To Series? Or Not To Series?

My name is Mindy, and I’m a speculative fiction reader.  (Hi, Mindy!)

In contemporary U.S. publishing, the above statement can be translated to:  “My name is Mindy, and I love reading series of books.”  A lot of ink has been spilled on why readers love series — familiarity with characters, immersion into the details of life in another world, the geek factor of showing off Volume 12 of some door-stop masterpiece…

I *do* love all those things.  But because I’m a bit of a rebel, I wanted to try *writing* something different.  I wanted to create a fantasy series where each volume could be read on its own, completely separate and independent from any other volume in the series.

My notion wasn’t new, of course.  Many of our mystery-reading-and-writing colleagues do this sort of thing all the time – introduce a detective, put her through her paces solving separate mystery after separate mystery.  In the romance field, “mini-series” are extremely popular, where each volume in the series tells the romance of a different couple, but all are connected through family or residential bonds.

But in fantasy?  Where readers are used to long tied-together series?

Enter Teel the Genie.  In my As You Wish series, Teel grants wishes to a variety of women who work in the professional theater (a stage manager, a dramaturg, an actor).  Teel is the bond between each volume in the series; the genie sets the ground rules, and the basic magic of wish-granting unites the books.  But each book completely tells the story of one woman’s set of wishes.  Each book wraps up the entire arc of its heroine.

Therefore, any reader can pick up any book in the series, at any time.

My experiment has not yielded perfect results.  I regularly get mail from readers who want me to continue the stage manager’s story, who want to know what really happens to the dramaturg on the day after the last page.  But I also hear from reviewers and other readers who have picked up the third volume, TO WISH OR NOT TO WISH (now in a physical or online store near you, starting today!), who are grateful that they can jump into the story without needing to read two volumes of background material.

So, what about you?  If you like reading series, why do you like them?  If you’ve found other speculative fiction series that can be read piecemeal, what are they?  Do you feel cheated when authors *don’t* write series in speculative fiction?

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  1. 1. Mike Barker

    Drat. Jo Walton (bluejo) had a great article about different kinds of series over on tor.com. The series with stand-alone books, the series that must be read in order, and so forth. She had examples of each type, too. And some discussion of pros and cons. But I can’t find the posting now. Hopefully someone has a link?

  2. 2. Rabia

    The only fantasy series that I can think of where I’m okay jumping around is Diana Wynne Jones MG Chrestomanci novels. I expect there are also urban fantasy series where you could get away with not reading in order (I don’t know since I don’t read much in the genre).

    Come to think of it, I read Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books out of order, too, Dragonsinger, then back to Dragonsong, Dragonflight. Dragonquest, etc. It’s not my preferred method but I grew up in Pakistan and I had to take my fantasy where I could find it. Now, I’m fanatical about reading series in order. :D

  3. 3. Adele

    I read a lot of different things, I love stand alone novels that leave you with a sense of completion and satisfaction. I love long series like Dresden where I can return again and again to the familiar, it’s comforting and the long term investment in the characters changes the nature of the reading, especially when someone dies. I love epic trilogies that must be read in order or you spend the whole time scratching your head and going ‘what’. Variety is the best thing about reading.
    I used to feel strongly that a book you couldn’t follow because you hadn’t read the previous ones failed. I thought a good writer should be able to offer enough to lead you through. Now I think it depends on the complexity of the story, the nature of it. In some cases I still find myself feeling, there is no reason this shouldn’t be comprehendable to a newcomer, in others I am willing to accept that going back to the beginning is required.
    The only thing now that really bugs me is a book starting a trilogy or series where the end leaves you feeling, ‘ok sooo, I shelled out £7.99 so you could set the scene but I get no actual story until I buy book two? In a years time?’. At that point the book goes int he charity shop bag and the series is forgotten. I feel cheated. I still feel that in almost every case a book needs a story arc that feels complete to the reader even if it’s only a minor one compared to the series arc.
    Wow, am I going on a bit? I’ll shut up and go read something.

  4. 4. Mindy Klasky

    Mike – I did a couple of Google searches, and I found places where Jo had written about series, but not where she’d covered the topics you discuss. Maybe someone else will chime in with a more helpful response!

    Rabia – I’m a fanatic about series order, too, when there’s a single story stretched out over multiple volumes. I used to be fanatic about order even with related stand-alones (e.g., Miss Marple novels), but I’ve relaxed that recently with, for instance, Donna Leon’s excellent series of mysteries set in Venice.

    Adele – I *completely* agree with you that all books need their own arc, even if they’re series books. It’s a hard line for authors to walk, but it’s an important one. As for making each book stand completely on its own, I used to believe that until I got five books into a five-book series. Then, I relaxed my standards a bit :-)

  5. 5. Mike Barker

    Ha! I wrote to Jo Walton, and she sent me the link.

    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/04/so-what-sort-of-series-do-you-like

    Style one: one book split across volumes for bookbinding.
    Style two: Some closure, but must be read in order
    Style three: readable in any order, but reading all of them gives you more
    Style four: totally independent

  6. 6. Mindy Klasky

    Mike – thanks for checking back with the link. Interesting article from Jo!

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Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eleven novels, including WHEN GOOD WISHES GO BAD and HOW NOT TO MAKE A WISH in the As You Wish Series. She also wrote GIRL'S GUIDE TO WITCHCRAFT, SORCERY AND THE SINGLE GIRL, and MAGIC AND THE MODERN GIRL, about a librarian who finds out she's a witch. Mindy also wrote the award-winning, best-selling Glasswrights series and the stand-alone fantasy novel, SEASON OF SACRIFICE. Visit site.

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