SHOP TALK: How Book Series End

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?
Leave a comment for a chance at the gift card, and let’s chat!

44 thoughts on “SHOP TALK: How Book Series End

  1. I was disappointed to hear that Kelly Meding’s publisher wasn’t going to continue publishing her Dreg City series, but she’s self-publishing the fifth book in the series now. I think self-publishing offers authors that option.

    I agree that I’m disappointed if the final book in a series (and it’s announced well in advance that it will be the last book) leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

    • I think that’s such a great option for authors whose series are ending–something that wasn’t really feasible even three or four years ago. It’s how I will handle it when the time comes, I hope.

  2. I think as a reader I want a series wrapped up. I also understand in today’s publishing world things sometimes don’t work out, cost vs profit, etc. I think the author can wrap up the story on-line. Most have web sites or blogs or even publishers blogs as a place to meet their fans and publish short stories or missing pages, etc. And if we as fans are satisfied or not we must remember the story belongs to the author.

    • You’re right, Roger–there are all kinds of options available to authors now. So the only excuse an author can really have for not doing it is time. Do you postpone a paying manuscript to do a freebie? Maybe the answer should be yes, because it’s customer service, in a sense. A thank-you to readers.

  3. I recently read Lust for Life, the last book in Jeri Smith-Ready’s vampire series and was disappointed in it. She wrote it to be the last book in the series so although it wrapped up some of the story lines I didn’t enjoy it as much as the earlier books. I’ve found over the years that when an author writes a book to wrap up all of the story lines you loose the character development and oftentimes some of the plot elements that made the series enjoyable in the first place. But I don’t like the alternative either where a publisher drops a series in the middle.

    • Ah, that’s a really good point, Sandy, and one I hadn’t thought about. Much of what makes a book good is the character growth, and I think the ultimate character growth, plus resolution of various storylines, is a very, very hard thing to write. I haven’t read Jeri’s series, so I can’t comment on that. But it might be inevitable that a “wrapup” book will not be as strong as the buildup.

  4. … i think i want some closure yes now i like the idea that if the publisher doesn’t permit a new book ( and last one) then the author can do it not necessarily in print ( even if it would be best for those who spend the money on it) but at least online and i appreciate that you though of it. Some open ending yes if they aren’t too many or too big one ( in case we get spin off or something… now finishing with letting the readers handing…absolutely no ( but no the author isn’t obligated to make characther x ends with Y because it depends on what what thought at teh beginning and in teh evolution of teh story)

  5. The great thing about self publishing is that now a traditionally published author is forced to close their series, they can create a novella, like you mentioned.

    I was disappointed that the Twilight series ended, but it wasn’t so much how it ended. I just wanted to see it continue. I love the books. I would have loved to see Renesmee have some stories.

    • It would have been interesting to see where Stephanie Meyer would have taken the story had she let Renesmee grow up. I have a feeling her “terrible twos” would have been extremely terrible! My guess is that there is a LOT of Twilight fan fiction out there where people are exploring those ideas.

  6. I think everyone wants to have a complete story with no questions left unanswered. I agree that it would be nice to have a book to wrap up those last questions, but sometimes there is too much left open. I like the way Kelley Armstrong closed out her Women of the Otherworld series. She closed most questions, but left some open for future novellas or anthologies.

    Life is full of unanswered questions and an author I love (I can’t remember which) said that books give you the first steps in the journey, but life happens after those stories end.

    • One thing I love, whether a series is over or not, is taking secondary characters and working them into novellas or short stories. It makes the world so rich!

  7. I think readers (and gamers too for that matter, don’t get me started on Mass Effect) can be too demanding. I don’t think an author owes me anything when I buy his/her books. I do appreciate when an author does her/his best to end a series without any cliffhangers, but I would never hold it against that author when that doesn’t happen. Self publishing is all good and well, but not every author has the means to go for that solution when a Publisher drops a series.

