I’m Starting to See a Pattern Here

librarybooks This past week, I returned a new release unread to the library. While that is not especially unusual, that fact that I am saying goodbye to the works of an author that I have read for over twenty years is. Over this period of time, this author’s book changed from highly anticipated, to enjoyed, and then to comfort.

The journey from highly anticipated and purchased to library begins with me recognizing a pattern in the books. I am not talking about the author’s contract limitations such as writing a romantic comedy vs. romantic suspense. I am talking about recognizing that the plot or the characters are too similar from book to book. The first couple of times this happened, it was like a light bulb turned on in my head. When I attempted to read additional books written by the same author, an internal voice kept whispering to me, “This is just like all her other books.” In a few cases if the dialogue is amusing or the books make me laugh then I can continue to enjoy the book. Sometime I do read comfort authors for years because they are, well, comfortable. However, recognizing an author’s archetype can impact my buying decisions. If the author is published first in hardback, then I change from purchasing to requesting the book from my library. I can justify buying paperback for a much longer time.

Having an author write similar books is not limited to just romance books. It is something that happens across all genres. It is a chicken or egg scenario. Do authors write the same type of books over and over, because that is what sells or is it because they only have one book in them? Have they tried to change things and then encountered readers’ dissatisfaction? A different love interest, time travel, death of a character are all plot devices that have generated controversy among romance readers. I have to admit that I have voiced my own displeasure on one occasion, when an author tried to change things up by switching the love interest in a series.

Some readers enjoy the similarities between books, and enjoy reading about the same characters from book to book. Every time they pick a new book in a series, it is like revisiting friends. There are over thirty books in the J.D. Robb’s “In Death” series and this series is still going strong.

While I am a traditional reader in the sense that I want heroic characters and happy endings, I love authors that I cannot pigeonhole. While I do think that there are more authors that write the same types of stories over and over, I know that there are many that love to mix things up from book to book. Eloisa James, Sharon Shinn, and Connie Brockway are just a few that come to mind as authors that change the type of story they write from book to book. Susan Elizabeth Phillips has had similar characters, but her scenarios are so different that I am constantly surprised.

Do you continue to read an author once you recognize that the books are similar or do you seek out the new and different? What authors have the ability to amaze you from book to book? What keeps you reading authors that you classify as comfort reads? What makes you quit an author?

-Leigh Davis

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19 Responses to I’m Starting to See a Pattern Here

  1. Tee says:

    When an author begins to shed the writing style that first appealed to me, I begin to question continuing on. Sometimes, the new style is actually better. Other times, it is not. Lorraine Heath and Connie Brockway, for instance, IMO, went from writing deep and wonderful characters to penning shallow characters and stories. There are others who did similar shifts and I became bored with their novels and eventually dropped them.

    I’m finding romance suspense and general suspense to be the genre of the day for me. I still love and enjoy certain historical authors, but their numbers have certain dwindled on my list. But for those who remained, I look forward to their new issues. Women’s fiction has been a winner for me, and it seems as though more and more authors are being drawn to this type of book. It’s still romance and 99% of the time has an HEA, but it also has a certain edge to it that makes it not a true romance fiction story as we define it.

    Some of the authors who continually amaze me are Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, Debbie Macomber, Robyn Carr–there are quite a few more, but I’m still out of town and did not bring my reading list with me.

    Good article, Leigh. We change, authors change. It’s the name of the game.

  2. The one positive thing about this is it gives new authors hope and a chance of breaking into the market.

    I think Nora Robert’s JD Robb ‘In Death’ series keeps me enthralled but her other books have patterns esp the suspense romance ones. I’m into paranormal romance at the moment and find Kelley Armstrong always interesting but Christine Feehan a bit repetitive. LK Hamilton went completely off track with her Blake character.

    How many voices can a author have before it gets stale?

  3. dick says:

    It seems to me ironic that what most read romance fiction for–the certainty of finding a pattern they know and like–can also be the very thing that leads one to stop reading an author who has found what works and varies it just enough. The number of stories that lend themselves to romance fiction are, I think, limited, just as the recipe it follows is. I tend, therefore, to overlook similarities in plot and character in authors whom I otherwise enjoy reading; on the other hand, romance fictions which strive to get “original” and break the pattern irritate me. Repetition in romance fiction, to me at least, is one of its most mythic elements.

