To Be ContinuedMarch 11th, 2010 at 23:25
I had a great chat tonight on Twitter with @JonathanStrahan, @charliejane, @charlesatan and others about fantasy and the way that publishers are reacting in different ways to the reader resistance phenomenon: readers turning their back on extended fantasy series, and in some cases refusing to start reading a series until it’s complete, so that they can happily get invested in the characters without worrying the author is going to drop dead, or make them wait.
Some of the techniques publishers are using include letting the author finish the whole series/trilogy so they can assure readers it’s all going to be there, and in many cases releasing the books much closer together, rather than the more traditional one volume a year. This is happening with my Creature Court trilogy, where the third book will be delivered around the time the first will be published, and they’ll be coming out six monthly. Meanwhile, Rowena Cory Daniells has a new trilogy coming out this year through Solaris at once a month! As Jonathan pointed out, this is a method the romance industry has been employing for years.
I get pretty angry about the most problematic method publishers use to overcome the reader resistence phenomenon: that is to say, fraud.
I still remember the fury I felt when I got to the end of Gwyneth Jones’ Bold as Love. There was no sign on the book that it was a continuous series, but ten pages from the end, I had suspected there was a lack of finality. Sure enough, “to be continued in Castles in the Sand.” There are other examples, quite a few of them documented across the web, of series which the publishers have, for whatever reason, chosen not to represent as a series from Book #1.
Here’s the thing: there are many things you can do to try to persuade readers that is going to be worth their while to pick up Book #1. But it’s not okay to pretend the book is something other than what it is. A reader who doesn’t want to read a lone Book #1 is going to be PARTICULARLY angry if they are tricked into buying a book under false pretences. They will tell their friends. And you know, if they don’t (as most readers don’t) know much about the industry and how it works, they’re not going to blame the publisher. They’re going to blame the author.
Charlie Jane started tonight’s conversation by complaining about a book she received for review which was actually a Book #2, but didn’t say so anywhere on the cover, blurb, etc. Her response was to refuse to review it, and I don’t blame her in the least – it’s pretty hard to enjoy a book when you’ve missed out on the story so far. There’s a reason why Book #2s are never going to eclipse the sales of Book #1. Readers want to start from the beginning. If you trick them into buying a Book #2 out of context, they are likely to be confused, or angry, or at the very least, irritated. Know who they’re going to lose trust in? Not the publisher. The author.
Sarah Monette has spoken at length at the lack of support her Melusine series (which I loved, a beautiful literary fantasy story over four volumes) received from its publisher, and how problematic it is to have a continuous four book series not marked as such – her later volumes were marked as ‘by the same author as Melusine’ etc. but you would only know they were part of a series if you had more than one volume in front of you, to see they were about the same characters. Even if you knew it was a series, there were no numerical markings, so the only way to figure out the order of reading would be to compare years of publication.
Connie Willis’ latest epic has taken some flak because it has been divided into two volumes, to the detriment of the story. Having to wait ten months for the second half of the plot is frustrating even to those readers who will happily float around in a sea of Willis dialogue and set up.
There are two kinds of readers: those who enjoy reading continuous fantasy & science fiction series and those who don’t. If publishers are going to publish continuous fantasy series, I honestly don’t see what benefit they think can be gained from trying to appeal to those readers who don’t like them. I understand it’s a problem if readers won’t pick up Book #1 – the whole financial model of series relies on heavy sales of a first volume. After all, no one is going to buy Book #2 if they haven’t read Book #1… though sadly if the sales of Book #1 are dismal enough, Book #2 might not make it on to the shelves.
The most obvious solution to the issue, to me, is that a publisher who isn’t prepared to sell a fantasy series as a fantasy series should do more to encourage stand alone fantasy titles. Fantasy lends itself beautifully to a long series, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only option. Writers are pretty flexible, actually, and if publishers (and while we’re at it, readers) were more encouraging of standalone fantasy titles, then there wouldn’t be quite so much waiting around for readers. As long as people think of fantasy as just being about series, then writers are going to nurture those ideas – they’re going to write their trilogy rather than their brilliant standalone epic, because everyone knows publishers want trilogies.
Apparently they sell better… (yes, I’m pretty sure the argument just swung full circle, how about that?)
In short: I prefer it when the book does what it says on the tin.
How about you? What was the first fantasy or SF book you remember realllllly waiting for? Which number was it in the series? Was it worth the wait? Have you ever read book #2 first?