    And if a series does have some open endings I will just imagine for myself what happened next 😉

    • I think the author has a tightrope to walk. We want to please our readers, but if the story is forced or it doesn’t feel true to the characters as they live in our heads, we can’t write it convincingly. And you’re right–self-publishing is increasingly a viable option, but if one does it “right,” getting the professional editor and cover designer and formatter, it can be expensive.

  8. No, I don’t think author’s have an obligation to end the series, because you are at the mercy of the publisher. I think the publisher should say hey this series isn’t bringing in the money, and give you the option of publishing one more book to wrap things up. Let’s face it, if it wasn’t for author’s they wouldn’t have any books to publish and if it wasn’t for the readers, they wouldn’t have any. Sometimes, it is a matter of money and readers can’t go out and buy the book so, they read it at the library or borrow from a friend. And just because not everyone finds every series likable, it’s not really fair when they don’t offer author’s the option.But, since most publishers are not going to do that, then if the author can wrap it up with a novella or self-publish one book to finish it. That would be great for the readers that enjoy that series. Now, since there is some series that don’t get finished due to unforseen circumstances, there is nothing you can do. vampireroyal at yahoo dot com

    • Amen! In a perfect world, the publisher would say, hey, do one more and close it out. But there’s that profit-loss column at work, and it also depends on the author’s other obligations. Most novelists, unless they have a significant other who supports them, also have “day jobs” and have to cram their writing into spare bits of time they can find. So realistically, how many books can one turn out in a year? (I seem to be stretching that limit pretty thin these days!)

  9. Firstly, it’s the author’s story; so if they feel inclined to write an ending to a series that ended prematurely, there are plenty of options for them to pursue. I certainly don’t think I (as a reader) am entitled to an ending.

    For me, the books in the series are just glimpses into that world. I just assume other things have gone on “off camera” that we aren’t privy to. It all boils down to this: if the story was well written and I enjoyed the series; I’ll keep my eye out for anything new by that author.

    • Well said! That’s one reason I like doing shorter stories about secondary characters…it’s sort of a way of looking “behind the curtain” of the novels to see what the rest of life might look like in that world.

  10. I do like a series to end but I can see your point about it not always being the author’s choice. That is something I didn’t think about. Maybe one or two things that you are left at your imagination are good but not huge gaping plot enders

    fencingromein at hotmail dot com

    • Agree. It’s hard to imagine a series ending with a big, gaping cliffhanger and the author not going back to at least write a story to resolve it. It depends on the author, though, and her/his circumstances, and whatever legal restrictions the publisher might have. (Does the publisher own the “world,” or does the author? It’s usually the author, but not always. Depends on how the contracts are drawn up.)

  11. As a reader, I do want everything all tied up in a bow, with no loose ends. However, sometimes even when that happens, there’s still a loss that you have to deal with as a reader. The writer too, don’t get me wrong. Two or three of my series that just absolutely loved have ended; two with the ends all tied up, those two both by Richelle Mead, one YA, one not. The third was the Charlaine Harris series that is just awesome. I may not have agreed with her on how things ended, but as readers if we’re being honest here – we saw the signs of what was coming and continued to hope differently. Sookie did get her HEA, just not with who the readers wanted her to end up with, but probably someone who has loved her the entire ride. If it had to be that way, I’m glad she’s got who she’s got – at least they can grow old together. I don’t even want to think about Kim Harrison ending her series – I’ll just cry like a big freaking baby. Again, because as a reader, we come to love those characters, and we miss them.

    • I’m of the same mind about the Charlaine Harris series–she had to end it the way that it felt right for her. And, yep, I wasn’t surprised. It might not have been what I WANTED, but it probably was what Sookie needed. So I respect that.

      I’ll be crying along with you (and several others here) when the last Hollows book comes out!

  12. I am often torn by this subject as well. I do not ever think that an author owes me anything as a reader. But I am more likely to recommend and talk about books that have answers/an ending. Even if I don’t like the ending,if it makes sense and fits the story I think it’s worth my money.

    • I actually do think the author owes the readers some resolution. It might not be another novel, depending on the publisher. It might not be in print, depending on the author’s budget. But something is due, I think, and I’m looking at this as an author with multiple series that will end, and whether they end at the point I plan them to is out of my control.

