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.