Series, Series, and More Series

We have all seen the trend that is happening in Romance novels these days.  The Series.  I can’t even remember the last time that I read a book that wasn’t a part of a series.  Paranormals, fantasy, Regencies – it doesn’t matter the genre, all the books seem to be a part of a series.  For me, that isn’t really a problem.  I like that.  I like that I don’t have to say goodbye to characters that I love and have come to care about after I finish a book.  I like that a younger sibling or a best friend that we like in one book finds their own HEA in the next book.  So this trend hasn’t bothered me all that much.  That is until very recently.

While I have no problem with the trend that all books are a part of a series, I have started to see something that I don’t like.  Usually, I enjoy a good epilogue.  It used to be that the epilogue was a small chapter at the end of the book where we get a chance to peek at the future.   This used to be a place that transcended the “series” chronology and jumped forward a few years and let us know that despite what may be happening is the great story arc of the series, this is what is happening with the couple currently.  A good example of this would be Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward.  At the end of this book, we get an epilogue that takes place 18 months after the book ended and the epilogue is a scene with the main couple, Z and Bella, and it steps out of the chronology of the series and gives a glimpse of the future.  I love these scenes.  They reassure us that all is well with the couple in the future, they reaffirm the HEA, and they satisfy any curiosity of children that may have been born or events that might have played out off page.

But with the rise in the Series, now epilogues are being used differently.  A good example of this is a book I recently read, Recklessly Yours by Allison Chase.  In this book, the epilogue focuses not on the couple that is the main characters of the book, but on the next couple.  And this is something that I have seen a lot lately.  About a Dragon by G.A. Aiken does the same thing – and I am starting to feel cheated and a little manipulated.  Not only do I miss out on the information about the characters that I look forward to, but I am also being forced into caring about all new characters when I am still vulnerable from the “high” of the couple that I just read.

And this isn’t the only example of how determined the authors are to shove other books down our throats.  Shamelessly, authors use beloved characters from one series to market books in another.  Off the top of my head, I can think of two examples of this.  One is the Black Dagger Brotherhood series which is shamelessly using the Brothers to push Ward’s other series, the Fallen Angels.  Another is Diana Gabaldon’s very well loved character Jamie Fraser being used in her Lord John series as a main character.  Though I haven’t read Scottish Prisoner yet (and I think this is because it is a matter of principle at this point), I know that I feel that using Jamie in that series is somehow just wrong.

So the moral of the story is that I have no problem with a series, I do have a problem when a quest to market a Series interrupts my books.  If the authors really wanted to make sure that I read the next book in the series, they would be better off making sure that the book that I read has everything I want – including a true epilogue.

Am I way off base with this?  What do you think?

- Louise AAR

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23 Responses to “Series, Series, and More Series”

  1. Leigh says:

    I do like several series but for the most part I am tired of them. It is difficult as a reader or reviewer to pick up book three or five. If I haven’t read all the books then I do feel like I am missing a piece of the puzzle. It might be just on the edges of the story but still I know that I don’t have the complete picture.

    I am reading a book now and every time the author mentions something that happened in a previous book – my attention drifts – wondering “what is the full story around this incident?” It is distracting.

    If you look at http://www.fictfact.com/BookReleaseCalendar.aspx
    you can see that there are approximately three hundred books released each month that are part of a series. Series have taken over, and it is difficult to find a book that is not part of one.

  2. Lori says:

    I confess: When I read my first E. Hoyt novel, Notorious Pleasures, I skimmed most of the “Silence” parts, because they seemed to have nothing to do with the main story. Plus there was no resolution to them–they seemed to be a cliffhanger! When I got to Scandalous Desires, then I had to go back and pick up the missing “pieces” from the previous books. And of course, SD desperately needed an epilogue to show me that there really would be an HEA for the H/h, but no, instead I’m teased to read Hoyt’s next book about what’s-his-name. The he**?

