How’s that for a glib, yet cryptic title? Let me explain a little more.
I walk into a used bookstore, which like most bibliophiles, is similar to walking into an opium den. Oh sure, you tell the people waiting in the car that you’re just running in for a moment, but they know better and wander off for some coffee, or a tour in the Peace Corps. Meanwhile, I wander through the dim shelves, looking for a stack of yellowing, dog-earred volumes to trade some hard-earned lucre for. I go to fantasy/sci-fi and start pulling books out. Hmm, this one looks interesting. Interesting title, nice cover art. I glance down at the bottom of the cover. Book 1 of—
That’s it. Deal-breaker.
I’m not going to say it’s a hard and fast rule, but I must confess that I am deeply biased against novel series. I’ll call it a prejudice since then I don’t have to justify it. Of course, in the above scenario of the used bookstore, the much more frustrating situation is finding Book 4 of– with no sight of Book 3, 2, or 1 anywhere. That’s not the writer’s fault, but here are some other grievances I have with book series.
1. The series never finishes.
This doesn’t happen much, but every now and then, the volumes keep coming and coming, introducing more and more plots and characters and not wrapping up enough of the old ones. This was my complaint with Wheel of Time. Hopefully, this won’t be the case with the Game of Thrones books but that is also one reason I will probably never read them.
2. The first book really isn’t that good.
Let me clarify for a moment. I don’t have any problem with book series that all take place in the same world, but are separate stories, even if they are loosely related to each other. That’s fine. Books like the Discworld novels and the Chronicles of Narnia are series but they are also standalone novels, for the most part. My problem is with series that are all one single story. If the first book isn’t that good, I feel torn between giving up and never finding out the ending, and shelling out more money just to know what happened. It’s like selling me the first quarter of a novel, and unlike Jimmy Norman, the master behind Dysfunctional Literacy, I finish books. It’s a compulsion with me, even if I don’t like them (even this compulsion is more of an ideal; there are plenty of books I never finish).
3. You get the feeling the writer is only continuing the series for money.
I don’t have any specific examples of this, but I’m sure you’ve read them. There are still things that happen, conflicts occur, characters do things, but the books start to lose some of the driving force of the first one. It’s not necessarily bad writing, but you get the feeling that it’s also not really necessary.
4. The series is an artificial construct.
This is a publishing trick more than a writing one. Korea is especially bad at it, for some reason. I have the Lord of the Rings in four languages and the Korean one was by far the most expensive. That’s because while the other languages sell it in three books, the Korean version has seven volumes, meaning it’s 7/3’s more expensive. It is technically 6 books in one (plus the appendices) but there’s no point in selling it that way, except for money.
When I was young, I bought a middle grade fantasy series called Winds of Light. It had six volumes, even though each was only 130 pages or so. That was fine, except about six months after I bought the whole series, they came out with a single volume edition for about a third of the price of all six volumes. Maybe that was when my series hatred started. Maybe I should go see a literary psychologist.
(Note: just to preemptively point out my hypocrisy, I am planning to write a novel series in about ten years or so. I only mention it now since everything online is eternal and I just know someone will dig up this post in 15 years when my serial novels are on the bestseller list. I just like to be prepared.)
Okay, I’ve ranted enough. How do you feel about serial novels? Let me know in the comments. (If, by the way, you write serial novels for a living, feel free to curse me out or send me a free sample of your books to try to sway my mind on the matter.)
January 21st, 2015 at 1:14 am
I am torn. I quit after book 3 of the Wheel of Time and don’t ever want to read past the first in Game of Thrones. But some series are exceptions. I loved Lord of the Rings because it did have an ending. Same for Harry Potter. But those two worlds are so easy to get lost in that I’m terribly sad when the story is all told. I wanted more. So, your series should be fine. We’ll want to live in your world and never leave. 🙂
January 21st, 2015 at 11:17 pm
I must confess, I read your comment when I first woke up and for a moment, I wondered if I had written it. I too, read the first 3 books of Wheel of Time, then quit, won’t read the Game of Thrones series, but love Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Great minds think alike. 🙂 In the case of these latter two, every rule needs exceptions and these show you can do a series very well.
January 21st, 2015 at 8:58 am
Haven’t gotten vested in a series since the Bobbsey Twins when I was a kid. I sort of read the first Shades of Gray books (very badly written) but had no interest in reading further. I like a start and finish all in one place.
January 21st, 2015 at 11:15 pm
I used to be into Hardy Boys when I was young, but just like the Bobbsey Twins, those are all stand alone books. I too appreciate a whole story in your hand at once.
January 21st, 2015 at 10:07 am
I don’t like serial books much myself for all the same reasons you pointed out, David. Years ago when I belonged to the Christian Writers’ Guild (owned and managed under Jerry B. Jenkins, author of the Left Behind series – 12 books in all – with co-author Tim LaHaye it was taught at the conferences and workshops that a series would sell better and if the first book could grab the reader with a good story at first the following books would sell and bring more in for the author and distributor (i.e. Tyndall House Publishers), but later I think authors had to work harder to hold the interest of the first original readers of their story and then gain new ones. I do think too, like you that a story if a good one will ‘stand alone’ on its own merit even if the author is well known. Some series are good ones and work well if the author is well known and a good writer and other series can go flat and never take off, and the author and distributor left with unread or a pile of books to decide what to do with, so often they go on the
bargain rack at Barnes and Noble or in Amazon’s free or cheap reads on Kindle.
January 21st, 2015 at 11:19 pm
I know what you mean; I’ve heard as well that agents like to know that a book could be expanded into a series, since each successive book (supposedly) has a built-in audience. I might be amenable to doing that, but I don’t prefer to.
January 21st, 2015 at 10:38 am
Re: LOTR, Tolkien originally wrote it as a single volume– it was broken into three volumes by the publisher because at the time (1950’s) a 500,000 word novel was considered unwieldy.
I don’t mind a series of novels, if the story being told genuinely cannot be contained in one reasonably-sized volume. I do resent series that are spun out merely to increase profits, at the expense of the story.
I also have an aversion to starting a series in the middle– if a series looks good, I will generally wait and hunt down the first volume.
January 21st, 2015 at 11:21 pm
Good point on LOTR. Of course, Tolkien envisioned that and the Silmarillion all as part of a mega-epic. It would have been interesting if he had actually completed it all as one cohesive story.
January 21st, 2015 at 11:42 pm
I’ve never been into serials myself. If I like an author, I will look for more books by him/her, but my mind is so restless and I feel like there is so much to read, I have a hard time devoting lots of time to serials. I might read Game of Thrones someday. It’s such a great story. We’ll see.
January 22nd, 2015 at 8:08 pm
I read a lot of YA novels, and I am really put off if they are in a series. Using a Kindle, there are a lot of free novels, but invariably the free one is the 1st on in a series. I found Cassandra Claire’s to be like the series which goes on and on, with no ending in sight. I read quite a few of hers, then finally had enough, the story and characters just never ended. I also used to really like Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but the last one, The Prince Lestat, was like a wrap up of all the characters and a bit disappointing. All in all I am with you on the serial books. I think a good book can still be written and presented as one book, not 3+ books. I believe many are done this way now simply because it is assumed we all have a shorter attention span.
January 22nd, 2015 at 10:02 pm
This is a generalization, of course, since there are some great series out there. But yeah, I prefer single-volume stories. YA stories do tend to do series a lot.
March 12th, 2015 at 7:36 am
good one david.
March 12th, 2015 at 10:55 pm
Thanks, and thanks for going back and reading my old stuff. Are you back online now?