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Boxing the Octopus: all content copyright 2008 Colleen Thompson and Joni Rodgers all rights reserved.
Lately, I've been in the mood for "comfort reads," many of them books belonging to series I've enjoyed for some time. From Eve Dallas and Roark's capers in J.D. Robb's In Death series to Mma Ramotswe's latest adventures (if you could call them that, since not a lot ever happens) in Alexander McCall Smith's Tea Time for the Traditionally Built (from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series) to Harlan Coben's Myron Bollitar, I've been tending toward known quantities in a time of uncertainty.
None of this is to say that I don't love and enjoy (and generally prefer, in fact) stand-alone titles. I've just been in a mood, that's all, and it's extended to my writing, where a secondary character from next month's release Beneath Bone Lake stormed into my head and demanded a book of her own. I'm editing that manuscript, called Hangman's Bayou, right now, and it's got me thinking about the pros and cons of writing a series.
1. Can save the author time on research, world-building, and character development. 2. May build reader loyalty as people enjoy revisiting "old friends" or need to find out what happens to characters in which they already have an investment. 3. Sells backlist titles with each new release. 4. Allows author to enrich fictional world with each addition to the series. 5. Gives the publisher an opportunity to "brand" the series, release titles back-to-back, and keep backlist titles in print.
Cons 1. Increases the chance for errors, as author may forget details from manuscripts written years before. (Many authors keep detailed series' notebooks to help keep things straight.) 2. Some readers won't pick up any books in a series until it's completely written for fear of being burned by dropped series. (Series are often dropped due to weak sales or other factors.) 3. Many readers won't start with the author's current release but insist on beginning with the first book in the series. (As I reader, I tend to do this.) So unless the series gets off to a very strong start and the publisher keeps the backlist readily available, sales of each title may drop off.) 4. Author has little control over gap between publication of the titles, backlist staying in print and in stores, etc. Without strong publisher commitment, even a terrific series will fail. 5. Author can get "trapped in" a world that loses its freshness. Readers may reject any other offering from this author, possibly requiring her to use another name and start over if creative needs take her in another direction. 6. Readers (and author, see above) may grow tired of the series (especially if characters never significantly grow.)
I often see unpublished writers make the mistake (or what usually turns out to be a mistake) of writing sequels to their unsold projects. The trouble is, beginning writers (if they're any good) improve so much with each manuscript that by the time they complete a saleable manuscript (this often happens around Book Three) the first one looks godawful in comparison and may never sell. Also, as my brilliant agent warned me, when writing series, authors tend to hold back "the good stuff," saving it for future books. But there won't be any future books in the series unless you put your very, very best into the first one.
So what are your views on reading and writing series? Are you loyal to any of them? Have you written or are you considering writing any? Why or why not?
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