and trying to justify spending a week or two reading the entirety just one more time... Just so I can find that all too familiar voice/song that should be there. I know it has to be there! But its gone... The voices are dead. Although the story goes on the magic died all too long ago. Now it's just a dry whispering thing, a historical account of actions occuring After the 'real' story ended.

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