Saturday, 18 November 2017

Unfinished series - the backlash.

There's nothing more annoying than an unfinished



Well, actually there are many things more annoying than an unfinished sentence, or an unfinished series. But both can certainly be irritating. We don't like to be left hanging.

Plenty has been said on the subject of whether an author owes their readers the end of a series just because they sold them the start. I'm not going to talk about that here. What I am going to consider is what impact the delays to certain high profile fantasy series have on the fantasy book market more generally.

I was sparked to blog by this thread on Goodreads: I'll never, ever ever, start reading an unfinished series, how about you?


It's not unique. I've seen the sentiment expressed many times before.

Again, what I'm considering here has nothing to do with the authors commonly brought up in these discussions. There are many reasons why books can be delayed, some of them that only other writers can appreciate, some of them that may be heavily compounded by high levels of success.

What I'm interested in is the idea that sizable numbers of readers might genuinely resolve not to start unfinished series.

This would be both very unfortunate for many authors, and misguided since the vast majority of series are completed to the publisher's deadlines or within a reasonable period. Many authors produce a book a year ... so to swear off anything new until it is finished would be punishing the many for the misfortunes of the few. The trouble is that the high profile of these delayed series casts into the shadows the fact that the statistical likelihood of any given series being delayed is very small.

All but the most wildly successful authors need readers to buy into their series / trilogies early. Without good sales out of the gate the rest of the series can be in jeopardy. It could lead to a decline in the publishing effort put behind the remaining books, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of commercial failure. At worst it can lead to publishers bailing on series, leaving them unfinished, which is exactly what the readers not buying the books were scared of ... they have caused the thing they were worried about ... they have become the thing they hate!

The phenomenon of series being dumped by publishers is much more common in the translation market where the overheads of translating say Prince of Thorns into Spanish mean that each book is more of a financial gamble for the publisher. With translated series if the first book or first two books do not do well ... there will be no more books ... which means readers don't buy series until they are complete ... which means sales are poor and series are cancelled. This particular vicious circle rolls amok through many overseas markets.

You can buy Prince of Thorns in Spanish, but neither of the other two books. You can buy Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns in Dutch, but not Emperor of Thorns. The trilogy will not be completed in either country.


If the mindset that lead to the thread linked above becomes more prevalent in the English language market then the same vicious circle will start to gather momentum there too.

It's hard to bring it to a halt though. The series where this has happened are few and far between, but they are also series that in terms of sales stand head and shoulders above the rest of the epic fantasy market, and so their impact on readers' psyche and buying habits is big and grows year by year.

The big question is was this just chance or did the success of these series cause the delays, maybe through the pressure of expectation, maybe by changing the lives of the authors beyond recognition? Or was it just chance that this issue hit our most popular authors?



All we can do as individuals is to decide whether we want to "live in fear" and choose our fiction cautiously from older, complete series, or whether we will shrug it off, decide to join in at the leading edge and support new talent entering the fray.

And of course, whatever negative impact might be speculated upon as a result of the delays in question, the chances are that by raising the profile of fantasy as a whole, and by bringing more readers to the shelves, those series have actually done other authors far more good than harm.












18 comments:

  1. Those "high profile" authors who are taking their time, I'd rather have met those characters and read the part of the story I read than not met them. My to-read list is always overflowing anyway. I don't have time to get aingsty about books that haven't been written yet. Authors I really love I preorder at my local brick and mortar book store and buy the hard back.

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    1. Agree completely. I feel blessed to have read The Name of the Wind even if the third book never comes out.

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  2. I'll keep trying new series, but delays, especially years long delays means I probably won't come back to them. By the time some of these high profile delayed books come out I've forgotten many of the details of the original books and I don't have the time or desire to read them.

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  3. For me it is not so much the waiting that prevent me buying books from unfinished series, but rather the communication of the writer towards his readers. If the writer is not transparant to his readers, i will not buy the books. The longer the wait, the more chance of writers stop giving updates or whatsoever, or genuinly seem to stop caring about their readers. At that point i stop supporting writers and buying their books. If writers tend to be consistent and have open communication towards their fans, i keep buying their books.

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    1. I think that's a fair point but there is also a problem there, where a minority of fans take advantage of that open communication to rip on the authors, harass them and scream blue murder at them. This has made authors much more reluctant to discuss their progress but anything other than "IT'S DONE!" results in a minor backlash. When this has been going on for years on end, as with Martin and Rothfuss, it results in them stopping giving updates altogether.

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  4. You could buy the books as they're released and just don't read them until they come out.
    Think of the excitement cultivating over the span of decades!

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  5. You could buy the books as they're released and just don't read them until they come out.
    Think of the excitement cultivating over the span of decades!

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  6. Too many trilogies these days are one long story chopped into three sections. My preferred authors wrote a complete story for each book, so it doesn't matter if the next is never seen.

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  7. Like Chris, my main worry is that when I'll come back to the series again (months or years later) I will have forgotten all characters and plot.