  4. bungluna says:

    You make a good point that different readers are looking for different things. I have some authors whom I read precisely because I know what I’ll get from them. I may no longer buy them hb, but I do get them from the library and if the particular story resonates with me, I will get my own copy. On the other hand, I’ve dropped authors who used to be must-buys but who have gone off on tangents that I dislike.

    Personally, I detest authors who bounce all over the place with their stories. I read for comfort and entertainment. A certain familiarity is agreable to me. And when things get too boring, as they are bound to do, I switch to a new genre and nestle there for the next while.

  5. AARPatH says:

    I too have stopped reading so many authors whose work I followed for years. Janet Evanovich, Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and even Mary Balogh are just a few of the big ticket authors whose work has either morphed in directions I don’t care to read or whose books have become repetitive.

    It’s sad, really, to watch someone gather readers only to see them leave little by little. I don’t know if the answer is to write to the core constituency or to follow one’s own path. In some cases, however, I wonder how many of the authors actually are following their own path. Or have they just become complacent having gathered a number of followers?

  6. farmwifetwo says:

    I find that the longer an author writes a series the more “slapped together to fullfill a contract” they become. I am still a JD Robb addict but IMO they are more mystery than romance and if she can keep our regular characters interesting and her plots different (IMO she overlapped one and the paranormal thing in the shorts has me getting those via the library), I’ll keep buying.

    But others that have that “rushed”/”writing for the fans” feel and many over the years I too have moved on. Very few authors can write long running series’ and even those that IMO can do it well, write only a book a year and other books, not just that series so you may have to wait a year or more to get a new book.

    I’d rather wait… than get something rushed. Luckily there’s always new authors to try…. I make a poor fangirl since I have no problems dropping an author I may have read for years.

  7. JMM says:

    Mary Jo Putney was an autobuy for me. Her early books had “magic”, for lack of a better word. I don’t know what happened; but after her contemporaries, she just doesn’t do it for me anymore.

  8. MB says:

    I’m finding this happen to way too many series by formerly favorite authors. It’s very disappointing. But, as another poster above said, it forces me to be constantly searching for new authors to read.

    Frankly, I’m finding most romance so formulaic and disappointing lately, that I’ve switched mostly to reading other genres.

  9. DJ says:

    I’m like you, I will get the books from the library for a while, and then I reach a point of “Eh. What’s the point? I’ve read this before.”

    I especially feel this way with books by Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick. I find she often even uses the same phrases from book to book to describe emotions or physical characteristics, which makes it hard to view the characters as individual from any other of her books.

  10. Sandir says:

    It is interesting how different we all are. I gave up on Debbie Macomber and Robyn Carr for being too similar but I find each of Mary Balogh’s books to be quite different. I haven’t read that many though – I just finished the Bedwyn family series and her recent, “A Matter of Class.”

    Honestly though I think after I read 15 or 20 books by the same author I’m probably going to get a bit weary no matter how great they are. Nora Roberts is currently skating on thin ice after her brides series. (I grudgingly finished two and gave up on the 3rd.)

  11. RobinB says:

    @JMM: I think I’m in the same situation as you regarding MJP–I loved her earlier series (Fallen Angels, Bride, Silk), as well as her other historicals that came out in the nineties. However, the later books haven’t been as interesting to me–maybe it’s because my tastes have changed or maybe it’s the “same old, same old” issue. Another commenter noted that her no-longer favorite author uses very similar phrases in different books, and I’ve also noticed this with MJP’s books.

    I’m also not as crazy about Diana Gabaldon and the Outlander series as I used to be–it took me years (literally!) to finish “The Fiery Cross” (the fifth book in the series), and I have yet to start “A Breath of Snow and Ashes” (#6). It still bothers me that TFC was not more judiciously edited, and that’s probably the main reason why I kept putting it aside to read (among other things) Mary Jo Putney’s books! Go figure!

