Thursday, 11 April 2013

Series Fiction, by Bryony Pearce



I read a novel in around two hours.  This was a huge help in my English Literature degree, but it also means that a) my house is groaning with books b) my bank manager hates me c) if I’ve come to love a character, I feel as if my time with them is over too quickly.
There are some authors who write books that I will literally finish the last page of, then turn back to page one and start reading again (most notably Terry Pratchett, Jenny Crusie, Janet Evanovich, Anne Macaffrey, David Gemmell and JR Ward), just so I can remain in their worlds for longer.
Basically if I’ve come to love a character I want their story to go on, and on.
That is why I love series fiction.  It enables me to stay with my favourite characters for years, learning new things about them, keeping up with their adventures, seeing their arcs grow and grow.



This also holds true for the characters I create myself.  I love them and I want their stories to go on.  In my head I know what happens next to Cassie, Seth and Pandra from Angel’s Fury.  I have a rather kick ass sequel planned out.  
It won’t get written.  
Angel’s Fury was a one book deal and hasn’t sold nearly enough to warrant a sequel.  The only way I might consider writing that sequel is if I develop enough spine to self-publish.  It’s a very, very remote possibility.
My new book The Weight of Souls is also a one book deal with the synopsis for the sequel written out and ready to go.  Again, I have to wait for book sales to find out if I should be working on it.
It seems I tend to envisage series but sell books one at a time.
I imagine that frustrates some of my audience.  But at least if a writer makes a one book deal they can wrap up the ending of the first book, just in case.  It’s a much better scenario than the one I’ve been hearing about recently where a number of authors have had third books in trilogies cancelled due to poor sales of the first two. 
As a reader that would make me livid.  I’d be banging down the door of the author’s house wanting to know what happened next.  I understand the need for publishers to make money, but do they also have a responsibility to make sure that a story embarked upon, gets finished? Surely publishing the first book in a series represents an implied contract with the reader that the other books will come out.
And that is the problem with series fiction, that the story might never get finished.  I started reading Game of Thrones when it first came out, in the mid-nineties.  By the time I’d finished reading A Storm of Swords part II and waited for the next book in the series (five years) I’d forgotten what had happened in book one and moved on.  I gave up on The Wheel of Time when, after eleven books, Robert Jordan died leaving the last tome unwritten.  David Gemmell died two books into his Troy trilogy.  Both of these authors had their series finished by other people, but I’m unwilling to read these books in case the writers didn’t do the job I wanted them to do.
Gratuitous Nathon Fillion image
I love series fiction, but it has its downsides, especially  when publishers are beginning to cancel series with the axe-wielding aplomb of the Fox Network.  I will no longer embark on a new US TV series until I've heard that all episodes in the first season have been made and preferably that a second has been commissioned.  There’s nothing more annoying than getting involved in something and finding out that it has been cancelled (Firefly, Last Resort etc.). I seriously hope publishers don’t go the same way.  Otherwise I will be in the same position, refusing to buy book one of a trilogy until book three has been published.  
But that’s a vicious circle, if publishers start backing out on their implied contracts with their readers, the readers will start holding off and won’t buy books until they are guaranteed a completed contract (i.e. they have seen book three already on the shelves).  But if the readers don’t buy book one, because they are waiting for book three, then publishers will mark book one off as having bad sales and the sequels won’t get written at all.
It’s a problem.  
The only thing that readers can do for authors is believe.  Pitch into a series, read it regardless of the idea that it might never make it to the end of the story and if necessary fill in the ending themselves. 

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