Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hanging from a cliff

I have been thinking for a few weeks about series. A post on Book Ends Blog got me so worked up I have to blog about it today.

The question of "to series or not" was brought on by readings from my vacation. I took a boatload of books on my trip to South Carolina. Between the domino set and the twelve library books (hardback, of course), my suitcase weighed about 50 pounds. I read so many fantastic books on this trip, including:

Three more from Philip Pullman (The Shadow of the North, The Tiger in the Well, and the Tin Princess)

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson (reviewed below). If you don't love this book we can't be friends. It's as simple as that.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Bog Child, by Siobhan Dowd

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Of these books, all the Philip Pullman are of a series, HG is a series, Uglies is a series.

One of my favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon writes the fantastic Outlander series, and I hope to get ther latest from the library today. You may have heard of this series (about a boy with a scar) or even this one (about some sparkly dude)-- they're kind of big deals. The list goes on and on.

Can you see where I am going with this? I am starting to feel like everything is becoming a series.

Is this a problem? Well, you decide.

I have yet to review all of my new library books on the blog, but I can say without hesitation that I found Bog Child and The Sky Is Everywhere to be the best of the group. I think part of that is attributable to the stories themselves, the writing, the subject matter, and the characters. Some of it is also due to the fact that the stories ENDED.

I felt this difference most strongly at the end of Hunger Games. I was so disappointed at the end.

A better word may be dissatisfied. I felt little satisfaction about the story. Quite possibly this was author intent. Katniss Everdeen (is there a better character name out there?) lives in a harsh and, let's face it, completely dissatisfying reality. Her world is not one of happy endings, comfort, or pleasure. But as a reader, I still wanted some comfort and satisfaction at the end of the journey. I just felt like, "great- another book to add to my list!" at the end. Uglies was less so-- many of the smaller arcs were completed in a way that left me slightly satisfied.

So, this has me thinking. Why are there so many series? What influences this phenomenon? I have a few guesses:

--This the natural reaction to the 2-3 book deal.
Because I am not an insider, every thing I 'know' about publishing comes from some blog. Take with several grains of salt. But it seems that authors often sign a deal for a pair of books or a trio-- and the result is creating a series of books. Okay, I get that. I also can understand that publishers may get "more bang for the buck" with a series. In a sense, when you promote (or the author and publisher promote) a later title, they are also promoting the earlier works. I can imagine this is a positive for publishers (and authors), especially considering how long it takes for some books to gain a grassroots following.

--This an offshoot of the writer-as-personality that is a part of publishing today. Again, my info is from the blogs-- but it is crystal clear that writers are expected to market their book and themselves. The concept of some lone, troubled, fifty-year-old novelist living in seclusion as they rework the great American novel is of the past.

It is extinct.

The other side of that coin, though, seems to be this interactive relationship that authors have with their readership. I have to wonder if the call for series is an offshoot of that. If Jane Austen had internet, you better believe I would have emailed her or commented on her blog RELENTLESSLY to continue the story of Anne and Wentworth from Persuasion. I would want more. The same is true of most of the books I love. So, is this simply demand from the reader?

Full disclosure: I am writing a series. I know! The Horror! I am a total sham! My first book, The Insect Collector, is a YA mystery-- a genre that lends itself to series. I can imagine the character going forward in life to solve more mysteries, though maybe just a handful. I wouldn't like to write 60 books in that series-- but five or fewer, yes. Sign me up.

My second book, Swamped, a YA mystery with a boy protagonist, could also be a series-- but as I read, and as I think about this more-- I hesitate.

I also have rough outlines for two books set in the Netherlands, one my Windpunk extravaganza set in the 1600s and the other a modern book about a couple of Americans living at a Dutch caravan park. Neither of those feel like series to me at all. And that is satisfying in a way.

So, for you-- to series or not to series?

What influences the choice for you? Is it the WIP length, the genre, or just a feeling that more of a story must be told?

1 comment:

  1. I much prefer stand alones. I like being immersed in the world of the book, leaving the characters in a good place and moving on :)

    I do like Jaclyn Moriarty's Ashbury/Brookfield series though - where each book is a stand alone, but the following books are the next year in high school and you come across some of your fave charcters in cameo appearances or a larger role :)

    hunger Gmes though, only series I am glad to keep coming back to...

    oh, and looking forward to some of your thoughts on those books you read :)


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