Changes Are Taking the Pace I’m Going Through*

The thing about making plans is, plans don’t always work out. Circumstances change, goals change, and unexpected things happen. Ask anyone who had an event or travel planned for 2020 (and even 2021), and you’ll hear all sorts of stories of how things don’t go as planned.

It’s the same for authors and their work. All sorts of things can get in the way of an author’s plans, and that’s why a lot of authors (including yours truly) don’t generally say a lot about writing plans until they’re completely settled. Things might change for any number of reasons, too.

For instance, an author might plan to limit a series to a certain number of books. That was Louise Penny’s original intent with her Armand Gamache series. There were to be ten books, and fans who’ve read the tenth, The Long Way Home, will know that the book could serve as a fitting conclusion to the series. But that’s not what ended up happening. There’ve been eight books since The Long Way Home, with the newest (the title hasn’t been revealed yet) to be released on 29 November. The novels caught readers’ interest, and there were more Armand Gamache stories to be told, so the series was expanded.

Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy series was also originally intended to be limited – in this case to a trilogy. This series features Detective Sergeant (DS) Sean Duffy, who lives and works in Northern Ireland during the 1980’s, the time of ‘The Troubles.’ Duffy was raised Catholic, but he works for Northern Ireland’s Royal Ulster Constabulary. He’s caught between the conflicting forces of the time, and that complicates his job in many ways. Still, he does the best he can to be a good cop. The first three novels (The Cold, Cold Ground; I Hear the Sirens in the Street; and In the Morning I’ll Be Gone) were successful, and there were more Duffy stories to be told, so the series has expanded to nine (the newest to be published this year).

Both of these series are popular and have been well-received. In that way, they show that public interest plays an important role in whether a series is limited, and how many novels are in that series. Public interest also impacted Arthur Conan Doyle. His original intent was to end his Sherlock Holmes series with The Final Problem. There was a climactic conflict between Holmes and his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, and both men were presumed dead. Conan Doyle was just as well pleased, as he’d had enough of the Holmes character. But fans hadn’t. There was a real outcry at Holmes’ supposed fate, and Conan Doyle was finally persuaded to bring him back. In fact, three collections of Holmes stories were published after Holmes’ return.

There are cases, too, where a book intended as a standalone ends up blossoming into a series, and that, too, can be impacted by what readers want. Author preferences can also play a role. That’s what happened with Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap, the novel that introduced Detective Inspector (DI) Vera Stanhope to the world. Cleeves had originally planned that novel as a standalone, but she has said she came to like Vera’s character. So, she wrote more DI Stanhope novels. Readers liked the character and the novel, too; there are now nine Vera Stanhope books. There’s also, of course, the well-regarded television series based on them.

Sometimes, a series is, sadly, cut short by the untimely death of an author. One of the most famous examples is, of course, Sue Grafton’s ‘alphabet series’ that began with A is for Alibi, and tragically ended with Y is for Yesterday, which was published just before Grafton’s death. As Ariana Franklin, Diana Norman wrote four novels featuring Adelia Aguilar, a 12th-Century anatomist. Sadly, she passed away before she was able to complete the series, but her daughter has completed two of her unfinished Adelia Aguilar manuscripts. And just recently, Domingo Villar passed away, leaving unfinished his Leo Caldas series.

There are also many cases where authors plan on several books, only to have a publisher drop the series after the first entry or two. There are several reasons for which publishers make that decision. In some cases, it’s low sales. In others, the publisher doesn’t want to be associated with an author who’s perceived as controversial or offensive. In still others, the publisher changes focus, so that the author’s work is no longer a fit with the publisher. When this happens, the author is faced with a few choices: market the series elsewhere, self-publish, or start a new series.

When authors do change plans, or pass away unexpectedly, this has a real impact on readers. Fans of a series often love it when that series is extended. And they hate for those stories to end, even if they understand the reasons. And, of course, it’s very hard on fans when a beloved author dies. But change happens, and readers find ways of adjusting.

What about you? Do you eagerly keep reading if a series is continued? What do you do when it ends, especially if it’s unexpected? Do you switch to other work by the same author, or something else? If you’re a writer, how do you adjust to the inevitable changes that happen in your writing life over time?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from David Bowie’s Changes.

10 thoughts on “Changes Are Taking the Pace I’m Going Through*

  1. Margot, I like both series and non-series books. I’d be hard-pressed to say which I prefer or indeed which I read more of. I do try and stay the course if I’m enjoying one and there aren’t too many I’ve bailed on if I’ve felt they’ve gone on too long. I’ve not committed to any where a second author has picked up after the death or the creator. Slightly off-topic, I think I was kind of shocked to discover that a lot of 60s, 70s ‘men’s adventure’ type series books were actually penned by a variety of authors, as opposed to one man whose name was on the books. I kind of feel there’s a bit of publisher shenanigans gone on there, but I suppose the readers enjoyed them and didn’t care too much.


