Monday, May 07, 2007

An update so soon?! Plus, the long awaited Series on Series continues!

I decided that I should follow through on that whole "posting weekend goals and then telling y'all how it went so I was accountable" stuff. Somehow I jump out of bed early on Saturdays (even earlier than I get up for work during the week) raring to go. I sit down and decide to warm up with a little blogging. Then comes the trek to the bagel place. Then.... stuff. This weekend "stuff" was an email I received at 11am basically tripling my workload for the weekend. So I didn't get ANY work done on the WIP. Instead I billed, billed, billed. But I look at it this way: every hour billed now is one that I don't have to bill later.

You'll be happy to know, though, that I've been a good little girl and came straight home from work and straight to my computer and revised the big "ack - this needs to be totally rewritten!!" scene. It feels good to have that first rewrite under my belt. *

A while ago I posted about series, sequels, etc. There were a ton of great comments about that and I wanted to add my much-promised take on the matter. For some reason I feel like I'm seeing a ton more series (and I use that as an over-arching term to encompass any book that is not a total stand alone). Perhaps it is that I wasn't paying too much attention to the market before, perhaps it is because for the past few years I was really into reading chick-lit which I don't think lends itself to series very well and now I'm more focused on YA. It just seems like I'm always reading Book 1 of something.

It makes me wonder if authors are consciously trying to write more series these days. If they're trying to make the ideas bigger, the arches longer. And if so, then why? A part of me thinks that it's easier to build an author brand from a series and to build reader loyalty. Would I be as big of a Scott Westerfeld fan if there'd only been an Uglies and no Pretties or Specials (or Extras!)?

I think this can work both ways. On the one hand, I do think the fact that Westerfeld's Uglies was a trilogy is a reason that I became such a fan of his. I was hooked and I gobbled them all up over a family vacation (I was a rude reading hermit!). Because I was hooked I needed more and so I shifted to his backlist and I'll probably read just about everything he publishes. Yep, he's found a very loyal fan in me!

But what happens when the reader just doesn't dig the trilogy? I had this happen recently. I love the author, I WANT to love his books. But... eh. I mean, they're ok, but... eh. I have other TBR books haggling to take that place. And so I petered out on the first book. Which means I won't pick up the second book even though I really WANT to love this author's work. Or the third... yup, he's just lost a fan in me. I'll probably try him if he writes something outside that series, but that's a way off and who knows where I'll be.

So on the one hand, with a series you can really solidify the people who like your writing, but on the other hand, you can lose fans. How do you find that balance? Do you think that more authors out there are writing series? If so, do you think it is a way of branding? Of job security? A crutch?

* and now, having gone back and reviewed what I worked on tonight, I realized that I write 2.2k. Wow. I felt like I barely wrote anything at all. I love when the writing is like that: time flies, the world comes alive and everything else slips around you.


Erica Ridley said...

(What? You didn't know I compulsively check your blog for updates once every twenty-three seconds? *g)

I agree with many of your points. I liken this to television shows. I don't watch anything religiously. Once in a while, I'll catch a Law & Order: Criminal Intent or an episode of Psych or The Office. (And by once in a while, I mean I watch a TV show once every week or two.) The reason I like these shows (other than them being good) is that they are not series shows in the truest sense, meaning it totally doesn't hinder my enjoyment when I see a L&O episode that's seven years old. After all, it's new to me.

There are other shows--some would even argue better shows--I could be watching, but I don't get into them because it matters what order I see the episodes in, and catching a Season Two show before watching Season One would ruin/spoil/etc the entire previous season. (One such show that springs to mind is Lost. I haven't seen it because I feel it's too late for me to start, especially since I know in advance I'd miss weeks or months at a time.) This, I think, is part of the trashy charm of soap operas--I haven't watched Days of our Lives in years, but I bet I could pick back up without too much confusion.

All that said, TV episodes naturally come out much faster than series books. (Unless we're talking Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley High or similar... I seem to recall them coming out fairly rapidly.)

All the same, I have some books on my TBR that are part of a series that's piling up on me. I own (but haven't read) the latest Grafton, and the latest two Stephanie Plum books. Both of those are still autobuy for me even if my reading time is minimal, so that's an example of series gone good.

The flipside is series gone bad. Take Orson Scott Card for example. Ender's Game might be one of my favorite books of all time. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. If you haven't read it, go buy/rent it right now.

The second book in the Ender series was good. Not as fabulous as the first book, but good. The third book in the series sucked for the first half. I stuck with it through sheer dint of will--and I'm glad I did, because the second half really picked up--but the sheer act of forcing myself to read a book I really wanted to love spoiled me against the series to the point where book four has been sitting unread on my TBR pile for years now. Years! And it's a book on loan from my brother, who's patiently waiting for me to return the darn thing so he can read it. (I should just give it back.) So, although I continue to pimp Ender's Game to everyone I meet, I only pimp Book 1 and not the series in general. I have not run out to purchase subsequent books after the still unread book 4.

And if I can be turned off of a whole series of books (4 through infinity) even for an author who has penned one of my favorite stories of all time, then I totally see the danger of confining onself to a single series as a writer.

It's a double-edged sword, to be sure.