  13. while i’ve been disappointed in a series ending it’s been because the series is ending rather than in the how (at least no “how’s” come to mind). It’s disappointing/sad to know that these char & world that has brought you enjoyment won’t be visited again except in rereads. while I think it’s nice and a courtesy to the fans of a series to wrap it up nicely — particularly if there is some outstanding series story arc open, i wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an obligation on behalf of the writer or publisher. things happen that are sometime out of their control (particularly w/ an author whose publisher drops a series). that being said, if you’ve got a 3 book deal and while writing that last book it doesn’t look like any more will be contracted, please wrap up those series story arcs at least somewhat & major ones in particular. not leaving fans hanging can provide good will which can go a long way. after all if you leave me hanging once, i’m less likely to want to start another series with you again & risk the same thing occurring.

    • I do agree with you on that. If I know a book is going to be the last one, I shouldn’t intentionally leave things hanging. I think a lot of series that just abruptly end, however, are probably ones on which the publisher failed to pick up the option.

  14. I have been disappointed in how a series ended. Usually because the publisher cut off the series. I do like to see resolution of plot points, but real life is not like that either. What is harder for me is when an author finishes a series I really enjoy and starts a new series that I don’t enjoy nearly as much. I am less inclined to stick with the series at that point. I love novellas because they can be used to answer plot points or develop secondary characters.

    • I like that about the shorts and novellas too, Liz. And I hear you about series. I think every author quakes in her sensible shoes when the first book in a new series comes out. Will the readers of a previous series find it’s not to their taste and not carry through? And one never knows.

  15. I like to think there is always hope for every series. I fell in love with the Liaden series from Miller & Lee back when it was originally published in the 80s. The publisher cut the series off in a cliffhanger. Ten years later it was picked back up and Miller & Lee are still exploring in their universe.

    • P.S.: I know that is the lightning strike one in a million example. I just use it to cheer myself up when a series I like gets cut off by a publisher.

  16. I cant think of any at the moment but Im with you that you cant please everyone. And sometimes I know they dont pick up your series for more books or for like only 2 so you kind of have to do the whole hurry up and end it thing. I do love though when a series ends but leaves it open to possibly doing a spin off of sorts. Like Harry Potter could have the next generation with his kids?

  17. This is an excellent topic. Having finished off about 6 series’s I’ve been following earlier this year, I have to say 4 of them have been satisfying in the *final-the-end* way. Some of them weren’t my *ideal* endings but I enjoyed them tremendously because I felt that the authors gave them an ending true to the stories.

    One of the series had an open-ended ending. It gives me hope that the author will revisit it again someday. All the major issues were addressed and I was extremely happy with that.

    On the other hand, I felt cheated by the last series. The sequel wrapped everything up but with the way the story went I’d preferred if the author ended it at the previous book, unresolved as it was.

    These are my opinions as a reader and I honestly never thought of them from the author’s POV. In an ideal world I think the publisher owes to the author to let them finish off the series as they deem fit and not force more/less books.

    I noticed that some authors put of both free and paid versions of their stories. It’s interesting because it allows for the fans to have that option.

  18. I don’t think that authors have an obligation to wrap up a series if it’s been discontinued by the publisher, but I am grateful when the author chooses to wrap it up. I’m very glad that option even exists now, since it wasn’t a viable solution even just 5 years ago. Plus, since an audience already exists for a series, and the royalty rates are higher, it can make sense to work on a self-pubbed finale.

  19. Hmm I haven’t been disappointed in a series ending yet and I’ve not felt cheated either luckily. But I do feel that when a series is ending all the loose ends should be wrapped up so we at least get the satisfaction from it. If I’m investing my time for 7-8 of your books I do expect a good end 🙂

  20. I think this has a tendency to be fairly specific to urban fantasy which uses the open-ended series format more than other genres. But I think you summed it up perfectly. Sometimes the final book wasn’t actually PLANNED to be the final book. As readers, we may sometimes feel entitled to have our expectations met in exchange for our hard-earned dollars, but that’s not really how it works. We all love to read and we’ll take what we get, even if some griping sometimes follows.