    1. I know what you mean about series, Col. Like you, I try to keep up with a series if I’m really enjoying it and it’s not overlong. Doesn’t always happen, of course… But then, non-series books can be great, too, and can introduce you to an author you might not otherwise know – at least, that’s happened to me. It’s interesting about those ’60s and ’70s series. It reminds me of the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys series, which were written by several different authors, all using the same pen name. It didn’t matter to the generations of fans, though!


  2. Interesting post, Margot and raises some thought provoking issues. The pressures on an author to continue a series when their heart’s not in it must be problematic, and I wonder if that’s why some series seem to decline in quality as they go along. However, some of the best Holmes stories are later ones so that isn’t always the case. I’ve parted company with some series in the past when they’ve become a little repetitive, although some do retain their quality. It must be hard for the authors to decide, although I admire something like the Martin Beck series which I believe the authors planned in advance, with the books intended to to represent the changes in Swedish society. They’re brilliant from start to finish, so it can be done!


    1. It can, indeed, KBR, and your example of the Martin Beck series shows it. In that case, the authors planned a ten-book series, and that’s what it was. Each novel’s focus was on particular aspects of Swedish society as the authors either critiqued it or advocated for it, so the whole series ended up being, if I can put it this way, a portrait of life in Sweden. That said, though, a lot of authors do feel pressure to continue a series if it sells well, even if the stories have been told. As you say (and I think you’re right!), this can mean the quality of a series can go down over time. I’ve had the same experience as you, stopping a series because it was, as the saying goes, in a rut. I think it’s a delicate balance for authors and their editors/publishers.

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  3. What an interesting post, Margot. I fear to start a modern series because of the sheer number of books which unlike the series of old have to be read in chronological order and sometimes you don’t have the entire series available. Thus for getting introduced to any author, I prefer a non-series book.


    1. You make such an interesting point, Neeru. Many contemporary series do have a lot of entries, and are best understood if they’re read in chronological order. So, if the reader doesn’t have access to all the novels, and/or the reader doesn’t want to commit to a long series, it means that reader can miss out on a talented writer. Standalones can give the reader the opportunity to ‘meet’ an author without having to invest in a whole series.


  4. I like both standalone or series. Standalone books allow me to read a new (to me) author without commitment but if they resonate I can go on to read more.
    There are several writers whose series I have followed for a number of years. Indeed there are a couple of authors who have more than one series on the go and I can follow all of them or just one depending on how much I enjoy the characters and stories. I agree long series can mean a drop in the quality/enjoyment, some can have a not so good book or two and then pick up in further books so, I suppose, it’s really a personal call from the reader whether they want to stick with it.
    I did read the P J Tracy Monkeewrench series. This was a mother/daughter writing duo. The mother, sadly, died and the daughter wrote a further book and I understood there would be more. Whilst the daughter has written a couple of books in another series it’s not clear if/when another of the Monkeewrench series will be written/published. I do understand that it must be difficult to continue writing alone when you have shared several books with another person (especially when it’s your mother, who you must be missing on so many levels) but I do miss these books – the characters and stories are so good. Though I perfectly understand should there not be any more.


    1. You have a good point, Janet, about standalone books. They let the reader get to know an author’s work without making a long commitment. And, as you say, there’s always the option of the reader trying the author’s series (if there is one) if the reader really likes that author’s work. On the other hand, a series allows the reader to follow characters and really get involved with them. Sometimes, as you point out, a series starts to flag a bit, which can lead to readers losing interest. On the other hand, a series can come back, if I can put it that way, in later books. And many readers are loyal enough to an author to forgive the occasional less-than-stellar book.

      Thanks for mentioning the Monkeewrench series. It is a good example of how authors work together, and how a series continues after the loss of one of the writing partners. It must, indeed, be really difficult if it’s a case of parent/child (that happened with the ‘Charles Todd’ writing team, too). I’d guess it’s very hard if it’s a spouse or partner, as well. In any case, if the series is continued then, it’s bound to change. So it is understandable why a series might end, given those circumstances.


  5. It’s something I often have mixed feelings about. Of course I miss the old friends I’ve made when a series comes to an end, but in other cases I feel series have gone on long past their sell-by date, so to speak, and become a shadow of their former selves. When Sharon Bolton seemed to bring her Lacey Flint series to an end, for instance, I was disappointed and yet satisfied with how she ended it. And now, years later, another is about to come out, and I’m both excited to meet the characters again and apprehensive that it won’t live up to my fond memories of the earlier books. Fingers crossed! I’ll be reading it very soon, so I’ll soon know!


    1. You’ve really articulated the dilemma well, FictionFan. It is hard to say goodbye when a series ends, especially if it’s a really well-written series. But if a series goes on too long, it does get stale, and I think most of us would rather bid adieu than read a stale series. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens to the Lacey Flint series. I liked it very much, but I thought, as you did, that it ended at a good place. We’ll see what happens…

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