Sequel-itis: Where Do You Stand?

regencyIn her recent review of A Lady by Midnight by Tessa Dare, Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, mentioned something that caught my attention.  A certain group of supporting characters who arrive in the heroine’s village, early in the novel, were seen by Sarah as being “a carriage full of sequel-bait…[not] so much individual as they are at times like an assembly of future characters and convenient plot devices.”  This jumped out at me, because I have felt this sentiment before, reading various books by various authors.

For me, the carriage full of characters in A Lady by Midnight worked, and I personally did not feel that they were sequel-bait.  (Incidentally, in a Goodreads chat to celebrate the book’s release, Dare mentioned that there are only two other planned stories in this series, a novella and a novel, neither of which will be about any of the carriage characters…  Although Dare did not rule out the possibility of revisiting one of the characters at a much later date.)  But I don’t mean this as a critique of either Sarah or Dare.  Rather, this is just a recent example of a phenomenon that I have been experiencing myself – the expectation of sequels.  In this case, I happened to read Sarah’s review just after reading Dare’s comment that she did not intend to write books for these new characters, and it got me thinking.

The romance genre is replete with connected novels.  There are series that follow siblings, friends, coworkers, and members of clubs.  There are also companion novels, where a supporting character from one book goes on to be the main character in another, without a full series or any sort of hook to connect the characters.

This is not in and of itself a bad thing.  In fact, in a lot of ways these connected novels are great.  They create a unified and more fully-realized world for the characters to inhabit, because each successive novel fleshes the canon out further.  The characters themselves can seem more real, their relationships more believable with every book that demonstrates these bonds.  Connected novels can also allow for the reader to develop a stronger emotional connection to characters – for example, I know that I enjoyed Courtney Milan’s Trial by Desire better for having already read the hero as a young supporting character in Milan’s previous novel Proof by Seduction.  And, of course, it can be fun to check in on characters from earlier books, when they pop up in a new one.

And yet, sometimes this seemingly endless spate of connected novels begins to irk me.  It makes me feel jaded, as a reader.  Each successful couple from a single canon who find true love and a HEA, especially within the space of a few months or years, makes that fictional world seem that much less realistic, to me.  More than that, I find myself sequel-spotting.  Sometimes this is a pleasant experience – I enjoy reading about a supporting character, and hope that this character will get a novel of his or her own.  Other times, it makes me feel cynical.  I begin to suspect that every unique or particularly well-written supporting character is subtly being prepared to star in his or her own story.  That they are, indeed, sequel-bait.  Instead of being able to enjoy the book, I am distracted by a wary, weary feeling that the most intriguing supporting characters are probably just being prepared to have books of their own.

So, what do you think about the proliferation of connected novels?  Do you find yourself anticipating which characters will have novels of their own – and, if so, is it a good thing or bad?

- Elizabeth AAR

22 thoughts on “Sequel-itis: Where Do You Stand?

  1. I don’t like series.
    In the end, the first book is great, but the following ones are disappointing.
    It’s the same kind of book, with no surprises, no new worlds or places to discover.
    I had this sensation with SEP and Kleypas, for instance: the same story told many times under different names, so I can hardly distinguish one book from the other.
    And I would rather not mention all those books Nora Roberts puts her name on -or her pseudonym.
    One of the things I love about Sandra Brown is that she usually does not write series.

  2. I like the way Margaret Maron writes her Judge Deborah Knott series. She has a huge extended family some of which are in every book, but the people involved in the mystery are usually new. You don’t have to know the back story of every family member but they certainly add interest to the book.

  3. I think the main complaint here may be when authors introduce characters for no reason other than to set them up for a sequel. Personally, I find that some authors are just running a series on without having the ideas to make subsequent books worthwhile. I’ve given up on series where the author seems to have run out of steam but keeps producing sequel after sequel.

    The “In Death” series (to name a long, successful one) has endured – at least partly – because Nora Roberts is a good writer and the characters grow and change and we get to see them developing and get more and more of their backgrounds.

  4. Sequels have market value and so publishers and authors are routinely including them, which to a large extent has taken the surprise out of learning that a supporting character has his/her own story worthy of an entire novel. Many authors, I think, are using the sequels as a crutch to avoid the hard work of creating a complex world for the characters as secondary characters now simply piggyback on the previous novels. In the end, it really is up to an author to make this literary device work well. Some can pull it off but many more cannot. I tend to get more interested now when a novel is a stand alone as that is fast becoming a rarity in romance writing.

