Wednesday 5 April 2017

[discussion] When Should Authors Stop?

Claudia Gray wrote a trilogy and moved on, but not all authors do

When Should Authors Stop?

Or, When Will I Stop Buying What You Churn Out?

The other day I was in the bookstore when I saw the Diary of A Wimpy Kid Book 10 being advertised and thought to myself, Christ alive, what an obvious cash grab. Then I remembered that I had just gleefully and excitedly ordered Skulduggery Pleasant: Book Ten by Derek Landy, all the while going oh my god he's writing a new one. It has the tagline "you can't keep a dead man down" which is just about the best thing I've ever heard. But this got me wondering, where and when would I stop buying books in a series? When does an author cross the line, in my eyes, from creating new stories in a beloved universe to beating a dead horse with a stick?

Recycling Plotlines

Maybe, I thought to myself, it's when they've found a formula that works and just keep using it again and again to churn out slightly different variations on a singular plot line. Take Rick Riordan's works. I stopped buying them after Blood of Olympus, which means that I now own 10 of his books. Then there's the new Magnus Chase series (which I borrowed from a friend), the Trials of Apollo, and those ones about Egypt. I think Riordan should have stopped several books ago, and I won't be buying any more.

Similarly, I'm sure most people my age are aware of Erin Hunter's Warrior Cat series, books that spawned a lot of roleplaying forums. Goodreads informs me that there are almost 90 (ninety!!) books in the Warrior Cats universe, and that Hunter has done exactly the same thing with dogs and bears in different series. Even as a twelve year old I stopped reading Warrior Cats after book twelve, as even my then tiny mind realised I wasn't getting anything new. 

But then I remembered that I had lovingly bought the Rangers Apprentice: The Royal Ranger, book 12, fully expecting it to be just a variation on the previous 11 books. I haven't read it yet, but I will, happily and comforted by the sense of nostalgia. So clearly I'm not entirely stopped by a recycled plot.

addendum: I just read it and was entirely comforted by the overwhelming nostalgia

Cassandra Clare has written many books in this universe, including the massive collection: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

Those Weird Novella Collections

It seems to be a thing these days that authors will publish a bunch of short stories with titles like #1.5 or #0.8 or whatever. I'm not talking about straight up stand alone novellas here, like the sort Brandon Sanderson writes, but expansions on previously established universes and characters, like those ones S. J. Maas wrote for her Throne of Glass books. Whilst in the bookshop I saw an actual print copy of a novella for the Red Queen books (Cruel Crown) and it was tiny and still being sold for about £8! Personally, I thought it was a bit ridiculous. I don't think it is necessarily cash-grabbing, but I think it's a way for an author to quickly publish another book whilst working on their real project. 

Now, I know that authors love creating backstories and little side ideas for their characters that unfortunately won't make it into the main books. I also know that I love learning more about my favourite characters. Which is why I turn to fanfiction: fantastically written, often hilarious and wonderfully creative, and free. The only collection of novellas I've ever bought is Derek Landy's Armageddon Outta Here, which I found to be a bit of a disappointing experience. I don't think I'll be buying any more. 

Making Something Into A Trilogy When It Really Does Not Need To Be

Think the book version of the Hobbit films. I recently read Sea by Sarah Driver, the first in a trilogy which could easily have been condensed into one volume. It was a particularly odd choice for a children's book as well, which normally have self-contained plots and each subsequent book is just a new story about that character (like the How to Train Your Dragon books). I can see why it might be tempting for an author to do this: more books to explore your plot and develop your characters, but it almost always ends up being a bit unsatisfying to read and feeling like a cash-grab.

Robin Hobb writes the third Fitzchivalry Farseer trilogy and I cheer, safe in my hypocrisy

Continuing a Series After Several Years

Somethin that I've also noticed recently (whether it is a recent thing or not is another matter), is authors returning to series that they finished several years ago and adding onto them. Think The Cursed Child by Rowling or Philip Pullman's return to the His Dark Materials universe. These are less of a money making venture and more of an author realising they have more to say about something, more for their characters to do and that their stories aren't over. Should they? Will I buy them? I'm really not sure. I loved Harry Potter as much as any late 90's child, but have exactly 0 intention of watching or reading The Cursed Child; for me, the story of Harry Potter is over. 

But I will probably be picking up a copy of Pullman's new book, despite His Dark Materials being less of a staple of my childhood than Harry Potter. I'm not really sure why, I suppose I'm just a bit curious to see where it goes (and also I had a massive childhood crush on Lyra, so there's that). I also haven't yet touched Sanderson's new Mistborn trilogy, despite enjoying the first ones and knowing that, like anything he writes, they're probably amazing.

More enthusiastically, when Robin Hobb announced her new trilogy Fitz and the Fool (the fifth series in the Realm of the Elderlings universe) I preordered the first book and devoured it on the release day, reading well into the early hours of the next day. I think the difference between this and say Riordan, is that it had been about 10 years since Hobb had last written about Fitzchivalry Farseer and she had clearly come up with something new to say. The fact that I have read all the books (about fifteen?) in the Realm of the Elderlings universe and loved them is evidence that you can do it right. I think that Hobb took her universe and then decided to write about a whole new set of characters in a different land with a wildly different plot line made it all fresh but familiar. It really worked for me.

The Conclusion

The only thing I've really managed to conclude is that I, a reader, am entirely fickle. Sometimes I will scoff and go oh for god's sake did you really need to write more, whether it's some books I loved or ones I hated, and sometimes I'll go hurrah, give it to me now. I'm not fond of a fair amount of things that authors choose to write, but if they sell, well they sell. I suppose I'm just glad that people find things they love reading!

When do you think authors go too far with series?

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