Monday, March 4, 2013

What the Feck (WTF): What's in a Series?

What the Feck?! (WTF?!) 
Is a new feature here at The Book Nympho.
Every Monday we will post a book related topic 
that had us thinking WTF?! while reading a book 
or talking to others in the book community.

What's in a series? 
Are most books part of one these days?
by Jonetta

If you're a fan of any of the romance genres (paranormal, contemporary, historical, romantic suspense etc.), urban fantasy or even mystery, then you know that it's quite customary for your books to be part of a series. Seems like it's the exception these days for a book in these genres to be a standalone, unconnected story. Even those that claim to be might have a character show up in another book by that same author.

I'm not sure when all this started to become the norm. For years, I only read mysteries and some of the early contemporary authors created detectives or other characters who we couldn't get enough of. Robert Ludlum's Matthew Bourne, Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, Ed McBain's Steve Carella are just a few that date back to the 1970s or earlier. Their characters evolved but the main thrust was to connect readers with someone familiar so they would immediately know it was a story they'd probably enjoy. Most could be read out of order, unlike most of the series we find today.

I only began reading any romance genres a couple of years ago and hadn't even heard of paranormal romance nor urban fantasy. I'd tried the genre many years ago and found the traditional bodice rippers tiresome after a point. The quality of the writing astounded me when I returned to the genre in 2010, with many new (to me) contemporary and historical romance authors who had established audiences and large bodies of work, primarily through trilogies and long running series. The notion of character continuity was a new one but something I embraced.
It's tough to find books in the urban fantasy genre that aren't part of a series. Typically, the world building alone consumes at least one or two books and the story arc requires at least three. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it as so many are based on mythologies that involve complex situations and a lot of characters. Otherwise you'd be looking at a 700 page book. Fever, Chicagoland Vampires, Abby Sinclair and The Hollows are a few examples.

In the paranormal romance genre, you typically find a community that is created, requiring a separate book for each major character to tell his or her story while continuing the series story arc in that context. Some great examples are Black Dagger Brotherhood, Midnight Breed, Demonica, Immortals After Dark and Dark Hunters. And, some of these are known to branch off for subspecies within the series.

The mystery genre, which includes romantic suspense, has experienced an explosion of the series phenomena, primarily due to the number of women writing in this genre who have a writing history in category romance. They understand character development and are really good storytellers, knowing how to capture and retain reading audiences. J. D. Robb, Brenda Novak, Cindy Gerard and Iris Johanssen are just a few of today's successful mystery writers who started with Harlequin or Silhouette.

As I came late to all of this, I haven't had to wait for many of the next books in a series, having the luxury of being able to read most series from start to finish. There are those that were introduced after I joined the genre ranks and I see many readers decide to wait until all the books in a series (primarily trilogies) are complete before they will begin.

There are also others who like to mix it up and not read a series all at one time. I must confess that I've tried both approaches and find I prefer reading them back to back, especially when there are cliffhangers or the character development is extraordinary. Where do you land on this? Are you a back-to-back or mixer?
Before I returned to romance and prior to discovering Urban Fantasy, I was reading mostly contemporary and literary fiction. It's rare for books in this genre to be part of a serial but they sometimes will (i.e., Rebecca Wells' Ya Ya series). It's more typical for a story and character to be completed in one book because a central conflict or theme is the crux of the story.
So, given that I'm a character-driven reader, the notion of a series appeals to my nature. I love the idea that I'll see a character again and find out more of what happens to them in the future. Are you a series junkie or a one-book story reader?

Lastly, I'm now following so many series it's beyond out of control, especially since I'm still playing catch up. I use FictFact to manage it all. It's a great site and provides the tools needed to track series, advise you of the reading orders and notify you when new books are added. I'm on Goodreads and Shelfari but FictFact is dedicated to series tracking only. Check it out if you haven't already.

I don't know if the current practice of creating series is a publisher-driven notion to sell more books. I do know, though, it wouldn't work if the writing wasn't up to par. And, I'm not seeing any indication of this slowing down or going away.

Where are you on the topic?

WTF has been nominated for Best Feature
 in the #BBTC Awards.
Thanks guys!


  1. For the most part I like series. But every once in a while it's nice to have a one off, and be done.

    1. I'm this way with a good mystery...clear beginning and a definitive end where you catch the bad guy. Nice to cleanse the palate:)

  2. As a writer I feel the constant pressure to not write standalone novels. THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING is a standalone, and it even says so in the author's note, but I constantly field questions about "when is the next one coming out?" At this point I'm starting to believe that fans just automatically default to believing a book is part of a series. Even with the AS THE WORLD DIES trilogy I get constant questions about when book #4 is coming out, disregarding that it's labeled a trilogy.

    As a reader, there are plenty of series I do enjoy and others I wish had stopped at book one.

    It's a huge compliment when readers love your characters and world building so much they want more. Yet, as I writer I don't want to force stories to continue past their expiration date.

    I hope it levels out at some point where a writer can write a standalone and the readership finds that acceptable.

    1. So, you're getting that pressure from readers? That's pretty extraordinary, as well as a tribute to you for creating unforgettable characters. But, if in your mind, those characters are complete, you should stick to your own agenda and just let readers continue to dream about them:)

  3. I'm a big time series reader. As long as there's still a story to tell, great. But some series go on for to long.

    1. I had series burnout for a few years. Mostly because the series I was reading at the time overstayed their welcome and declined in quality. I'm reading two series right now that I'm really enjoying. It appears both authors have an endgame planned out, which is good to know.

  4. I prefer reading series back-to-back if/when it's possible. I seem to adsorb more from the series that way. I'm a series junkie totally! I do like standalone books and read them once in a while, but I prefer series reads! I haven't used FictFact yet but I should. I'll have to look into it.
    Great post once again! :)
    DeAnna Schultz

    1. We seem to have this in common:) And, FictFact is ideal for series junkies!

  5. I love a good series. Like you, I'm a character-driven reader so I like that their story can go on with each new book. Although, I think I may be at the out-of-control point with how many in progress series I've got going, lol. And sometimes it is refreshing to read a stand alone and be done. No catching up, no torturous wait for the next book in line, just a nice tidy finish and my imagination takes it from there.

    I am all over the place when it comes to how I read a series. Some I read back-to-back (Fever, BDB, Cat and Bones), but others I can handle one a month or even farther apart. In Death is a series that can take over my life if I read too many in a row. It literally invades my dreams and I spend my entire day thinking about the characters/story. Sign of a good book, yes, but I'm afraid of burning out, so I'm taking it slow with this specific series.

    Great post, Jonetta!

    1. It surprised me to read that the In Death series invades your dreams as that's what happened to me!!! I had to find other books to get me out of the cycle (this was per-Shelfari days). You're wise to take it slow.

  6. I love being able to revisit characters that I fell in love with in a previous book. I think that one of my favorite historical series is Lisa Kleypas's Wallflower series.

    I can't read a series back to back because I get genre burnout pretty easily. I try to alternate two series at a time. It's gotten a bit out of control though. I adore FictFact. :) Without it, I don't think I'd be sane.

    1. Oh, Kleypas's Hathaways and Wallflower series were my first historical romances after I returned to the genre. Very fond memories.

      I only seem to get genre burn out if I'm continuing several series in the same genre. This is the only way I now mix it up as you're doing.

      Glad to hear FictFact is working for you!

  7. I have spent the last year reading all the really popular UF series, and I think they have ruined me for regular stand alone romances. I just love the character and emotional development that a good series can provide. You just can't compare falling in love over 250 pages to falling in love over 5 books.


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