Diana Peterfreund said...

erica, don't read the fourth. Just saying. (My favorite is the second, though, and I've never read the first, because everyone tells me it's not necessary and that the second book recap basically covers it.)

For me, I became a SW fan because of Uglies. When I read it, the other two weren't even out, but I read everything other YA he'd written, which at the time, were ALSO all standalones (The Secret Hour, So Yesterday, and Peeps). So the first sequel of his I read was actually the FIFTH book of his I read, Touching Darkness (Midnighters #2). So I can say unequivocally that being a fan of his work has nothing to do with series. However, I think that the subsequent Midnighters books just blew each of the previous ones away in their fabulousness and that The Last Days (Peeps sequel/companion) is currently my favorite book of his.

As for series versus non, I don't think I'm reading any large amount of series books, or maybe it just feels that way because I'm reading a lot of "first in a series." Of the 47 YA novels I've read since 2005 (what? I have a list on my blog!), only six have been sequels or other subsequent in a series books. I don't count Valiant, though, since I still haven't read Tithe and really don't think you need to have done so. (Though I should probably get on it, since I do want to read that and Ironsides, and I loved Valiant so.)

Also, 12 more of those books were the FIRST in a series, but whether the series was planned from the start or became a series later on (like with Peeps/The Las Days) I don't know.

I do think the preponderance of series has a lot to do with author branding. I also think with YA authors, in particular, the readership has come to expect series, since the readership en masse has probably come from harry potter.

As a series writer (full disclosure, here), I had NEVER even THOUGHT of a series before beginning to write mine, but it seemed natural as soon as I started -- that this was not one book, but a series. the market didn't even occur to me.

Miri said...

You're back! Three cheers! Hip, hip, hooray!

Okay, may I first say that I just read Uglies and I am now officially a Westerfan for life? And that I need Pretties. Not just need, neeeeeed. And my bookstore doesn't have it. Nor does my library.

I do think it's easier to build a readership with a series, if it's gone well. Take Garth Nix for example (the best Australian YA author on the market at all full stop). I first read Lirael because that's what the library had. Little did I know it was book two of a trilogy (luckily, this one fit the fantasy trilogy mold of having the first stand alone and the second two fitting like jigsaws toether. The flip side of that is that Lirael ended in one of the nastiest cliffhangers I've ever seen). But I loved it, and I needed Abhorsen, book three. Read it, loved it. Read the first one. Loved it. Read his Seventh Tower series. Loved all six of them. I'm now officially a fan for life and am hunting down Book One of his Keys to the Kingdom series (I bought book two on sale without book one on hand. That's how much I love him!). Another example of this is Eoin Colfer. I read Artemis Fowl and Arctic Incident one after another. I now have everything he's ever written and shell out for his new books in hardback the day they come out (and being the poor miser I am, that's saying something).

Flip side, and this may be just me as a reader, I can also become extremely author loyal if I read a standalone I loved, but I'll be more leery about it. For instance, Cornelia Funke's Inkheart. A beautiful, gorgeous, amazing book that anyone who has ever loved a book or written a book should go read. It's the first of a trilogy. It's one of my favorite books of all time. I never would have read it if I hadn't picked up and loved The Thief Lord, her earlier stand-alone, and then, very worried that she wouldn't be able to top herself but bored enough to do it (a twenty-hour car trip will do that to you), read the first chapter of Inkheart in the back.

I think it's the building of trust between a reader and an author. With a series, a reader (well, me, at least) stays with it out of a desire to know what happens next (unless it's just that bad that they don't care), and by the end of three or six or eight books, they know that the author will always deliver. One book could be a fluke, and sometimes is. And an author's backlist might be before he or she hits his or her stride. I've been actively avoiding Jonathan Stroud's earlier work (The Leap and Buried Fire) because A) I haven't heard great things about it and B) given that I've heard bad things, there is no possible way for him to top his Bartimaeus Trilogy, which is competing fiercely with Inkheart for the shortlist of favorite books ever and with Secret Society Girl for best use of footnotes. Strictly in their element, though, these books are not toppable. They just aren't.

And that's where I think that series authors can sometimes write themselves straight into a hole. Jonathan Stroud gained millions of readers worldwide with the Bartimaeus books, and those are extremely well-deserved. But I don't know if I'll ever be able to read anything by him again, because I'm almost certain that it won't be as good. It's horrible, but that's a reader's mindset. I'll try, probably, but I'll worry, and I'll nitpick, and he'll have to be just astounding to wipe my and others' prejudices away.

This might be a phenomenon specific to YA. I'm pushing 150 books on my shelves right now, and apart from A Storm of Swords, Secret Society Girl, and The Boleyn Inheritance, every one of them's YA. Of that, I have even more series books than I did when I posted my book stats in February. If they're good, they sell. If they're not, they'll scar your readership. And if they're too good...well, that's a risk we all have to take, isn't it?

As for my own writing, I actively avoid writing series. I'm intimidated enough by organizing one book that flows smoothly and makes sense. Maybe that'll change one day.

lacey kaye said...

Erica, same thing happened to me with OSC. I LOVED Ender's Game. Now? Uh...we have the book on our TBR pile, too.

Erica Ridley said...

It's unanimous then--keep it on the TBR pile until it turns to mulch. =)

Carrie: When's life gonna slow down enough to let you start procrastinating again?? hehehe