Are readers reluctant to read an unfinished series?

wot-books

Jordan’s 15-book series

I’m listening to a podcast about science fiction/fantasy readers being reluctant to read a series until it’s finished. And of course, I have some thoughts about that, because I’m a SFF reader.

If you don’t read SFF and are instead a romance or thriller reader, you still sometimes deal with series. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts about it, so keep reading and then talk to me at the end of the post!

SFF readers, though…

We know all about the unfinished series. The most famous one right now is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which is taking him what seems like forever to write. And Neil Gaiman’s request that we just leave George alone aside, it can be very frustrating as a fan to wait for the next book in a series to come out through a traditional publisher, because the process takes so long, even when the author is a fast writer. Traditional publishing takes about two years, maybe more, to push a novel through to the bookstore.

Self-publishing, of course, takes as little time as the author needs to upload their book to Amazon. And I think that’s part of the issue. It’s a pain to wait for the next George RR Martin book, but in the meantime, I can go online and buy several COMPLETED series by self-published authors, many of them very, very good writing that should probably be traditionally published but they aren’t for whatever reasons.

Now, the redeemable thing with Martin is that he’s savvily worked out a TV deal with HBO that satisfies (and distracts) the readers who might otherwise be angry that he’s taking longer and longer between books in the series.

But not every writer gets a cool TV series. (Look at poor Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden.) If that’s you, you have basically two choices: get your series done all at once and then publish it with a traditional publisher if you’re very lucky (like Brent Weeks did with his Nightangel trilogy). Or you self-publish books in your series rapidly and market your work to great success, also very luckily (like Michael R. Hicks and his In Her Name series).

If you’re a reader stuck in this mix, what do you do? Well, here’s what I do…

  1. If I get bored or frustrated with your series because the characters or plotting start to sag somehow, I stop reading. This is true for me and poor George RR Martin, actually, who has reached the point that many of his female characters have begun to seem like xeroxed copies of each other. I’m gone.
  2. If you go over five or six books in the series with no signs of an end, I stop reading. I’m thinking of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Yes, yes, the guy passed away during the writing of it. But still, FIFTEEN books by the time it’s done. Come on. I have to do other things with my life too, like sleep and eat. I’m gone.
  3. If you do publish the books all at once or close to all at once and I don’t like the first book, I won’t read the rest. So, make that first book really addicting.
  4. However… If you publish your series all at once or close to it and they’re really good, I will definitely read them all. This is true of traditionally published authors like Brent Weeks, as well as self-published authors like Michael R. Hicks.
  5. If you publish a ton of books on a relatively consistent basis, even if they are not all consistently good, if I love the world you created, if I love the characters, and if I love the overall plot arc, I will keep reading. This is true of Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files, which start out a bit slow but get progressively better around books 4 and 5 when the overall plot arc gets really exciting. It’s also true of paranormal writer Nalini Singh and her Psy/Changeling series, where the books are not all equally strong, but the characters overall are fabulously entertaining.

The lesson for writers?

Do your best to write a good overall story arc that people will want to keep following until the end. You could think Lost here, which kept people interested for six seasons. Make sure you have several characters that readers love enough to keep following. And make sure your stories are consistently captivating. Or you’ll lose readers.

The lesson for readers?

There really are some good series out there, and you can find them in both traditional bookstores and in the online ebook market. But don’t feel bad about it if some series tire you out. You don’t have to waste your precious reading time with a long series if it’s just not keeping you interested. Go out and try a new author! Try me. Try my friends. Some of us, I’m sure you’ll like!

Question: What do you think? Do you read a series through to the end, no matter what? What does it take for you to quit reading a series? And if you read romance, thrillers, or other non-SFF genres that also feature book series, do you find yourself tempted to stop reading those series at times too, just like us SFF readers do?

Links:

Here’s a link to the podcast I talked about. The beginning is where they talk about series: Functional Nerds Podcast interview with Jeff Salyards.

Here’s a link to Michael R. Hicks’ books. I’ve read his Redemption trilogy and thought it was excellent.

Here’s Neil Gaiman’s infamous George R.R. Martin is not your bitch post.

And here’s one reader’s rebuttal to Neil Gaiman, in the interest of fairness.

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One thought on “Are readers reluctant to read an unfinished series?

  1. I gave up on Jordan entirely years ago, though I have a goal to finish it at some point.

    With GRRM I did make the decision to stop reading until the series was finished, then got sucked back in.

    I will quit reading a series until it’s out entirely if its not holding my interest.

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