Just a few nights ago I sat down to order the Tara Janzen “Steele Street” series as a gift. If you’re not familiar with it – it’s a very sexy, fun, over the top romantic suspense series that has plenty of black ops, twists, intrigue, hot cars, and smexy time. Anyhow, as I went to order I realized that there are eleven books in the series. This made me frown, because I can only recall about five or six that I read and loved. Which leaves about half the series that I definitely did not adore.
I bring this up today, because I’ve been thinking a lot about series and that is a series that did end, and rightfully so. It had run its course and the random characters being pulled in for romance plot lines were getting thin. It did end strong though – and I will have to do a post just about this series so I can share which to read (and which to skip) some other time. What made me pause and think is this thought: how much stronger this could have been if the author had written a few less books in the series? If those stories that were just ok, that weren’t over the top fantastic got removed.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a series recommended to me with the disclaimer that a few of the books in it suck. Wow, how is that good writing? If I like an author, and enjoy the subject matter of a series, it seems to me that I should find most of them enjoyable and if I don’t due to a weak story, I don’t think that is just me being a fickle reader.
This makes me think about series that are bittersweet because they’re short and I want more, and series that seem to be dragging on and don’t know when to quit. I believe that knowing when to walk away, and walking out on a high note instead of being that author who wouldn’t quit writing her weak series is really imperative to keeping my attention as a reader.
Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews (also, the Edge series by same author) has my full attention. I would probably read Ilona Andrews no matter what that insanely talented writing duo wrote. If they started writing inspirational self help books I’d still follow – the books are that good. There is a little tear in my heart because not only are we about to get the last of the Edge books, but we are also going to see the end of the Kate Daniels series as well.
I hate this, and yet I’m ok with this too. Why? Because they’re going out strong. Each and every book is a grade A must read, and re-readable at that. Sight unseen, I would guess that the books they have planned that will be releasing will also be top notch. These are books I can read again and again, and will love for years to come. “Keepers” in every sense of the word.
Fever series by Karen Marie Moning is another series that comes to mind. Oh Barrons, you made us wait for you, bite our nails, and then sigh plenty too. This series was epic (the books are L-O-N-G) and yet, at the end of that five book series I was totally satisfied. Oh don’t get me wrong I’m excited that she is doing a spin-off within the same world with another character point of view and new plot twists, but the Fever series still stands alone as a complete work.
Can spin-off series work? Absolutely, and in fact, sometimes I think it makes a series better because it can provide a new entrance point for new readers, freshen things up, and breathe new life into a good series, or keep a great series strong. Cindy Gerard has really made a name for herself doing just that! Her Bodyguard series leads into her BOI series, which is now leading into her (fabulous!) One Eyed Jacks series– book one releases in January.
On the flip side, how about book series that I’ve quit or don’t keep up on? I am behind on Kresley Cole’s IAD series because frankly, it’s hot and cold for me. Either I love or I hate her books, and this doesn’t get me too motivated to read them. I’m still buying them, they’re in my TBR mountain, but I just don’t keep up. Then there is the Black Dagger Brotherhood, which I washed my hands of back with Phury’s book. Quite frankly it lost me a book or two before that, but I’ve yet to see a strong enough review to make me jump back into that world.
Indeed, in recent years I’ve been quicker to quit series. I stopped purchasing entire back-lists when getting into a new-to-me series and instead I buy them one at a time now. Having a kindle definitely has helped me change my buying habits, as has the pile of series books I forced myself to read over the years because I’d purchased them so I had to stick with it.
One needed to end long ago series that comes to mind is Sookie Stackhouse. Like Stephanie Plum (another series I quit years ago), poor Sookie is caught in a weird tangled love web and has nowhere to go. Both heroines apparently have magical vaginas and aw shucks, but they can’t help but get in trouble. Color me bored. In an welcome twist, Harris finally announced the next Stackhouse will be the last. I will definitely pick that book up, flip to the final page, and then decide if I’ll catch back up or not. What breaks my heart with both of these series is that the first few books in each are among my all time favorites to re-read and enjoy. Once upon a time, they were great… but they got lost along the way.
Speaking of series on hold, long time tease Julie Anne Long said in an interview that the Lyon/Olivia story isn’t immediately planned. In fact, it sounded like she was expanding on that Pennyroyal Green series and world to delay it indefinitely so she can work more books in. For the last several books I’ve anxiously hoped for news, crossed my fingers that the next one would be the Lyon and Olivia book. Knowing this? I’m removing this series from my list until I see them get their story! Annoyed doesn’t begin to cover how I feel at this point!
So, this brings me to my point that unless a very strong, clear story arc is in place and makes the longer series necessary, shorter is better. There are few exceptions – the brilliant Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) comes to mind as someone who continues to baffle and amaze me with how he continues to build that world and the characters within it.
The key there is that there are very clear plots, direction, development, and it is an amazingly detailed world. He manages to make each book utterly satisfying (and they just get better as the series goes on!!) and yet tie into the series as well. That, I believe, is my sticking point and gripe about so many active series right now.
I think that more straightforward contemporary or historical romances can get away with longer meandering series because instead of having to be read in order, the best of those are done in a way that allow new readers to jump in at any point, or skip books and still be able to follow along. This isn’t always the case, but I can think of a number of series (Robin Carr’s Virgin River, Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton) where I have recommended a few books randomly and out of order to friends with no primer needed for them to enjoy.
Author Meljean Brook created a cheat sheet of sorts http://meljeanbrook.com/books/the-guardian-series/primer/ , which has allowed me to read the Guardian novels of my choosing without feeling lost. I appreciate this so very much, as some of the stories didn’t appeal at all, and others have absolutely blown my mind.
Overall, I think I prefer knowing that a set number of books is planned from the start. Oh, I’m ok with an author adding on or cutting back slightly, but I like to know there is a plan and that this isn’t just something that is being made up depending on sales. One expanded series that I can think of (that is definitely working!) is the Elemental Assassin series by Jennifer Estep. There was a clear story arc for the first five books, now more books are contracted and the adventures continue. The story is strong, the characters have lots of room to grow and I’m as hooked now as I ever was. Widow’s Web (the most recent) was perhaps my favorite of the whole series to date.
For me, the problem comes in when I feel an author is trying to reach into my pocket rather than hand me a well crafted tale. Instead of creating a trilogy or other set number of stories, I feel like some authors are making more books not because the stories are there, but because they hope to get a bit more money out of fans. I understand that being an author is a job, and a hard one at that, but I also know it is a craft, an art, and nothing will make me walk away faster than making me feel like you’re pushing mediocre stories at me just to get a few more bucks. Nothing will make me walk away – or tell my friends not to read your series – faster than a lot of lame books mixed into your series in order to stretch it out. If you can walk away with a few less books but very strong, that’s when I am telling people they simply must read you.
And that is when I’ll be buying more copies of your series to give as gifts to readers I adore as well. I’d love to hear your must-read series as well as ones you recommend and what you like to see in series.