I love me a good series. Like, really love it. Love, love, love, love, loooooove it! I want to take that series out and marry it, I love them that much.
It should come as no surprise, then, to find out that my first novel was the first in a trilogy. To me, a meaty story is something to seek out, something to enjoy over multiple books. Yes, it’s awful to have to wait for the next one to come be published, but not much compares with the excitement of the latest installment in your favourite story finally seeing the light of day.
So why does this seem to be such a rarity in lesfic? Sure, series exist, but it seems many readers avoid them like the plague. This was something that really surprised me when my first book was published and I became privy to what reader tastes are like in a way I hadn’t been before. It seems that not everyone shares my enthusiastic over-exuberance for the series. Many readers a neat little story that wraps up in one book.
On the one hand, I guess I kind of get it. As lesbians, we’re accustomed to seeing those like us killed off or have all manner of horrible things happen in popular culture. Lesbians have been getting a cultural raw deal for a while now, so when we have stories by us and for us, we want our happily ever afters and we don’t want to wait for them. But not every story needs romance. Beyond that, romance isn’t that cut and dried in real life. I know we’re looking for an escape from real life, but sometimes complicated can be interesting. Right?
My trilogy (On Deception’s Edge, books 1 and 2 are already out, book 3: Vortex of Crimson is out this October) is a series. It has what some people might call cliffhangers, but what I prefer to call too much story for one book. There is one romance that works its way through all three novels. My main protagonists deal with all sorts of challenges to their love, but being able to watch them grow and mature into their love was a privilege to author.
And there are other fantastic lesfic series out there too, mine is certainly not the be-all and end-all! Heather Rose Jones’ Alpennia series is fantastic, and I’m awaiting the release of Mother of Souls (book 3) with *so* much anticipation and glee. I was recently talked into starting Fletcher DeLancey’s The Caphenon. I love it so much that I’m very stoked there are two more in that series to go! Jean Stewart’s Isis series is still one of my favs, though I’m incredibly bummed that there don’t seem to be more coming out.
So how about it… If you’re not into series, maybe you can help me understand why. And if you are, what are some of your favourites? I’ve listed all SF/F because that’s what I like to read most. Which ones have I missed there, or what series do you really love in other genres?
First off, thanks for the mention!
I have a complicated relationship with book series. On the one hand, I love having an extended time to get to know characters and their world, and to see them interact with a wider variety of situations. But on the other hand, investing in a series is a bit of a commitment. And if you haven’t been following a series from the beginning, it can feel a bit daunting to jump in when the series is well underway. I think some of my favorite series have been mysteries (and especially historical mysteries): several of Anne Perry’s series, Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen mysteries, the Roman mysteries of Lindsay Davis and Steven Saylor, Margaret Frazer’s two medieval mystery series, Barbara Hambly’s Janvier, Laurie R. King’s Mary Holmes (and especially the intersection with her Kate Martinelli contemporary series)…can you tell I’m browsing through my spreadsheet in near alphabetic order?
But those were all series where I read them as they came out. One of the few that I successfully jumped into in the middle was Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series, and I resisted for quite some time because the body of work was daunting. And although I loved C.J. Cherryh back in the Before Times (i.e., before graduate school), I missed the start of her Foreigner series and now the thought of trying to catch up makes me despair and turn away.
For me, a good series has to find that balance between “more of the same” and letting the characters grow and having an overall development arc. I clung to some of my favorite mystery series long past the point when they’d become the same story over and over again. And the last few Vorkosigan books haven’t had the same spark.
I suspect that a purely romance-based series would be very hard to maintain, but it seems to me that LesFic isn’t at all devoid of long-running series, usually with some sort of over-arching mystery/thriller type of storyline.
Pure romance would definitely be hard to maintain over multiple books. You’d probably need to go with related characters, or some such. Maybe that’s why series usually tend to crop up in the other genres, and may explain some of the general antipathy toward series I’ve run into. (Totally anecdotally, of course. I have no stats to back up my thoughts on this.)
