Welcome to Shop Talk, which usually happens on Wednesdays although I’ve been remiss lately. We chat about something to do with books or publishing and if you participate by commenting you get in the running for a $10 Amazon or B-N gift card, or equivalent Book Depository book. (Why oh why don’t they offer gift cards!?)
On one of my favorite review blogs last week, the talk turned to the way series end. The blogger had been disappointed in the last book of a series (I honestly can’t remember if she said which series it was) because the author had left some things open-ended and questions unanswered. She felt cheated to have invested so much time reading a series only to have it just…end. The question was: Does the author owe it to the reader to give a series a satisfactory conclusion?
It was clear from the responses to the post that a lot of people do feel cheated by the end of series, and that the blame gets placed on the author. A few years ago, because I was a reader long before I was an author, I would have agreed with them.
As a reader, I understand the frustration. I mean, a lot of people obviously didn’t like the way Charlaine Harris ended the Southern Vampires series, aka Sookie, but at least she ended it. Kim Harrison has been very forthcoming about when the Hollows series will end, and we assume she’s going to tie everything up (and hope we like the way she does it).
But you know what? Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison are best-selling authors, who can dictate the length of their series. They can wrap everything up in a pretty bow and resolve all the questions.
The rest of us schleps? Not so much. Let’s look at my Sentinels series as an example of how a series works in the real world. I turned in the manuscript for book three, Elysian Fields, on Feb. 27, 2012. It comes out on August 13, 2013. A couple of weeks ago (happy dance), I learned, to my delight, that my publisher wanted two more in the series. But when I turned in the manuscript of Elysian SEVENTEEN MONTHS ago, I didn’t know if it would be the last book or not. I hoped not, so I wrote it with enough open endings to support a fourth book.
Had my publisher decided that no, the sales were not satisfactory and they didn’t feel the series had a chance of pulling out of the slump, then Elysian Fields would have been the last book in the series. That would not be my choice, as the author. Unless one is a Charlaine or a Kim or a Laurell K., the publisher makes the decision on when to pull the plug on a series, not the author.
Do some authors continue their series too long? Absolutely. Do we have the option of writing a conclusion to our orphaned series and publish it ourselves? Absolutely—although there is a big commitment of time and money involved that we might never recoup.
I’ve always said that if my series get orphaned, I’ll at least put out a novella to wrap things up, just as a gift to the readers who have invested time and emotion in my stories and my characters. It’s a hard thing to do, though, giving up writing time when you might be earning a living in order to write something that will earn more in goodwill. But goodwill, and the trust between and author and a reader, is important.
I have no answers here—every author is different in how he or she chooses to handle the ending of a series. And I think it’s inevitable that some readers will be disappointed. I just thought it important to point out that a suddenly abandoned series usually doesn’t happen because of anything the author does or doesn’t do.
So, what say you? Have you been disappointed when favorite series ended without a satisfactory resolution of story? Do you think authors—or their publishers—have an obligation to readers to put out a final series book that wraps up the storyline?