One of the things that is very frustrating as a writer is having a publisher lose interest in books in a linked series before that series is completed. From a financial perspective, it’s easy to understand why publishers do this. They have bought and launched a series, but sales aren’t as good as they had hoped. (Expectations can be at any level, btw. A title that sells 50,000 units could be either a success or a failure, depending upon the house’s expectations and their investment in the book.) It’s quite common for publishing houses to suggest that the author write something else which is not related to the existing series. It might be in the same genre – or sub-genre – or not. It might be published under the same author name, or not. The idea is to make a fresh start, because novelty is easier to sell, in a way.
The problem with this from a writer’s perspective is that there are characters who don’t get their stories told. When an author has planned a linked series – and I write a lot of linked series – there might also be developments in the over-arching story that won’t be addressed under this plan. There will be plot threads left dangling, too. Overall, in terms of storytelling, it’s not an ideal situation.
For readers, it’s often infuriating. They have invested in reading a series with the expectation that it will be completed, and discover along the way that that won’t be the case. This happens with television shows, too, for much the same reason. As a reader and a viewer, I feel betrayed when this happens, even though I understand the financial realities behind it.
It seems to me that abandoning one series to start a new one really is starting over. The majority of fans that the author has collected so far will likely be alienated, so the existing market will be abandoned along with the series. It really is analagous to starting from scratch, one more time.
In the past, however, there haven’t been many viable options. Publishing houses do not take on series that have been launched at other publishing houses, unless those books are selling extraordinarily well. Publishing houses also all calculate their math the same way, so the majority of the time, if the existing publishing house thinks a series isn’t “performing”, then the other publishing houses will come to the same conclusion. This has left writers without a lot of choice. I know many authors who have started over, as suggested by their publishing houses. I know others who have left the business, disheartened over these decisions.
What is very exciting about the evolution of the publishing market is that authors now have a way to tell stories that publishers might not want to publish. Discarded series can now be completed – hurrah! – and both readers and writers have the chance for closure. Digital self-publishing (and print on demand editions) means that writers have a tool to keep our existing audience as well as build upon it. This allows us to keep the faith with our audience.
I think this is really, really cool.
Another wonderful thing about digital self-publishing is how the math works in favour of the author. So, while a publishing house might think that it isn’t worth publishing a book that will sell less than 50,000 copies, the author might do just as well financially by selling fewer copies. Maybe there really are only 15,000 people who want to read that book, and maybe the publisher can’t make a profit on that kind of publication quantity. A self-published author probably can. So, not only do we have opportunities for completion, but we have a way for books that appeal to a niche or smaller market to exist. In recent years, publishing has become more and more geared toward the blockbuster novel, so this is an exciting counterbalance.
For authors, though, there is a balance to be struck between looking back and looking forward. Which series should be completed and which ones should be left unfinished? Which ones might still have audience? Which ones are of interest to the writer?
I thought we’d look this week at my various series, where they are, and what I’m going to do about them in this brave new world of publishing.
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about Delacroix books.