    More recently, I posted about When A Duke Says I Do introducing characters, clearly setting them at least one of them for her own books, and then barely referencing them again. I felt insulted and manipulated. Now, I don’t mind an author introducing a peripheral character–say, an aunt–and giving that character a small but organic-seeming role in the novel, letting me get to know enough about him or her so that eventually, should she get her own book, I’ll be invested enough to read it. But that was not the case in WADSID, as far as I’m concerned. It struck me as a not-very-subtle marketing ploy, no more no less.

    In summary, I’m with you–give me a real epilogue that assures me that all is well in Romancelandia, at least for the couple I paid to read about.

  3. Carrie says:

    I read a few series regularly, but overall I like it best when books, even with overlapping characters, are only loosely related. That way they can stand-alone. There are always stronger and weaker books in a series, and if I’m getting in on one that already has 6 or 7 books in it, I’d rather only read the best of them and not feel the need to read all 7 in order. I’ve skipped many highly rated books because I’ve been advised that I need to read the previous books in order to really enjoy the one I’m interested in.

    As far as epilogues, I’m not a big fan of them, especially if they are really just baby-logues. I’ve read a few epilogues that were wonderful, but usually they are not well done and are too sappy for my tastes. I agree with you in principle, though. If you’re going to have an epilogue, have it about the main characters and not as a set up for the next book.

    • Ruby says:

      Carrie: I read a few series regularly, but overall I like it best when books, even with overlapping characters, are only loosely related. That way they can stand-alone. There are always stronger and weaker books in a series, and if I’m getting in on one that already has 6 or 7 books in it, I’d rather only read the best of them and not feel the need to read all 7 in order. I’ve skipped many highly rated books because I’ve been advised that I need to read the previous books in order to really enjoy the one I’m interested in.As far as epilogues, I’m not a big fan of them, especially if they are really just baby-logues. I’ve read a few epilogues that were wonderful, but usually they are not well done and are too sappy for my tastes. I agree with you in principle, though. If you’re going to have an epilogue, have it about the main characters and not as a set up for the next book.

      Amen to everything Carrie said, especially the “baby-logues.”

      Also, I think that, in a way, series are a lazy way to write books. Why work on developing characters/settings/details for each individual book when you can just rely on the previous book? Why come up with an entirely new premise when you can continue to reference an earlier one?

  4. Beth says:

    A part of me truly enjoys greater story arcs and the foreknowledge that secondary characters I spend the time to know and love will have an opportunity for their own HEA. I like having individual stories with the undercurrent of a larger mystery or conflict that we the reader are watching unfold right along with the H/h. There is comfort in reoccurring characters, and depending on the chronology within the series, sometimes that missing epilogue is found within the dialogue or scenes of the following books.

    On the other side of the coin, I get tired when an author seems to indefinitely extend a series. Introducing second cousins, long lost best friends, or other minor characters with the intent to have them loosely tied to the “series” and waiting in the wings for another book. There are too many authors to name who have fallen into this trap, and sadly each of the subsequent books is a watered down copy of an earlier title. With these larger book series, there are times I find that I never really cared for the H/h characters when first introduced a few books back, I have little drive to purchase the book when published and I seem to drift away from my old favorites seeking something “new.”

  5. Louise says:

    It isn’t the series that I have a problem with. Like Leigh said, I like the series. I don’t even mind if they are fairly well integrated into the story. But like Lori said, it has to seem natural. Don’t throw the characters in there just to plan for the future. And like Carrie said, if there is going to be an epilogue, don’t just make it a marketing tool for the series, make it about the couple. I even read one book where the epilogue is not about the next couple in the series, but about a character that was mentioned ONCE in the whole book. So now they are marketing for books three two or three down the line? Isn’t that what teaser chapters are for? Give me the epilogue I want and if you want to push the next book, then give me the next chapter. Separately! :)

  6. bungluna says:

    Some authors handle the reapearance of previous characters well, but most just take away time from the current story to parade them for the readers. As for sequel-bait characters, I’ve gotten so ornery that I just stop reading authors guilty of this, (ehem, Stephanie Laurens.)