    This is made worse by the fact I'm reading mainly fantasy books. If I have too many series pending, all worlds, magic systems and characters stories are collided into one in my head and it's not so easy to sort the mess.

    I'm actually not so afraid of a series not to finish (I'm ok filling the blank in my head), I just know I wouldn't enjoy it as much as the first read if I can't resume the read with all my memories and emotions restored when the next instalment is out.

    One thing I would really help (That I only seen in the Dark Tower audio books) is a spoiler free "Previously in..." section at the beginning of a book stating who are the characters, where they are in their lives/adventures at that point in time as well as a quick reminder of the world state and magic system (If any). Current I'm having a read of the Wikipedia page hoping it won't leak some secrets ;)

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    1. That is why I read the often extensive wiki's when new books come out like for Dresden.

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  8. I rarely start an unfinished series these. The problem is that I can't remember what happened in the first book, so I start the second book feeling annoyed and disconnected from it. So I wait until the series is complete -- and buy it only if the whole series has strong reviews. Don't have much time to read these days, so I only read the award winners or those with really fantastic reviews.

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  9. Yep. Me too. Don’t mind waiting a year or so between books but this 5-6 year wait can be asking too much. Someone else put it perfectly when they said you have numerous series on the go at the same time and the worlds can become muddled. By the time book 3 comes out you don’t always feel the draw to go back and read the first 2 again to remember the details.

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  10. I think we all know where the problem lies, a few authors who once they've had a taste of success, find themselves overwhelmed by the pressure to perform and strive for an impossible level of perfection so as not to let anybody down (that and they obviously get to comfortable once those royalty checks start rolling in, it's a well-known fact that artists need to suffer a bit for their art). While they are just fine living off their success (rapidly fading into the mists of time though it might be), the rest of you authors need to get together and persuade them, whatever it might take, not to be such primadonnas and just get on with it (like they did at the start when they weren't rich and famous).


    Note that this is not an endorsement to strap George R. R. Martin to a bunk bed and pelt him with soap-stuffed socks, but they need to realize how their inconstancy is hurting the rest of you.

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  11. I think Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy - a trilogy in five parts, would really upset people who think they've waited until all 3 books were published. How would they have felt when the 4th came out and then the 5th. They must have been devastated lol. Thinking back to the furore as each HP book was released with each subsequent volume receiving larger interest would lead us to believe that most people are happy in anticipation of a new volume of a series. Sometimes i feel compelled prior to the arrival of the last book to go back and read it all again so I get the feel of the whole saga but really I am happy to read them as they appear, whenever that may be, it's like having an old set of friends come to visit. The sad part comes when you know it's the last book and you're not going to hear from them again. Thanks for Road Brothers :)

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  12. I feel like I have to let my younger self speak here - "But a Year is Forever!" I used to have the don't read until the series is finished rule not because of any delays but just because the normal publishing cycle was too slow for me.
    This whole thing is not a new phenomena. If anything is affecting reader expectations, it is not IMO the few high profile delays but the many self published authors putting out three books a year.

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  13. It's funny that Stephen King's Misery came out so many decades before this current issue, as it certainly captures some of the public's feelings (hopefully not active thoughts) about the delays.

    I bought the second Song of fire and ice book to read on a plane trip from London to Australia in 2000. We've received 3 other books in the last 17 years. I started reading these as a teenager, I'm now middle aged.

    I do note that mental health issues have been a part of some of the high profile delays; and have a great deal of sympathy for those authors. I try to support them - one of these books I've had on pre-order for the last 2 years with no actual publishing date in sight.

    But I also do feel like there is a responsibility on the part of a person who releases a part work to complete that work in a reasonable period of time. It's those authors, without a reasonable excuse, that fail to do that and seem to spend their lives at one convention or another that make the blood boil.

    But Mark has it right - we cant kill our flock of geese because the one that lays the golden eggs hasn't laid for a while. Every egg (book) has value.

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  14. The biggest reason why I'm cautious about series is that my reading time is precious and I feel like I'm wasting it if I re-read. I read a lot of action thriller series, but those are pretty much standalone. Mark Lawrence's series also are not a problem, because they're short and the author summarizes past volumnes. But something like Malazan series? No fricking way. Despite the fact that Erikson was publishing regularly there's no way I would forget a lot of cruicial informations between releses. So I just waited till it was done and read the entire thing in a span of the year

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  15. As a Dutch-speaking Belgian, I was surprised to see that Emperor of Thorns was not translated in Dutch (I read the English version). Which then resulted in some digging through Dutch book-selling sites. One of the problems with translations is that they take quite a while to be released and are, often, a lot more expensive than the English version. On every one of these sites, I could get the English trilogy of Prince of Thorns for about 50% less than the Dutch one. From my own personal experience, almost all bookstores in the Dutch part of Belgium sell English books, even the local one in my more rural community. I wonder if the availability of the English books also impacts the sales and how much that contributes to the lack of sales in Dutch.

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