Shop Talk: Why Series Are Orphaned (& Giveaway)

Red rose growing through soil against spooky treeI’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!


37 thoughts on “Shop Talk: Why Series Are Orphaned (& Giveaway)

  1. I hate when a series gets orphaned. I always want to know about the threads that were left ncomplete. I love that indie publishing is letting authors continue their series! Looking forward to the next Penton book!

  2. I can’t think of an author that has left me hanging but I have walked away from several series because as you said there is a glut to choose from now. And I have heard authors say they have no input on the cover, but then read one’s blog where he obsessed over the design on a medallion on the cover before it was traditionally published. Thanks for sharing!

    • The cover thing probably varies from publisher to publisher. I have some input on my Penton/Collectors/Bayou books (all with the same publisher), although not the final decision. I have virtually no input on Sentinels. I did get to see a rough sketch with Belle Chasse and had the chance to do a cover reveal, but that was an anomaly; previously, I haven’t even SEEN the covers until they got posted on Amazon or Goodreads.

      Plus, there are a lot of small publishers that have started up in the last few years that fall somewhere between indie and trad. They do the production and editorial functions of tradition, but they don’t pay advances to authors, generally grant less than 40% royalty, and do very little promotion. (Some trad publishers have begun digital first lines that operate the same say.) Their cover procedures probably vary.

  3. I’ve had a number of series be canceled by publisher’s lately since they seem to be cutting back on cozy mysteries these days. And sometimes an author has died and left a series hanging. In that case I think it’s better to just leave the series as is. I’ve remember when Heron Carvic died and they tried to have several other authors continue the Miss Seton series. The books just weren’t as good as the originals.

    • Yes, cozy mysteries and anything with humor in it seem to be in freefall right now. (Except contemporary romance, which usually relies heavily on humor.) I agree with you about continuing the series of deceased authors; it doesn’t quite feel right. It’s almost like fan fiction at that stage.

      • What??? Next to UF/PNR, I love me a good cozy! And who in the world doesn’t appreciate humor? Is this what your agent and/or publisher is telling you – what is popular in sales? Is PNR on the decline? Color me sad.

  4. YES! Suzanne Arruda writes/wrote some excellent mysteries set in Africa right after WWI, staring a character named Jade who drove an ambulance in France during the war. I loved this series, believable characters, exotic setting, fun dialog and great plot. I must have been in the minority, since the final book was self-published. I really wish someone would pick up the series.
    I also had one author who ended a book on a cliff-hanger and then decided to do something else. DJ, I think. He never wrote the second book ;(

    • I wonder if that second author will ever go back and finish that cliffhanger book? It’s a hard decision to finish a series by self-publishing because you don’t know if you’ll sell any beyond a finite number and that’s a big time commitment for no guarantee of even making your own expenses back (which can stack up quickly if you outsource a lot of material).

  5. Have seen some authors go self-published with spin-off stories. Same world with added characters. Worked good.

    • I’m seeing it more and more with established authors as they start to look at making back 70% of each sale as opposed to 8% and wonder what they’re really getting for that 62% they’re giving up. Plus, they have the option of pricing however they wish, running sales and promotions, etc. I think we’ll see more and more of it. It’s a real business, though, so it’s hard to pull off with a full-time day job. Once I leave mine next spring, I will have more time to do that kind of thing. Now, it’s hard to find the extra time.

  6. oh yes, it’s even worse when you have to wait for translation..; teh series could continue in teh original langage not in transaltion….i can’t even tell you which one as at a time they were so many i got disgusted and decided to get only complete series so it meant waiting until all was published and as you know i didn’t succeed but i always feel like it’s a lost of money, i feel cheated when a series suddenly is stopped without at least a real conclusion

    • Yes, so do I, which is why I’m glad authors have other options now. Sentinels is probably going to be canceled, but I still have a lot to write in that world! And yes, waiting for translations would be frustrating!

  7. Thanks for another informative post about publishing etc. At the moment, I can’t think of any cancelled book series that left me hanging, but that may be because I’ve moved on to other stories etc. I feel overwhelmed by the glut of books out there and ignore most freebies and 99cts, since some of them have been major disappointments.

    • Yes, I think we’ve all been through that. When I got my first Kindle I downloaded everything. Then I realized some I’d never read and some were not enjoyable for whatever reason. So I’ve gotten a lot pickier about what I download and even what I feature on this blog; it’s too overwhelming. So imagine how frustrating it is for authors who want people to “discover” their books but can’t figure out a way to stand out from the glut. I sure don’t have any answers or my books would sell more copies–LOL.