    When a world is well crafted, it’s a pleasure to return to it. Beloved secondary characters can enhance the reading experience. But the focus should always be on the current story, imo. Otherwhise, why bother? As for cliff hanger epilogues, I loathe them. They are reason enough for me to quit a series.

  7. Eliza says:

    I’m right there with you all the way. I enjoy series, too, whether they are closely or loosely connected–no problem. And I also appreciate an author who can also make each book of the the series a stand alone at the same time–a true artist IMO. But like you I too miss “true” epilogues. Put the dang teasers in an extra chapter, as was said!! I am so tired of marketing and commercialism everywhere I could just spit. Next thing you know, we’ll be seeing brand name products in the stories, like cokes and in contemps, if we aren’t already.

    And this also goes for author cross-marketing. Another author’s name on a cover used to mean something. Nowadays, I’m wondering if it might be part of authors’ contracts. Yes, I know authors can be friends but endorsements on covers mean almost nothing to me now.

  8. lynette says:

    I Loooong for single books. I do like series but I am one of those readers that not only can’t read a series out of order but also have to re-read (or a least substantially research) the previous books.
    Considering Mount TBR is about 3,000 books high (no, really!) I haven’t got the time and desire to re-read books unless they are absolute keepers.
    Perhaps authors (and publishers) think us readers will keep buying the books just to keep up with a family/group of rogues/schoolfriends – take your pick.
    No, I really would like to read a few one-offs. If anyone knows of any Regency/Victorian/Georgian novels out there that will not require glomming or more books to put on my Wish List – please let me know!

  9. wenmc says:

    I feel the same about the epilogue. I like to read about the current characters, not feel I am being persuaded to read the next book. I do like series, but that is all that seems to be out there now. My TBR pile goes from one good book, to the 8 in the series I’ve yet to read. The website FictFact keeps my series in order for me and I currently have 44 series I am following!

  10. Melissa says:

    I do like series that have a defined arc, like Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. I’m also ok with series comprised of books that essentially stand alone, as long as they don’t spend too much page time slinging sequel bait at me. In the latter case, I wish authors and publishers realized that the best way to entice me to pick up the author’s next book is to write a really fantastic book not to dribble out “hooks” for secondary characters. Put another way, after reading Pride and Prejudice, I was eager to read anything by Jane Austen. I certainly didn’t need the hook of finding out how things developed for Kitty and Mary!

  11. CC says:

    I too long for stand alone books. Some authors never seem toknow when to stop and if you don’t start at the beginning you are totally lost. (I have a friend who somehow always manages to pick the middle book in a series and then has to go back to the beginning.) There are some authors who give a mini-recap past happenings, so at least you have some idea of who is who, but too many just expect you to know.

  12. anne gallagher says:

    This was an interesting post for me. As a writer of a Regency series, I began with 5 men. Each is a stand-alone title, with with overlapping characters. They’re all friends, and in real life, friends overlap. I also have epilogues, thankfully, they are always about the couple in the book.

    I chose to write this series because I love building their world and with each character I found I wanted to spend as much time with them as I could. When I do find myself with a “minor” character with something to say, I write a short story instead. It helps clear my mind of wanting to write another novel and making the series 27 books instead of just 5.

    I think the more novels that are in a series, the more inhibiting it becomes to readers. Even Sue Grafton’s Alphabet series is getting ornery to me. I stopped reading that at “M”.

  13. Susan in Maryland says:

    I agree with most of what has been said about the overuse of series and semi-related epilogues. However, I’ve read “The Scottish Prisoner,” and was delighted to see Jamie during some of his years without Claire. Also, I enjoyed having more insight into Lord John and how he deals with his unrequited feelings. Of course, I look forward to everything Gabaldon writes, and understand she needs breaks from total immersion in the Outlander world, but I wouldn’t mind if she could focus just a bit more on it and got the next book out sooner.

