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…