SALES or SUBSTANCE – When should a book series end?

Many authors either by design or by demand have their protagonist return in a following book. They have taken on the responsibility of a series. Yes, responsibility is correct here. Let explore this premise.

What does being an author of a series entail? The characters are the writer’s intellectual property and as such s/he can do with them as s/he pleases. However there is an implied agreement between the author and the readers who follow said series.  In a planned series there should be a comfortable cohesive flow from installment to installment. In the case of a one-shot that readers demanded a follow-up, the flow may not be as smooth.

Certain characteristics are common in both situations; not the least of which is character continuity. The main character when placed in varied environments is expected to retain the personality and definition introduced in the first book. After all, that is what made the demand for the creation of the series. Readers loved the hero!

This is such a logical idea that it seems absurd to require mentioning. Sadly this is not obvious to some of our more popular series authors. The most blatant case in point is the degrading quality of   Janet Evanovich’s ‘ Stephanie Plum series.

Evanovich introduced rookie bounty hunter Stephanie Plum to the world in 1994 with “One For The Money.” The idea was fresh and brought a light humor to the mystery/thriller genre. By 1998, she was on the best sellers list with her fourth book. In each of the books, the main characters (Stephanie,Morelli and Ranger) grew in their personalities and in their increasingly complicated triad relationship.

The general opinion of readers is that the series peaked with books #12 or #13. By 2008 with book #14 – “Fearless Fourteen” the series started to spiral downward and by 2011 with #17 – “Smoking Seventeen” it crashed and burned. 66% of the reviews showed a 3-star rating or less. The words in those reviews all had common threads. Readers were disappointed  that Stephanie hadn’t matured in her personal, social or professional life. The sexual tension had gone on long enough. Evanovich’s solution to the problem was so out of the character’s persona that it was actually insulting to both the history of the characters and the loyal followers.The last three books had contained evidence of pasted dialog from previous books and re-worked “comedy” segments. Instead of deepening the plot, emphasis was placed on what the secondary character (Lula) was eating.

It is possible that after 16 years, Evanovich is weary of her characters. If this is the case, love your creations enough to allow them to have closure.    Give the readers who have been loyal for over a decade and a half the satisfaction of closing that last chapter and feeling that those 16 years were times well spent.

Perhaps Janet is afraid of loosing half her readers if she allows Stephanie to choose between her two love interests.  If this is the case, she risks loosing them all. The series has missed all genre points. It is no longer a mystery, nor a thriller. and if Evanovich hoped to take the series into the Humor catagory, she missed dreadfully.

This is not the predictable end for a series. J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter had a set timeline for beginning and ending. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher has aged in character. And Barry Eisler’s John Rain has stayed in character while evolving. The jury is still out on John Locke’s newest Donovan Creed endeavor. 

It  is sadly obvious that the Plum series continued well beyond its time for the sole purpose of money. Profit above substance degrades an author’s life’s work and leaves the readers wondering where they went wrong.

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About H.L.Benoit

Woodstock survivor, critic-at-large. "After three days without reading,talk becomes flavorless" View all posts by H.L.Benoit

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