Last night Aunt B. posted an interesting take on Zone One (kind of)*. The comments on that post have lead me to a springboard that I’ve been meaning to jump from for awhile now.
I’m not sure, but I think I blame Harry Potter and the newly crossed-over A Song Of Ice And Fire for the current publishing emphasis on serial storytelling. Back in the uphill both ways days, serial novels were pretty much the sole province of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. That made sense, as those books were often structured along the lines of Wordless Graphic Novels; short, splashy and on an entirely speculative theme. You’d get 150 pages of story every six months and houses like Tor stayed open for a very long time with that market paradigm. Right around that time, the Inspirational Fiction (i.e. Christian) market began its first major overhaul. They took off using the Genre Paradigm, padded with a twist. You’d still get a book every six months that was really just a part of a large novel carved off to a weekend-sized read. Only now, instead of charging $3 or $5 like Tor, the Christians priced their series (Janette Oke, Bodie Thoene) at twice that.
Right around 2000, two things happened. Traditional book publishing started nosediving financially in a new and horrifying way. And Harry Potter started taking off. So when publishers looked around they saw the only books that were selling were in the Inspirational marketplace or the Young Adult series marketplace. (Think not only Harry Potter but Goosebumps and Baby Sitters Club.)
Bad news for you and me and everyone else who loves reading.
I personally stayed away from Series until Harry Potter pulled me back in. Now I’m stuck whiling away my reading life in anticipation of George RR Martin, Patrick Rothfuss and Peter V. Brett. My desire to read their next books in the continuing sagas of Jon Snow, Kvothe and The Warded Man makes me want to hire armoured cars to shepherd each author to and from everything safely. I MUST know what happens next!! As a reader I grudgingly accept this model as a condition for getting juicy, sprawling sagas that don’t feel rushed or lacking. As a writer I understand authors wanting a taste of the Rowling/Meyer pie.
But blast it all. You can no longer buy a book with a proper ending, it would seem. Everything newly released in the fiction category spends the last five percent of the book setting up the inevitable sequel. In most cases that “set-up” is a real problem. Because it leaves you without any resolution to the story you’ve just invested a lot of time and emotional involvement upon. There you are, wanting the lovers to get together, the villain to be vanquished and then…boom. Coming in 2012!
All those years I was avoiding Fantasy and Sci Fi I was whiling away my time in mysteries and thrillers. There are a lot of successful series in that genre, but the very nature of such books is that there has to be a conclusion to the story at hand. No one wants to wait 10 years to find out who killed the vicar. So those authors structured their series by getting the reader involved in B plots that were driven by compelling characters. You bought the next book because you liked hanging out with Alex and Robin or Mary Russell and Sherlock. To this day that is the kind of series I most prefer; one where each book resolves its main story line but leaves the natural personal growth of the B plot open for subsequent reads.
Sort of like Harry Potter.
*Ugh. This is why I should always proofread my posts. Because what I meant by this is that in her post she linked to a review of Zone One that I didn’t care for. The guy writing the review did that whole “It’s Genre! By A Lit Author! But It’s Genre!” thing that bugs me. So B’s post IS very interesting. Dude in the linked article makes me stabby.