  8. Two of my favourite authors left me. One passed away and the other retired. I truly miss the characters from their books. Kinda like a funeral that you didn’t get to attend and say goodbye.

    • Aw…It is sad for an author to leave much-loved characters behind too. I think it’s why most authors won’t end their own series–someone else has to fire the kill shot. :-). I’m retiring next April….from the day job, however, so I can write MORE. At least that’s the plan. Surviving until April 30 is my challenge!

  9. That’s never happened to me with books, but has happened with television way too many times. I can only imagine how upset I’d be if it happened with my favorite book series.

    • Oh, good point! It’s happened to me a LOT with TV shows. I seem to like offbeat shows no one else likes…Like the short-lived Dresden series. 🙂

  10. Moira Moore’s Heroes series is the one I was so disappointed to hear would no longer be published. The author decided to post the end of the series for free, which was an amazing, generous gesture on her part. I was so grateful and appreciative that she was able to do that.

    • Yes, that was incredibly generous, wonderful thing to do! I think she is a practicing attorney and, like me, having to write in her “spare time” (ha). I hope she begins another series.

  11. I have seen a few series that I enjoyed that were not continued and it was very disappointing. I think it’s a little easier for authors today since I’ve seen some self publish further books so they could continue the series that their fans loved. I think it’s wonderful that many have that option.

    • I agree–I’m glad I have that opportunity with Penton! I think it’s easier if authors are all trad or all indie; juggling the hybrid role is going to be challenging, but I’m glad the option is there. 🙂

  12. Yes. I’m still waiting on the final book in L.J. Smith’s Night World series (since forever). She has to wait until all of the Vampire Diaries books are written, even though they’re being written by another author now!

    • That was a strange situation. I guess she had a “work for hire” arrangement re Vampire Diaries so the publisher owns the world and characters and copyrights. I didn’t realize she wasn’t able to write her own work until VD was done, especially since someone else is writing them now. That’s awful!

  13. I have had authors move away from beloved series, beloved by me, and write something else. They did not go back to the series to tidy things up. Burn out or disinterest?

    • It might be either…or it might be neither.

      Let’s say author A has a series that has been discontinued by its publisher but the publisher offers her a cash advance to write a different project. If the author is a career author (as opposed to a housewife being supported by a spouse with no pressure to earn a living wage or a single author who has a full-time “day job” that actually pays the bills and has no aspirations to leave the day job), she has a choice between guaranteed money in the bank or several months of unpaid work to write the series book, which she’ll have to pay to produce herself and hope she makes back her investment and enough to make the mortgage payment. That’s not an uncommon situation and it’s why it has taken me so long to find the opportunity to write a new Penton book. There was never any doubt in my mind that there would be another book–too much was left unresolved in the last one (which, at the time, I hadn’t planned on being the last one). I just had to find an opening in my writing schedule (because my day job, not my writing, pays my bills and supports this blog…and I don’t want it to stay that way–LOL).

      So authors get caught in the middle sometimes and it isn’t either burnout or disinterest :-). And sometimes it is.

  14. Oh, yes. The absolutely lovely Thief Errant series by Elizabeth C. Bunce stopped after the second book — which ended on a cliffhanger!

      • I hope so, though it’s been several years now so it’s looking unlikely.

        On the other hand, the cliffhanger is confined to the last chapter/epilogue, and otherwise the story wraps up nicely, so if I just pretend that chapter doesn’t exist…


  15. I hate when that happens… It’s so so frustrating when a series is left hanging

    • It’s usually frustrating for the author too. I’ve just finished re-reading all the Penton books to get me back in that world because it’s been so long since I wrote in it. I’ll have to do the same with Sentinels next since, although it won’t come out until November this year, BELLE CHASSE was written in 2014!

  16. Well I haven’t actually read a series that has been discontinued yet… but I love Richelle Mead’s books, and I’ve heard her publisher hasn’t picked up the next books for her Age of X series (which sounds really cool but haven’t read them yet) and she might be self-publishing them later.

  17. Charlaine Harris had a series, Harper Connelly, which just evaporated. I really enjoyed the books and was sad to see it go without an ending. Also MaryJanice Davidson’s Fred the Mermaid series plus Stacey Jay’s Annabelle Lee series. Jenna Black doesn’t really end her series, they just kinda stop without real conclusions. All of these authors have other series and are great writers.