On Authors Finishing Their Book Series

Ilona Andrews, the estimable urban fantasy writing team of Ilona and Gordon Andrews. They’ve done single and series stories and, if UF is your groove, their Kate Daniels and Hidden Legacy series are must-read. They also co-write a great blog, filled with everything from progress reports to yarn (the textile, not stories) to rants and to raves for fellow authors’ new releases. In her latest blog post, she posted a letter about whether authors should finish their book series. I’m not going to go quote her; you can read it for yourself.

Here’s my response to that “writing prompt:”

Great topic! I think Jim Butcher is, from a purely reader perspective, a good example. He got to book 16 out of a professed 20, and then stopped for… years. (He’s coming out with the next two books in the series in 2020.) I’m not getting into reasons on his side, or anything else, but from a reader’s perspective, I’ve got an emotional investment in not just the characters, but the dynamic results of the worldbuilding. For full disclosure, I’ve got all the Dresden books, even {shudder} the graphic ones. Some things are best left, IMHO, YMMV, to the imagination. The Dresden TV series, which lasted all of one season, was pretty good as well, and it was a pity it was canned.

But TV and graphic novels aren’t the issue. The issue is that, for readers, there’s an implicit contract between the reader and the author that they’ll buy the next book in the series — and that it’ll get written. There are caveats to that statement. The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock books, Agatha Christie’s books… even the Rabbi Smallman books, are, similar to the Simpsons, episodic. There’s a reset button. There’s previous history that accrues, but the end of one book does not insist on a continuation.

George R.R. Martin’s series also doesn’t, in my opinion, require additional books. So many characters come and are killed in each novel that, once the saga reaches a certain point, it can stop. There’s a joke I’ve heard many times that Martin could write a 900-page book just describing snow and people would buy it because it’s in the GoT series.

There’s a flip side to all this. I think there are authors who wrote one last novel in a series to cap it all. (Or for other, less-understood reasons.) Louise Bujold McMaster’s last book in the Barrayar saga, “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen,” feels to me like an afrterbirth: the essence but not the substance of previous novels. Elizabeth Moon, for all that I’ve loved her space operas and “The Deed of Paksennarion,” ended her Serrano space opera with a pair of novels that, while they were entertaining, were less credulous, and lacked some of the real tension in the previous books in the series.
But I bought them anyway. Because of the author, because of the worldbuilding. But… I won’t buy the next in those series, if there is one, because the joy I felt in the previous books wasn’t matched in their latest.

Hopping back up to the Dresden series, it, at least for me personally, got less and less interesting as Dresden the person became Dresden, the Man Who Talks with Gods (or, at least, the royalty of the Faerie). The tension, the personal loss, the existential danger of Dresden as a human person, has dissipated. Leaving the novels more space opera-esque and less about the man…


And Who By Fire…

Copyright (c) Washington Post

Five Jewish teens re: Auschwitz

This is a more poignant Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — than usual for me. It’s been a couple of years since my mother, an Auschwitz and death march survivor, passed away. Life for many years before her death lost relevance, obliterated by Alzheimer’s Disease.

She survived. She returned to her hometown of Sosnociec, married, moved to Sweden and then the United States, and had two of children. She raised them and, when my father was struck by a series of brain aneurysms, was his caretaker for the last ten years of his life.

She survived but was never truly free. She left chunks of herself behind in her home town and in the death camps. For all the freedom she enjoyed, it was a brittle construct, always with a tinge of fear, of anger, of worry that it might all slip away. My sister and I experienced very different childhoods in the same house. My takeaway was that those feelings drove her vituperation, her xenophobia, her need to manipulate and control.

Not all who lived survived to be free again. For some, only death frees from struggle, the rest of oblivion.

Now, as we grow the next generations of traumatized children and young adults, let’s consider how their lives will color whole generations in places like Syria, Myanmar, and, yes, in America. How their pain will inform their lives, their hates, and their legacy, in turn, to their children.

We have to stop the cycle. As best we can, with the tools we have.

Here’s thinking of you, mom…



In the throws of editing (yet again) a manuscript after paying for a professional editor to go over it. In the process of trimming the piece, I realized how much a countersink. Say the same thing and then say the same thing. Over and over. Each time differently. But don’t just make the point, screw it in tightly. And saying it a different way to be sure the reader knows what I’m trying to say.


Is “Victim” the Right Word?

Words have power and meaning. Cancer patients after their treatment are “survivors.” So are those sexually assaulted. It implies strength. Victimhood implies disempowerment, helplessness, and weakness.

I suggest we consider replacing “victim” with “aggrieved.” Someone that a criminal has wronged. Someone with a grievance. Someone, as “grieve” also implies, has suffered.They have a grievance against the aggressor, with the protest and anger that that might imply.

This isn’t going to change crime statistics, nor reduce the suffering of those assaulted, burgled, mugged, or scammed. But it changes that person, in description, as someone not weak or disempowered, but as someone against whom a wrong has been done that must be righted.



Back from hiatus, and starting, edits on my second Shmuley Myers book. It builds on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish Austin police homicide detective in a world (soon to be real, apparently) where every non-birth pregnancy becomes a murder investigation, contraception is illegal, church and state prance together in an evil waltz.

Shmuley needs to balance his roles as a pious Jew, a loving husband, his job as a civil servant, and…

On the Passing of T

A bit of early juvenalia. Sometimes a passing stirs up what simple thoughts I left behind. No one gets out of here alive.