  12. SillyJaime says:

    This is exactly the reason why I stopped reading Nora Roberts. I’m not a crime novel or mystery novel reader, and her In Death series doesn’t interest me, but I was reading a lot of her romance novels and the ones I read all seemed to have the same chemical makeup. So I stopped. I think I’ll always love her Gallaghers of Ardmore trilogy, the Three Sisters Island trilogy, and (lastly) her Irish Hearts series… I find the rest of her romance novels all follow the same pattern. It made me sad to put her down. I’ll probably go back and read the ones I like again in the future (it’s my way, with books I love), I most likely won’t pick up any of her romance novels again.

  13. maggie b. says:

    I read a lot of different genres so in that sense I am always “mixing it up”, which kinda helps keep me from getting bored with the romance formula.

    That doesn’t mean I haven’t encountered the problem though. One of the main reasons I have given up on historicals is that the recipe for those novels feels very, very tight. There doesn’t seem as much room for the liberties with the basic boy meets girl formula that occur in contemps.

    I think this is a constraint that both readers and writers want though. E-books and christian publishers certainly shake things up with the formula.

    maggie b.

  14. JMM says:

    I love “cozy” mysteries; many times they have a romance along with the murder.

  15. Leigh says:

    Tee, women’s fiction is becoming a genre of choice for me too. Edge is a perfect descriptive word, since the book are less predictable, and address more complex issues.

    Dick, I find that I like the predictablity in the HEA and admirable characters. I am not much for tortured. I don’t want to know before reading that the hero and heroine will have a history with a breakup caused by manipulation from a father or ex girlfriend with the hero blaming the heroine and vowing retribution. I did read one author with this type of scenario in almost every book.

    Bungluna, I do read some authors for comfort. But the books don’t excite me. I love the sense of anticipation I get when I am looking forward to something special.

    I enjoyed J.D. Robb books for about five or so years. Then I started noticing that there were always car problems, or computer problems, or Roarke always owned everything.

  16. Leigh says:

    JMM, leaving behind authors does give you the motivation to search out new ones. This past year, I have definitely added to my list of auto buy authors.

    MB, I used to be able to satisfy the need for something new within the romance genre, reading historicals, urban fantasy, contemporary and futuristic. Now I do take a break, and go outside of romance. It just seems like we have had vampire books forever.

    DJ, It was the Quick book that I took back unread. It is very discouraging that she tired all the series together. Because she is using the same plot for the past, present and future books. I also took back the Roberts unread.

    Sandir, while I do see the similarities in the Carr books I am still enjoying them. I had almost quit Nora when she announced the bridal series. The first one captivated me. The others not so much.

    Maggieb, you do mix it up, and I am always checking to see what you are reading. I discovered some great authors based on your recommendations.

    JMM, I enjoy cozy mysteries with a touch of romance too.

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  18. Sandy C. says:

    I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand, I still read books by Diana Palmer, even though I’m pretty certain how they’re going to play out and what kinds of archetypes the H/h are going to be.

    On the other hand, I’ve given up on other authors, like JAK, because it got to the point where I was saying out loud, “Oh, of course, this is the part where she’s left alone to be physically threatened by a bad guy…”, etc. Even with that, though, “Absolutely Positively” will stay on my keeper shelf forever, despite the fact that it follows the same formula.

    Nora Roberts can be hit or miss, depending on the book/series. I liked the brides quartet enough to keep all of the books; sometimes I wonder if my reaction to a particular book has more to do with my mood at the time than with the actual book itself.

    To all of these authors’ credit, I think anyone would begin to sound repetitive after they’ve written enough books! There are only so many ways of saying the same thing, after all. I’ve noticed this with authors I still love, like Lisa Kleypas. This is a result of me rereading beloved books over and over again, though, so I blame the authors! (Yes, that was tongue in cheek.)

    I don’t like chick lit as a rule, because if I’ve signed on for the HEA, I don’t want an ambiguous ending at best, and a dark ending at worst!

    Luckily, there are enough books and authors out there to please most of us, no matter what our tastes and preferences may be.

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