  14. PJ says:

    I mostly prefer series when each book is about the same characters, but that’s mostly non-romance. For romance series, I do read in order, but I like the books to be able to stand alone simply because I want to read about the main characters, not have a million folks from the past cluttering up the pages.

    I don’t think I’ve ran into epilogues yet like you mentioned, but when I do it will annoy the devil out of me. It sounds more like an upcoming book teaser than an epilogue, and I don’t read those. I don’t read sample first chapters 95% of the time. I like to start a book when I have the complete book in my hands.

    If publishers want to market.. here’s a couple hints:

    1. Get the cover art right. Fire the artists who don’t know their stuff. Don’t settle for crap because romance readers will buy anything. I promise you, they won’t.
    2. Don’t skimp on the editing. It’s leaves the bad taste of “shoddy product”.
    3. Don’t screw around with history to suit the plot. Most historical romance readers are pretty history savy and it’s annoying as hell when the history is blatantly wrong.

  15. Kay says:

    I am more of a lurker than a commenter, but this time Louise expressed my feelings so well I just had to mention it. I too love (well-done) epilogues, because it gives me extra encouragement that the couple ‘made it’ and will probably make it in the future too. I used to love series, for the same reasons someone mentioned above: I like spending more time with characters I’ve come to think of as friends (of sorts). However, when I see a blatant buy-my-next-book maneuver, like the one in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series, where one of the books ended with someone from the next couple being in danger, one can be fairly certain I will not touch the book with a ten foot pole, out of sheer annoyance. And to think that in this particular case I actually cared about that next couple, and I would have been interested in their book *sigh*. Unfortunately, while there have only been a few instances of this practice so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become just as popular as the recent “everything must be part of a series” trend.

    Interestingly enough, I am not half as mad at writers having their characters’ series intertwined. Perhaps because I myself have not run into a truly frustrating example of this. Having the Outlander series overlapping the Lord John series does not seem particularly bothersome to me as the stories in Outlander are not affected in any way but what happens in that other series; we already know the most important points, so I see the LJ books as addressed to those of us that want to know more about that particular time in Jamie’s life (I have yet to pick up any LJ book). I’m actually fond of this idea; the Outlander series is huge as it is, and it would have been somewhat worse if Gabaldon decided to write a sort of an in-between book (1.5) as part of the same series; this way everyone’s happy: nothing messes my Outlander chronology, nor am I forced to wad through a huge book I’m not particularly interested in (I don’t want to see a Claire-less Jamie), however those that do want to know more are satisfied too.

  16. Lori says:

    Wanted to add one more thing…

    I almost always feel the need for an epilogue when the romance is between two characters of unequal rank. Otherwise–unless it’s been made very clear by the main story that the lower-ranking character will make a good adjustment to the lifestyle of the upper-ranking character, as in Balogh’s “The Plumed Bonnet”–I have to wonder if there will truly be an HEA. For example, does stubborn Harry Pye ever really adjust satisfactorily to his new, upper-class life with Georgina, in “Leopard Prince”? I’ll never know, but I have my doubts.

  17. I enjoy a good epilogue and a good series…but I have to agree, I really liked the glimpse into the future of the couple. I HATE it when the epilogue is about a different couple or a different person than the main characters. It’s just a personal thing, but I still am not a fan. The Julia Quinn books have wonderful epilogues as well as the Elizabeth Hoyt books.

    Great post, couldn’t agree with you more!

  18. …and here I thought it was just me. I agree completely…on all counts. I love a series for the same reasons you do. And I have avoided reading the Lord John series for the same reason, too.

  19. Luluwrites says:

    I try to avoid series because I become obsessed with reading each book in the series, even after the subsequent books begin to deteriorate in quality as they inevitably do. That means I end up reading poorly written books that I would never have read if they were published on a stand-alone basis, just because I read the 3 books before it in the series.