  5. It’s not just series’ that get old, it’s the “I want on that money train too” that’s frustrating. I’m currently reading the latest Virginia Kantra “Carolina Moon”??? Carolina something… anyways I just made my point.

    JoAnn Ross has a quote on the front. It’s like reading Friday Harbour all over again…

    Good story line, decent characters (except for the “teenager” teacher, sigh…. just a peeve) but it’s been done a thousand times before. I needed something to read following the Deborah Harkness, and an unoriginal story is what I was looking for, but please… different place, time, characters. I’ll read your books forever if they are original.

  6. My husband was at a Peter Beagle signing once and highly irritated by a woman who gushed “oh, you must right a sequel!” to Beagle about a book that was most definitely finished.

    Dare, btw, is not the first writer to be unfairly accused of sequel bait. I remember reading a review of Lord of Sin by Madeline Hunter that claimed several sisters existed only as sequel-bait. I didn’t see that at all — they were young and annoying characters — and in fact there were no sequels about them. It’s sad for authors if they can’t even write some secondary characters without being accused of sequel baiting.

  7. I think that a series, like a stand alone book, depends on the author. The good authors do them well, the bad ones, not so much.

    @December – try Ward’s BDB series. She has previously HEA couples deal with real life issues going forward – the newlyweds that can’t connect idealism to reality, the couple that adjusts to being parents very suddenly, etc. In other words… reality!! :)

  8. What makes or breaks any book for me, series or standalone, is the writing, the story, and the characters. I can think of a number of authors who have short or long-running series that work because of the writing. A good author can make it work. A few authors that come to mind immediately are Robyn Carr, Tessa Dare, C.S. Harris, Deanna Raybourn, Louise Penny, and Ashley Gardner. There are many others.

    I also think that books in a series, limited or not, should stand on their own to a certain extent. While I can accept and often argue myself that you may miss some backstory about plot and characters having not read the previous books in the series, you should be able to understand and enjoy the book on its own. Readers discover new-to-them authors all of the time and often jump into a series in the middle. If they are interested, they can go back and read the previous books. If they choose not to, they deserve a complete story.

    I enjoy a good series but do long for some good standalones, too.

  9. I love mystery series because the mystery drives the book and the character development is the icing on the cake (forgive the mixed metaphors here :)! I am also a fan of romance series, though I do burn out on some (Stephanie Laurens, for example) and I don’t really like Harlequin “series” that are written by different authors.

    I confess to loving the “adorable children, baby cooing” HEA couples. I KNOW it’s not real life – I am reading for the escape from real life (Virgin River here I come).

    “Sequel-bait” – LOL – now I’m going to be seeing this in every book!

  10. I have sequel/series-itis bad! I have read all 43 J.D. Robb’s “In Death” books and am looking forward to more. I have read Nora Roberts, Stephanie Laurens, Rex Stout, John D. MacDonald, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Agatha Christie etc., etc., etc. The only thing I DON’T like about sequels/series, is when an author dies and the publisher/family/estate gets someone else to write the books UGH!
    And I kinda think “sequel-bait” (what a great phrase!) is fun. I like to see if I can correctly guess who the next book is gonna be about. And I really like this trend of releasing two or more books in a series all within the same year as Mary Balogh did with her “Huxtable” series.

  11. I admit to being a JD Robb addict 30+ books later but that’s very, very rare.

    IMO series should never run over 3 books unless they are stand-alones. Yes, same place etc but completely independant characters.

  12. Great post! I often really enjoy the way an interconnected series builds a world readers can revisit, but when secondary characters feel like obvious sequel/prequel bait with no other role in the story, it turns me off reading more. Some books feel so crowded with past couples that the story gets short-changed, and if you enter the series midway it’s like you’re at a party where everyone else already knows each other.

    A number of readers I know have been commenting lately that a popular historical series is making them wait SO long for the story of a particular couple that they are losing interest in the series and/or beginning to wonder whether the author is blocked on their story or something. So an overlong series has pitfalls. I think it’s easier in mystery or paranormal to keep a series going for a long time, because there are other elements than the love story to keep readers engaged.

