It is a truth universally acknowledged that the moment you root your feet, you get struck by a speeding bus. Okay, maybe that’s a little harsher than I intended, but the sentiment is sound. The only constant in this universe is change, and that holds true for everything in life: relationships, business, art, culture, language, and everything in between. We come to expect it, get bored when nothing happens for a while. But we tend to develop a serious blind spot when it comes to ourselves.
It’s not our fault. Change is hard, and it doesn’t always work out the way you envisioned it, and then it feels like all of that effort and time had been utterly wasted. That’s why, when we do happen upon something that works, we tend to cling to it ten times harder, root our feet, and milk it for all it’s worth, because we know how hard we worked to get to that point, and how much harder it’ll be to move on to the next one.
This is usually referred to as escalating commitment. You try something, get invested in it, and keep investing in it despite negative results because you’re so invested in it. The wheel keeps spinning but, being mounted on the wall, it ain’t going anywhere.
The same thing happens to writers. Studies show series sell better than stand-alone books. With each new release, the buzz grows, attracting new readers and boosting sales for previous books, especially the series starter. That’s why writers and publishers do it: more fresh blood.
The problem is, it turns readerships into numbers. It’s no longer about quality of the books, it’s solely about quantity. It’s when a writer starts relying on the brand of their name rather than the books they write, forgetting all about the readers who’d been there from the beginning, or worse, exploiting them to make a buck.
But readers are people, and they know when they’re being taken for a ride. The moment it happens, the connection they had with the author and their characters shatters. They feel cheated out of their money, and one by one (or in droves, as is sometimes the case) loyal fans abandon the series, but because the author is so invested, they doesn’t see it. At least until the more vocal followers make their displeasure obvious, and then the dilemma is born:
Continue the series, despite growing resentment? Abandon the series and risk losing its current fan base? Or try to appease the disgruntled group by essentially letting them dictate the future course of the series?
Any of these choices will create ill will toward the writer in some way, and that is assuming the publisher will even allow them to make the choice in the first place. This is why the old saying advises not to put all eggs into one basket. So…
How to tell when a series might be turning stagnant:
- The series stretches over 10 books with little or no progress on the overarching plot, or there is no discernible overarching plot, yet…
- Many or all of the books end on a cliffhanger
- Characters/plot lines/dialogues appear to repeat (cookie cutter)
- Scenes or large chunks of a book repeat in subsequent ones from a different character’s point of view
- There is no apparent resolution to the original overarching dilemma before a new one is introduced
- New characters/subplots/side stories are introduced into the established universe (off-shoots, parallel universes, time hops, etc.)
- Lots of “filler” (unnecessarily long and detailed descriptions, internal musings, and very little action)
- Undermined mythology (cornerstone concepts being overthrown to make a new character or situation “unique”)
- Redesigned book covers or more formats to “refresh” the series (does not apply if these changes are required for legal/copyright/ownership purposes)
How to fix a series that turned stagnant:
Here, I can’t help you. The choice will be different for each author, but it never hurts to plan ahead and diversify. If you’re writing a series, don’t lock yourself into it. Work on something else alongside, so you always have something to fall back on if the series doesn’t work out. That’s the best advice I feel qualified to give.
My book and series updates:
- Dragonblood is complete and being reviewed by beta readers. Release date scheduled for later this year.
- Planning begins on the final book of the fantasy romance series: Prince of Deceit. More info to come.
- No further books currently planned for Blood and Shadows. I now consider this paranormal romance series complete.
Until next time!