    But I do like the familiarity with characters you develop over time in a book series. This is especially important when each book is chock full of characters. And just like meeting a friend’s mother often gives you insight into your friend that you would otherwise never have gained, meeting a character’s mother or best friend, or ex- in a prior book, can also help you understand the character, if it is done correctly and the characters are well developed. Using Gabaldon’s books as an example, getting to “know” Ian and Jenny in the early books, helps the reader “know” Young Ian, later in the series.

    My other issue with series is the “time” problem. I imagine it is difficult to keep the time line on course in a single book. Juggling time over multiple books makes it even more difficult. Especially if the action in each book occurs somewhat simultaneously. You often end up with one character in three books and three places at the same time. I’ve wondered if that isn’t why so many series are in the fantasy genre. It must be easier to ignore the rules we humans use to mark time.

    Even in series covering a long period of time, such as the Outlander series, I find myself counting the months, especially in Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager. They don’t add up. But as to the complaint about Jamie showing up in a Lord John book – I think she handles it well. We know that Jamie spent time as a prisoner at an estate in England and had a continuing relationship with Lord John during that time, just by reading the Outlander series, so explaining what happened during part of that time in the Lord John books doesn’t bother me and if you read Scottish prisoner you find it answers some questions raised in the Outlander books, but never answered there. I guess I think of the Lord John books as part of the Outlander series overall.

    I agree with Bungluna about Stephanie Laurens books. My biggest problem with her series is her male name issues. I guess she is running out of them. Each new hero, especially in the Bastion Club series has a more outlandish name than the last. Tristan Wemyss, Gervase Tregarth and “Dalziel,” Royce Varisey. Then they each have equally complicated titles. But, then she names two of them Jack. Go figure.

  20. Hannah says:

    As someone has already said, a series that develops “naturally”, maybe a family or a group of friends who have know each other forever or all live in one town, can be great because you do get some world building and you get to visit in with characters you enjoyed in other books. These I often like, if the writing is well-done, though you can always anticipate that the book about the last sibling will involve a great deal of catching up for the last time with all the characters. This still doesn’t always rankle. What I will not even start are the contrived series like the “Bastion Club” or Gaelen Foley’s “Inferno Club” which you know are simply created to have maximum book output with limited attention to quality. For that matter, Foley’s “Knight Miscellany” was probably a brother or two too large as series was very inconsistant.

    I think what most of us are objecting too is the feeling that these types of series, including their “lead me on” epilogues, are more and more often not the good writing that we readers are looking for in a romance, but cut-and-paste ridiculous stories being recycled by the authors and publishers for higher volume sales. And this does not help the credibility of the romance genre one bit. We know some of these authors can do better because we’ve seen it.

  21. annmartina says:

    It drives me nuts when I read the newer Outlander series books and become totally lost and confused because I think I can’t remember something, only to discover out it’s plot from “Lord John” crossing over. It makes me feel manipulated and kind of like a commercial has been inserted into a book. I don’t want to read the “Lord John” books and frankly I resent them because I feel like they delay the Jamie & Claire books.

  22. Ann Stephens says:

    One aspect about writing a series is that doing so increases sales for an author. Like it or not, until people stop buying series, publishers will look for them and authors will consider writing them.

    Watching a crit partner struggle to find unique story lines for a six book series, I’m watching the challenges of writing related books up close. Compared to writing single titles, it’s a nightmare. Timelines have to be correct, any questions that arc through the books have to be placed ahead of time…think six outlines instead of one.

    Absolutely, any book in a series must be able to stand alone! If a book depends on other books to make sense, that’s a gigantic problem for me as a reader. Even in a series about the same characters, the individual books must be complete, self-contained stories of their own. If they briefly reference past books, that’s fine, but the author should keep the focus on the present story.