  13. Whether or not I can get into a series depends entirely on the author. If its well written then she/he can take me wherever they want to go, and I will follow along happily. In the early days of a series I will/would go back and reread the first books in order to be current for the next one.

    The times I notice, and dislike, seeing a crowd of new characters that are clearly meant for the next book, is when the book in question is already not a keeper. Then the more that is implied is just annoying.

    I would love to see a sequel to The Scorpio Races, although I don’t know how it could be done without spoiling it. And I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel to The Chocolate Thief either. I loved that book. (by the bye, I completely understand why your reviewer didn’t like it – every point she made was valid, but her speed bumps, and roadblocks are not at all the same as mine, and although I have never had an interest in visiting France, that book made me long to go)

  14. I prefer it when a book can stand alone. I don’t mind inter-connected books, but when you are introduced to a group of heroes who all fall into happy, happy relationships, one after another – like dominoes – it comes off as silly. Life is often up/down.

  15. I don’t mind them, but it entirely depends on the author. However it drives me nuts when you’re enjoying a book, and in come some hidiously happy-in-love characters, and they have a carload of adorable children, and a baby cooing, and you know the author threw them in just becuase they couldn’t leave well enough alone. Just once, I’d love to see a newlywed couple bickering in the background.

  16. I like series that give the author a chance to develop a world, like Jo Beverley’s Malloren world. However, I expect each book in the series to stand on its own. I don’t want to have to read Book One and Book Two in order for Book Three to make sense. I would think this is something authors would want to do simply to make sure that a reader who picks up Book Three isn’t so annoyed that he never picks up another of the author’s books.

    What I dislike are the series that are held together by some ridiculously contrived “hook.” This seems to be something that is being pushed by publishers, but I find it annoying. Do readers really want half a dozen books about people setting out to hunt for a McGuffin that gets ignored after about a third of each book? It seems to me that such books are a “series” only in the publisher’s catalog.

  17. I have a love/hate with sequels/series. I hate, hate, hate, reading a book, (especially if I am late to it) and finding it has 6-8 more. I’m so far behind now on my TBR books, that I can never catch up on a long series. I also find that if I start up a “new to me” series, find it has more than 3, I will put them aside for reading all together at a future date. So far, I have tons of them at home, not read and maybe never to be read, which is so frustrating. I’ve also found myself giving up on a ever growing longer series (unread) and taken them all to the UBS and traded them. Even after spending time to track down all of them at UBSs or spending money I shouldn’t on new ones I couldn’t find at a UBS. So, no, PLEEEESE, no more than 3 and preferably only 2.

  18. I don’t mind them up to a certain point and that is when characters from previous books start showing up en masse in the current book. If the previous books have been published a year or more before the current book, I just can’t remember all of the past characters’ stories. It’s so aggravating trying to remember who is who, especially if the past characters’ stories have a bearing on the current book.

  19. I like them, especially those like the Fallen Angels series, Laurens’ Cynsters, Hunter’s Medievals, C.S. Harris’ St. Cyr books, and the never-ending In Death. Such series make the characters a part of a milieu rather than actors in a drama which begins, has a middle, and ends, and in which the characters become like figures on Keats’ Grecian Urn, frozen in an eternal now.

  20. I love sequels! My favorite is when an author strings me along with a secondary character for maybe six other books in the series before finally giving that character their own HEA. Increases the anticipation. I’m always happy when I’ve found a new series to enjoy. Now, I don’t want all books to feature a series. I like a bit of both. The last three stand-alones I read were inspirationals. It seems like all the paranormals I read are series. But I like that. It’s fun to dig deeper and deeper into their world. Dear authors–keep them coming!

  21. I’ve said it before on this site, and on others, and I’ll say it again – I loooong for a stand alone historical romance book.
    I am the type of person who has to remember the previous books in a series so that is a bind and with books sometimes a year apart I can’t always recall the stories.
    Don’t get me wrong, I like series books but just sometimes I want to pick up a novel that doesn’t have ‘previous’.
    If anyone knows of a one-off book set in the Regency, Georgian or Victoria era please let me know.
    Ta.

  22. I heard Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, speaking at a book festival last weekend. Someone in the crowd asked her if there would be a sequel. She sighed and said, “Remember back when books had endings?”

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