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Series fatigue

Jane and I had dinner with the delightful and very savvy Abbi Glines last night.  During the course of a delicious meal of tapas-like small plates at ABC Cocina (which, in case you’re wondering, we liked better than ABC Kitchen, its sister restaurant), we talked about a number of interesting topics, from trends in fiction categories—ever elusive and often fleeting—to the lasting power of series.  Abbi pointed out that series can get tired after a while and that readers get tired of the characters right along with them, so an author needs to know when to move on to new pastures.

This reminded me of my love of Patricia Cornwell’s early Scarpetta books and how tedious I found the later ones, Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries which I lost interest in at about the letter G, and that by the time my son and I were at the 24th Magic Tree House book, I was ready to chuck them all out the window.  It’s possible that I just have a short attention span, but, Richelle Mead’s wonderful Vampire Academy series, for instance, kept me hooked up to the very last page of the final installment.

Sbook serieso, is it that authors don’t know when to put a cash cow out to graze and so keep adding books to a successful series even when the characters would much rather have retired to their home in Florida?  Or is it the readership that is so enamored of the characters and their universe that they keep clamoring for more even after the passion has faded?

Do you read every book in a series or do you find your attention wandering to that fresh, bright newcomer on the next shelf?  And do your favorite series authors maintain their effectiveness over numerous titles?

10 Responses to Series fatigue

  1. Silver James says:

    Interesting topic. I feel much the same way as you, Miriam. There’s only one long-term series I’m still reading–still snapping up the hardbacks rather than waiting for mass market releases, and then also buying in digital because I prefer to read on my Kindle. This particular author writes under two different pseudonyms. What’s doubly strange? I don’t read the books written by her non-series persona. Nora Roberts, writing as JD Robb, is an auto-buy for me. The first book in this series, NAKED IN DEATH, is my chicken soup read. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve re-read it. As for so many other series? Nope. I lost track, or a book put me off, or I simply lost interest.

    As a writer, though, I’m faced with a series I’m ready to retire but my readers want more. Treading that fine line is a tough one. I want to be Richelle rather than…well, I won’t name any names. I think this is something most writers of series struggle with.

    I am currently reading a couple of series and I’m wondering how long the authors will keep my attention. All I can say is, I’ll see…

  2. Jenni Wiltz says:

    I think it depends on whether the series has deep, earth-shattering changes in store for the characters you love. If there’s more than an episodic mystery going on, I’ll keep reading. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon still has me riveted, for example, after an ungodly number of pages. You never know what’s going to happen to those poor characters, so you can’t *not* continue. But I lost interest in the Sookie Stackhouse series once I felt like I’d already read all the possible will-they-or-wont-they relationship permutations.

  3. Karen says:

    I definitely get series fatigue. Like you I loved the early Kay Scarpetta stories and then stopped reading after a while.

    I do get series fatigue. Very much. I think it’s not just the reader who gets tired of reading about the same characters, but the author gets tired of writing about them too, and it shows.

    I tend to stop around book three or book four.

    I like the way Robin Hobb does it. Three books in the Assassin series, then, “I’m not sure I’ve got anything more to say about these characters,” so she writes a different three-book series set in the same world but with different characters and only very loosely related to the first. Then, “Maybe I do have more to say about Fitz and the Fool,” and writes three more books of the first series (but a standalone set for all that). Then three books in a totally new series, four books following on from the second series, but again using different characters and a stand-alone quartet. Now, she’s writing a third trilogy of books with the characters from the first (and third) set of books.

    She’s kept my interest as a reader, and given herself enough time to have a real story to tell.

  4. jeffo says:

    I’m not a huge series reader, but I find it’s problematic to binge read. If I’m reading a series spread out over time (say, a book a year), I don’t generally suffer series fatigue. Several years back I was laid up with a broken leg. I read seven of the Lemony Snicket books in a row–by book 7, I was totally done (and I liked those books), and have never gone back to find out how it all ended.

  5. Anja Vogel says:

    My favorite genre is fantasy but I almost gave up on it when (about fifteen years ago) all of it seemed to turn into one of those “never-ending” series: “Wheel of Time” (the fourth part bored me so I stopped reading even though I had another four sitting on my shelf); “Sword of Truth” (loved the first 3 but didn’t even more than a few chapters into the 4th, which should have been about the final confrontation the first three parts had been building up to); “Song of Ice and Fire” (gave up on the second part because my favorite characters didn’t get enough “screen time”).

    Luckily, I discovered Jim Butcher’s “Dresden Files” (#16 appears soon) and Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Vorkosigan Saga” (15 or 16? novels). The difference here: one interesting character + self-contained (and shorter) novels + new ideas in each story.

    But apart from these, I stick to trilogies these days and I usually wait until they are published in full before buying the first part, just in case the author promises a trilogy but then changes her mind. ;o)

  6. Miriam says:

    You guys are all confirming what we’ve been suspecting for years. People do get tired of long series after a few books and it’s hard for authors to sustain quality past a certain point. This will be helpful in advising those of our clients who write series.

  7. Gill Avila says:

    What bothers me is that I see an intriguing title on BookBub, and then find out that it’s #1 and there are are already 6+ titles in the series. I usually say the Hell with it and that’s that.

  8. Gill Avila says:

    What are people’s thoughts on the 13-volume trilogy that is The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, finished by Brandon Sanderson?

  9. Lynn says:

    Miriam, I think burnout wasn’t so prevalent when authors took their time to write a sequel. Jean M. Auel is a good example. People waited years for the next book to come out in her Earth’s Children series. When it did, it was an event! Nowadays everything has to be fast-paced or else people move on to something else. Publishing has followed that lead and it’s not necessarily a good thing.

    I, personally, prefer to read books by different authors, in different genres, before reading the next novel in a series.

    As far as knowing when to put the cow out to pasture, I think the problem is equally the author’s fault and the publisher’s in wanting to milk the cow to the very last drop. Sooner or later there comes a time to stop. It’s like an athlete who should retire at the height of his/her glory rather than going “just once more” for the gold and not even making the final cut.

  10. Miriam says:

    That’s a very good point, Lynn. Everything has sped up in publishing and so anticipation building (which was a real strategy even as recently as the last Harry Potter book) is often not part of the plan. I, too, like that hiatus between books where I could go explore other authors.

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