I’ve had several requests from readers to talk a bit more about the mystery that is publishing–the ins and outs and everydays of it. Like, how does England’s vote to leave the EU impact authors? (Answer: in a lot of ways, probably more than I know and I know several.)
So today, as I work on the fifth book in the Penton Legacy and try to decide whether it will, indeed, be the last book in the series, it strikes me what a different world publishing is these days for series authors like myself.
Have you ever had a favorite book series that suddenly disappeared, clearly without having completed its story arc?
There are a number of reasons that can happen.
The publisher might be moving in a different direction. My Penton publisher elected not to continue the series after ALLEGIANCE not because the series has sold badly, but because they elected, as a business decision, not to continue publishing paranormals. It wasn’t personal, and I’m still publishing other things with them–happily so. (I really ADORE the Wilds of the Bayou series, for example.) And they still do an amazing job of ongoing promotion of the Penton Legacy series.
But facts are facts: indie publishing essentially killed urban fantasy and paranormal romance for traditionally published authors who weren’t already writing best-sellers. The market was flooded with free and cheap paranormal indie books while the size of the paranormal readership remained stagnant. It’s called market glut. There are signs that urban fantasy, at least, might be wriggling its way back to a semi-awake state, but it’s not there yet. So most traditional publishers have been pulling away from urban fantasy and PNR for the last three or four years. (And I’m not crabbing on indie authors, by the way. An indie author can earn 70 percent of a self-published title, while a traditionally published author will earn anywhere from 8 percent to 35 percent of a title’s sales. I’ll get into the pros and cons of that topic another day.)
The concept might not work as well as initially thought. My Collectors series? That ship has sailed. I realized, after writing the second book, DEADLY, CALM, AND COLD, that while I loved the treasure-hunt aspect of it and really loved my characters, it wasn’t working as a series. Having the bad guys as the continuing force in the series pretty much limited me to books about blackmail. Don’t get me wrong, I adored LOVELY, DARK, AND DEEP and its sequel. I think both are strong books. But the concept just didn’t work as an open-ended series. I didn’t want to write a third blackmail book (even though I had come up with a nifty treasure to hunt). Will I revisit the whole treasure-hunting idea in a different way? Maybe; I still like the thrill and the mystery. But will there be another C7 book? Unlikely.
Irreconcilable differences between author and publisher. I have heard a few horror stories of this happening, but I haven’t been there and hope not to. It’s not good for either side.
Sales haven’t lived up to expectations. This is Numero Uno. As as we used to say in professional wrestling, “that’s the bottom line, ’cause Stone Cold says so.” (Remind me to tell you about my Steve Austin talking wall decoration one of these days!)
Sure, publishing is a labor of love for both author and publisher, but it also has to be a viable business for both author and publisher. If a series doesn’t pan out, the publisher pulls the plug. (The author very rarely does the plug-pulling.)
Plus, in these days, when there are so many books being published, it’s hard for any author to be “discovered” and break away from the pack. Which in turn means fewer sales.
Finally, many readers have grown reluctant to spend more than a couple of dollars to try out a new author when there are a thousand new authors offering .99 cent books. Publishers have more overhead and expenses invested in a book and can’t afford to match indie prices, or perhaps they’ve chosen a publishing and pricing model (hardcover vs mass market, for example) that makes it virtually impossible for a series to succeed in today’s climate. And unless it’s a self-published book the author has ZERO input in price or format of a book, by the way.
Which all brings me back to Penton, and how things have changed. Even as few as five years ago, if a publisher elected to not continue a series, the series was dead. End of story. Readers were left hanging. Authors who wanted to make writing a true career had little recourse but to move on to other projects that might sell better. Now that digital books and print-on-demand have made self-publishing such a viable, affordable, and sometimes profitable option for authors, it opens doors and creates opportunities.
For example, I can write a fifth and final Penton Legacy book and call the series done. I can write that fifth book and continue the series until sales fizzle and it’s no longer paying for its production. I can write a fifth and final Penton Legacy book but then take the world and/or characters into a spinoff series, perhaps continuing the Omega Force idea begun with STORM FORCE.
Whew. That’s a lot of options, right? And I can’t tell you which one I’ll choose because I have to see how this current book, ILLUMINATION, plays out. In other words, I haven’t decided, although I’m leaning toward the last option.
I’ll admit I waited longer than I should have to write Penton #5 due to other projects, but not writing it was never a consideration. Because, well, I have options! I’ve got to get Aidan and Krys out of their mess and save the vampire world! I mean, really. Letting Mirren Kincaid starve into a 6-foot-8 husk would be criminal.
Has a canceled series ever left you hanging? I’ll pull one commenter for a $5 Amazon gift card, with the winner announced on Sunday, my next blogging day. Let’s talk shop!