Writing Juice

Sure, caffeine in all it’s glorious incarnations does wonders. Sometimes, however, I prefer something with more zing than zap. Hence this recipe:

  • 1/4C Stevia (or sugar, your pick)
  • 2C lemon juice, preferably something with pulp and flavor
  • 8C water
  • ~1.5T vanilla extract
  • ~1t ground cardamom

Add ingredients in that order, stirring before the vanilla and then continuously while cardamom is added. Excepting sugar, this is a very low calorie, low carb drink. It’s pretty dang awesome.

And now, back to writing…

Cuspical Data

Last post I talked about the uncertainty of “that time” between an agent submitting a manuscript to a publisher and when a writer gets a response from the publisher in the form of a rejection or a contract.

Thing the First: A Conversation on Time on Cusp

I posed these questions to Marshall Ryan Maresca, a local Austin published author:

  1. Is there a correlation between the number of requests for a full manuscript and the possibility that it’ll get picked up?
  2. Are there months where publishers generally make decisions on contracting to publish a novel?
  3. How long would a publisher sit on a manuscript they’ve asked for before coming back with a decision? I’d heard a few snippets back at the last ‘Con, but… you’ve been through the grinder a few times now.
The following is a quote, edited to preserve anonymity where necessary, of Marshall’s response:
“Man, let me tell you, that interstitial period in a writers career, where you’ve made that massive level-up achievement of Getting An Agent, but still haven’t sold… it’s rough.  And it is just because you’re in limbo.  You’ve got people asking for it, so that’s good.  But it can just take forever.  I mean, it was about two and half years for me.  [Author], I think four.  As for months when things happen and when they don’t? I mean it all depends.  I hear that a lot DOESN’T happen in the summer months, for example, because editors are often going to cons and such each weekend.  I know that it was about a year between when my agent sent Thorn to [publisher] and when she started reading it, and she really didn’t read it until I went up and said a polite hello at WorldCon.  And my agent was just telling me a story of one editor who kept going, “Yeah, I know, I’m going to read that soon” on someone else’s manuscript for years.  I think Martha Wells made the joke of “glaciers honk at the publishing industry to move faster.”
“(But, on the flip side, you get something like [another author], whose agent sold his manuscript a week after signing him.)
Thus, the big unhelpful answer is, “Who knows, man?”
Well… okay, then. The crystal ball continues my future opacification. All I know is Marshall has a glass of a good scotch coming his way.

Thing the Second: Odds of Getting Agent Representation

Someone posted this article on Austin’s Indie Authors Society Facebook page [link to Nelson Literary Agency here]. Keep in mind this is from an agent, not a publisher. So the numbers and “successes” only mean the author received an offer of representation, not a publishing contract. The crux of Kristin Nelson’s post was this: for four agents, the agency received over 20,000 query letters. Of those, they requested about 440 manuscripts. And of those, a quarter of those authors received an offer letter from the agency to represent the author and try and get their manuscript published.
Bottom line: The agency looked at the manuscripts of 2.25% of the query letters they received. And only 0.56% of all query letter writers were given offers of representation. I strongly recommend reading Kristen’s full blog post for precise numbers and more (and funnier) odds.

Wrapping This Up

Neither of these items is directly connected, except to make a single point: the odds of an author, even with a great book and query letter, are literally minuscule. Not lottery minuscule, but certainly nothing you’d want to pin your mortgage payment on selling that Great Novel. Sigh.

Can’t Tell if I’m on the Cusp…

My agent’s gotten ten query letters out to qualified publishers. Three of the five sent out around Thanksgiving asked for full manuscripts. This past Monday my agent sent another five. Two of those five asked, within a day or so of the query letter, for a complete manuscript. Don’t have feedback on the other three. So now there’s five publishers looking at the novel, all of which imprints for the top publishers in the fiction biz. And while on one hand this sounds like “great progress” and is nice to hear, I don’t have any way to quantify this. Previous Armadillocon panels addressed the time to acceptance, but not the numbers part of publishers in waiting. While JK Rowling sugarplum auction fantasies dance in my head (but I harbor no delusions as to any comparisons between that and my novels), I don’t know what this “top five are reading” means in terms of getting closer to closing a deal.

Calling on wise women and men if they have ideas. Comment, or blog on your own and let me know.

Censoring Gutenberg

While I’m sure that WordPress’ new post editing mechanism is a cool, slick, thing, it’s enough of a jump from the old way that I’ve heard several authors complain. Which is stupid. And that one needs to download (yet another) plugin to disable it is even sillier.

I should NOT have to wrestle with my blog editor to put pictures in-line with a list. Or have to manually decide to place a list when I’ve started a paragraph. It interrupts the flow of the writing and it makes for a rockier experience. Matt Mullenweg, I’m looking at you. Microsoft used to do these self-goal moves, and this is a big one.

I can’t speak for others, but as a tech professional I know that releases need to set expectations and listen to users. And if the user population isn’t asked, then expectations can’t be set. I’m not talking about avid beta testers and early adopters. I’m talking about folks that use the WordPress platform to facilitate their work, not be their work.

End result is that I’ve put off a number of posts simply because I got bogged down in the formatting and didn’t want to put out something that wasn’t to my liking. (Yeah, I know, the theme itself needs a wrecking ball, but that’s something else…)