Discussion: Buying a Series

Posted September 3, 2018 by Nicky in General / 6 Comments

As with a lot of my discussion posts, this is basically prompted by authors posting on Twitter. In this case, authors are often to be found urging you not to wait for a series to be over before buying their books. There’s solid reasons for that, of course — if people don’t buy the first book in a series, publishers are probably not going to bother taking the risk of publishing the second book — let alone commit to an extended series in hopes that in ten years or so, once it’s complete, people will finally flock to buy the thing.

As a reader, though, I find authorial reproach on this topic… ugh, irritating isn’t the word, because it sounds unfair. But to me, it’s also unfair to expect readers to make an investment in a series right out of the gate, without it even being clear when the next books will come out, how long it’s going to take, how long the series might be, whether things are planned in advance… I would never bother to read the first book of a fantasy trilogy when it’s just the debut novel, for certain: I don’t want to be stuck in Scott Lynch-esque limbo. (I’m with Neil Gaiman — [author name] is not your bitch — but it’s been disappointing as a fan. And in that case, it wasn’t even after the debut novel that things slowed down. There were two books out in reasonably quick succession; it looked like a good bet!)

And of course, I don’t want to buy a book that I’m not going to read until I know when the next one is out. I have a backlog of over a thousand books; if nothing else, I don’t want to purchase something in order to have it sit there for five years inflating my counts and clogging my shelves.

Putting up a discussion post might imply I have an answer, but I really don’t. I don’t have a solid policy: I’ll buy a debut novel if it looks interesting, and I might even read it and risk spending five years waiting for the next book. But it’s something I really would like to balance out somehow: authors’ need for an audience, my desire to feel that I’m not gambling on the next book ever existing…

So hey, what do you guys do? Buy the first book and not read it? Buy the first book and read it and hope to goodness the next comes soon? Stubbornly hold out for the series’ end?

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6 responses to “Discussion: Buying a Series

  1. There are series that don’t continue the same story or even have the same protagonists. Such series are usually united by a place or a family. Case in point: Sarah Wynde. Her Tassamara series could be read in any order, as all the stories are stand-alone. The secondary characters are all the same, as the events of all the books take place in a small town Tassamara, but the protagonists are different from book to book, although they are brothers and sisters. There are no connections, plot-wise, either. I bought her books as they came out, and enjoyed them all independently.
    Another example: Lois McMaster Bujold and her Vorkosigan saga. Again, the books could be read in any order. They are all stand-alone, although in her case, they all share the protagonist. But the plot of each book starts and ends inside that book’s covers. No cliffhangers.
    I think such series are good to buy and read as they come out. No need to wait till the series is complete, because it might never be. Such series are usually open-ended.
    The series that continue the same story in three or more volumes are another matter altogether. In such cases, each volume often ends in a cliffhanger, and I hate those. I don’t read them and don’t buy them, period.

    • Yeah, in those cases it makes sense. I do buy trilogies and such when I’m sure of the author, but I do wonder if publishers could do it better. (I was impressed recently by Tor bringing out Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Calculating Stars and its sequel within a couple months of each other, for example. That seems to combine the best of both worlds to me.)

  2. I understand exactly what you’re saying. I read mostly Indie and self published so I take a risk with every series. I invested in the first two books of a series only to find a huge cliffhanger, a four year wait with no word and the author AWOL online! Frustrating!!! Another had me hyped for an eight book series and the first one was brilliant but the last time I spoke to the author after several years of waiting was ‘I might get round to them eventually’ which I was mad about as I’d been promoting this book for years! And then there is George RR Martin! I can’t imagine what is has been like for fans who read them as they came out. I can see the author’s view of why it’s important to get readers to jump onto the bandwagon at the start but as a reader I need to be sure that the series will run a decent amount of time and come to a satisfying ending, not leave me hanging. Great post!

    • I think that’s partly the constraint publishers put on authors, more than necessarily to do with the authors themselves, too! And I can also get that they need to get the first book out there, or they won’t have money to live on while they work on the other books. But sometimes… arggghhh.

  3. I think authors can help too by not having huge cliff hangers! Each of the Harry Potter books, especially the first few, have an actual ending to them. You don’t feel like you are left hanging. You actually get a complete story. But I just read Grace And Fury and I am PISSED because we don’t find out what happens. Its just a cliff hanger, not an ending. I absolutely hate it when authors do that and the next book doesn’t even have a title let alone a release date. I think its lazy writing and cheap tricks to make you buy the next book in the series. If the story was actually worth investing in then the first books should be good enough to enjoy on their own too!
    Brittany recently posted…Grace and FuryMy Profile

    • Oh huh, I just read something else about that book today, which is funny after how long I’ve taken to reply to this comment! I do think a lot of it is down to publishers/editors as well as authors: sometimes the author doesn’t have a lot of choice about when a book gets published and how close the sequel is when it does come out.

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