  21. Great question Suzanne. I have to admit that I hate it when a published ends a series, especially when the last book has ended with a cliffhanger as the author did not know that at the time she wrote the book. Like with Allison Pang. And I really hope she will continue the series herself. And there are many, many other series on my shelves where the publisher pulled the plug and I hate them for that.
    Not every book and series gets readers right away, it often takes years for me to start a series and love it.

    But I think if an author knows a series is going to end, she needs to give herself and her readers closure with a great ending, that leaves the most of us satisfied and sad that it was the last book.

    I have also read series, that had each book neatly wrapped up, and in the start of the new book something would happen that created havoc for the heroine again, opening up the story again. That way, every book could have been the last one.

  22. One of my favorite series, the Jade books by Suzanne Arruda, just ended when her publisher dropped her. I really want to know what happens to all the wonderful characters, but all I can do is hope someone picks up the series.

  23. This is a great topic. Series ending books are always a risk for the reader. You can be thrilled or devastated. Usually I am at least satisfied with the ending. Often I am super happy. Although I can remember one time when I was extremely upset. I don’t want to say what book it is but the author killed off someone I liked. And I was not happy. It must be tough for the author as well to figure out how to try to please the readers while staying true to their vision.

  24. I think that writers should at least resolve the overarching large plot points. Smaller resolutions for side characters or whatever can remain unsolved/unmentioned because I feel that’s pretty accurate to real life. We don’t always get a pretty ending to things, and having that sort of “open ending” in books helps tie the fiction closer to reality and require less of a suspension of disbelief on the reader’s part.

  25. Really good topic! I am a very understanding reader and have come across a few books that had an ending that left me deflated. After being so invested in a series or a single book and then feeling so overwhelmed and disappointed in a book, really takes me a few days to get over it. You live and breathe those characters and sometimes it’s hard to get over. I love Charlaine Harris and I’ve stuck with her books from the beginning. I absolutely loved her Southern Vampire series and even though a book here or there in the later part of the series lagged for me, I still stuck with her. I still love her and her work though I was saddened with the way the series ended. I didn’t read the last book and not sure if I will. With so much talk and spoilers going around on FB and around the web, I already knew how things ended

  26. Such a appropriately timed conversation. I just finished reading Guardian Demon by Meljean Brook, which is the last book in her amazing Guardian series. The book comes in at over 570 pages! For me, it was a wonderful conclusion – tying up the overall story arc, making sure all the key players and characters were “addressed” and a few Easter Eggs tossed in. It was very emotional and well written. THAT is what I want from a series ending book. I do want a conclusion – I don’t want open ended… I understand that sometimes authors’ series are ended before they want, and going the self-pub route is a great option (Jill Simms did this with her Succubus Series).

    If the author is purposefully ending a series, whether a trilogy or a couple dozen books, I feel that they owe it to their fans and readers to make an attempt to wrap up the overall story arcs that are open. That doesn’t mean that fans have to like HOW it ends, as long as it ends and is wrapped up.

    Now I’m off to start another final book in a series… Harbinger by Philippa Ballantine.

  27. Oh my goodness – I recently discovered a series (Thief Errant by Elizabeth C. Bunce)that was orphaned exactly like this.

    And worst of all, the second (and last, for now) book ends on a horrible cliffhanger!

    It’s been long enough that I’m pretty sure the publisher will never pick up the third book, but I hope against all hope that the third book might make an appearance as a self-pub?? Maybe??

    The whole thing is really quite heartbreaking.

  28. Yes- the last book is really important in a series. There are some series that I’ve read where the last book was just SO awesome that it blew me away. And then there were some trilogies that I’ve read which were slightly boring, but then all the action is dumped in the third book- making an awesome ending. But then sometimes, the author leaves a lot of stuff unresolved, and I kinda get pissed. I know some readers like it that way so that they can make up their own ending, but for me, I want to know exactly what the author planned for her own ending to her series.