No Reader Left Behind, or If You Promise Them A Trilogy…

October 13th, 2008 · 5 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

It is a strange thing, publishing. On one hand, you have to make money. On the other, you have to satisfy a fickle group known as “readers”. Not surprisingly, these two goals are not always harmonious. Then there are the authors, caught in the middle. That’s got to be a rough position.

There is a trend, in genre fiction, toward series, connected novels, and trilogies that stretch into four, five, or more books. Readers love the familiarity of continuing characters, watching them evolve and develop throughout the course of multiple books. Of course, there are series that go on far too long (Stephanie Plum, anyone?) or books that don’t satisfy, either due to the need to hit a slot on the publishing schedule or lack of oomph on the part of the story (see: Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn).

What happens when the publisher determines that a trilogy isn’t financially feasible and cuts the series at the second book? A well-planned trilogy follows a specific arc: while each book should, done properly, stand alone with a proper beginning, middle, and end, the three books should have the same arc. The end of the final book should provide closure for the series as well as that particular story.

Very few authors have the skill necessary to sustain this type of plotting over three books, which is why most trilogies are really a series of connected stories that aspire to greater things. Still, at the end of these books, there is a promise to readers that there is more to come. Don’t fulfill this promise, and you break trust with readers (interestingly, it is more likely that the authors will bear the brunt of the blame because readers generally don’t see publishers as part of the book brand).

In this case of the two publishers referenced in the article linked above, the solution is simple: release these books as ebooks only. Yes, there’s still a cost, but the out-of-pocket expenses will be vastly reduced. For those readers who did you the favor of buying and reading the first books in these series, you are closing the circle in a way that bolsters your brand.

For the authors of these books, the solution is even easier (and possibly more lucrative): take these books to an independent publisher. Since these are both romance titles, the likely scenario will be an epublisher. You get to finish the series or trilogy on your own terms, giving your readers closure.

In both cases, you need an option for print-only readers. Given the number of options, there is no reason for any publisher to be without a serious print-on-demand solution for one-off and small-run books. Yes, there is a higher cost to the consumer and some increased overhead, but the technology exists to allow you to fulfill reader expectations.

As with all solutions, there are winners and losers. Readers who are not online will likely be left in the cold — these are the readers who shop at physical bookstores and scan shelves looking for favorite authors or interesting reads. Unless these readers ask a salesperson and that salesperson goes the extra mile to find out how to obtain these books, these readers will be left hanging.

In a truly perfect world, there will be various levels of print-on-demand, including in-store options, to accommodate the multiple ways readers come to books. In a truly perfect world, no reader will be left behind.

File Under: Square Pegs

5 responses so far ↓

  • Angela James // Oct 13, 2008 at 4:51 pm

    I feel similarly about Brenda Joyce’s Francesca Cahill series, which it appears we will never see a conclusion to.

  • bowerbird // Oct 13, 2008 at 11:42 pm

    plus the readers who get hooked
    on the third book might go back
    and buy the first two…


  • Lynne Connolly // Oct 14, 2008 at 3:42 am

    It may be that in these times of tightened wallets, authors will have to reach their “numbers” before the next book is considered, series or not. Of course it’s always been that way, but the publisher now has less wiggle room before they have to drop a series. I blogged (elsewhere) about that recently, having heard of two new casualties to the phenomenon.

  • Book Calendar // Oct 14, 2008 at 5:40 am

    Then you can give the first book away for free as an ebook, and sell the others online once they get hooked. (This is the Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross story.) They did quite well doing this.

  • Speakeasy » Blog Archive » A Trilogy of One // Oct 14, 2008 at 8:37 pm

    […] decides, after publishing one book in a trilogy, not to publish any more? Kassia Krozser over at BookSquare has written an iarticle about just such a dilemma. Independent publishing really gives all […]