How Many Is Enough?
Recently two authors on the mystery listserv Dorothy L announced their publisher was dropping their series. Dozens of mystery readers/fans expressed dismay and disappointment. They wanted to know what they could do to help keep the series alive. They wanted to start a campaign! The outpouring of support for the first author inspired a small publisher on the list to step in and pick up the series.
The other author is simply starting a new series with a new cast of characters. Although getting dropped must be depressing as hell, starting a new series is exciting. Most writers are creative people who like to try out new characters, ideas, and settings. Readers (me included) are the ones who love series, and that’s why novelists write the and publishers print them.
Sometimes writers keep cranking out a series they’ve lost interest in—because readers (and the publishers making money from the sure thing) won’t let them quit. I’m not talking about the two writers mentioned earlier. They each only had a few books in their series—young by series standards. But other, more well-known novelists who are writing their 12th or 15th or 20th story based on the same characters must be bored. With some series, it’s clear the author is phoning it in because the stories become formulaic and/or the characters become unlikable.
I hope to avoid falling into this scenario too soon by writing standalone thrillers in addition to my series.
But still, when do you let a series go? No matter how many you write, some fans will always be disappointed if you quit the characters. For them it’s like losing a friend. But readers only spend 4 or 5 hours at a time with the characters (once a year)—not every day, all day, year round like the author does. But for the reader, losing that character while she is still in her prime may be better than watching her become stale or crazy or bitter. (Yes, I’m talking about Kay Scarpetta.)
Is there a magic number at which a series should be retired? Are their any long-running series that have not lost some of their appeal or originality?
Readers: How long do you usually stay with a series? Writers: How many series books can you write before you get bored?