Since romance is queen, possibly even empress, in lesfic, it stands to reason that readers who don’t stray beyond those bounds simply aren’t interested in series as they’re getting what they’re looking for in single romances.
Oh yay, my long comment didn’t get lost!
I know some straight historic romance series that do a connected-couples theme (i.e., each book sets up a new couple involving at least one character who was a minor figure in a previous book). I guess to some extent that’s what I’m doing with the Alpennia books. I get a number of comments from readers who are delighted to see an established couple continuing to be happy and still have adventures. But I’ll be the first to admit I’m not attuned to the market for contemporary lesbian romance.
Not sure if my long detailed comment is awaiting approval or lost in the ether. If the latter, I will cry.
I have been waiting to see if there would be any comments from those who don’t want to get involved in a series. Because, I don’t get it. If an author, like the two of you can put together a series of novels with the same or related main characters and keep it fresh and engaging why not? And why isn’t there a bigger market? That said, the typical average lesbian romance might not lend itself to that – and I wouldn’t care if there was a sequel but I can’t help to think that there has to be a market for it within the Lesbian genre. In addition to the two of your series off the top of my head I can think of Angela Koenig’s Refraction series, Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels series, Fletcher Delancey’s Chronicles of Alsea and Amanda Kyle Williams – Keye Street series. All of which I love and wait patiently for the next instalment. Happiness is often discovering a series when there is a backlist to catch up on.
Thanks for the new series recs. I’m working my way through the Chronicles of Alsea right now, and I absolutely love it!!!
I am in complete agreement with you on the definition of happiness. I like nothing better than a healthy backlist and the opportunity to binge-read a new author.
One comment I’ve heard that took me aback (from a lesbian reader) is that authors with multiple books to a story are just trying to get extra money from their readers. I thought that was a pretty cynical way of looking at things. It may be true in some cases, but I’m fairly certain most authors simply have a story that’s too long to fit in one book. When I started writing my series, I thought it would be one book, but it was evident 10% of the way into the story, that it was simply too long. That’s a matter of a more complex story than perhaps most romance readers are accustomed to.
Or maybe I just don’t understand not liking longer stories. It continues to mystify me, but I continue to write long stories…
I have heard (although not personally encountered) that some writers use a serialization technique to get past some readers’ price points. (Something along the lines of “if your readership refuses to pay more than $0.99 for an e-book, then serialize your e-book in 6 parts to get $5.94 for it.) I could see how that might generate the “extra money” impression. It can be hard to figure out the actual length of an e-book from an Amazon listing, and my impression is that a lot of e-book-only LesFic tends to be shorter than the typical mass market paperback novel.
I’ve also heard of (but not personally encountered) authors serializing a work in order to create more visibility and get works to market more promptly, which again might create a similar impression. There are a lot of reasons someone might choose to serialize.
In my own case, the notion of “artificial serialization” is nonsensical: each book runs over 150,000 words. I rather think readers are getting their money’s worth.
I think I’d agree that “the typical average lesbian romance” wouldn’t lend itself to a series, but that’s true of most typical romance novels. If the characters in a romance novel have another book’s worth of story in them, then almost by definition it won’t be another romance novel!
So if it’s an accurate impression that the lesbian market (in general) doesn’t tend to be interested in series, it might be more closely related to the intense focus on the lesbian market on genre romance, which simply doesn’t lend itself to the form.
I think that there have been some successful serial” Lesfic romances but as Heather mentions the author usually focuses the new romance on a supporting character from one of the earlier novels but brings in the previous couple(s) as supporting characters – I enjoy that in case you are wondering Heather. Lynn Galli, Melissa Braydon, and Jae have been particularly successful as well IMHO. KG MacGregor was successful with the same couple at the centre of her Shaken series but it was only four novels and came to a dignified conclusion. Susan X Meagher has her San Francisco series but I lost interest around book 6. I agree that the thriller/mystery genre does seem to lend itself more to a series regardless of whether in the LesFic or mainstream market.
I did a quick and dirty survey of some novels on amazon but with formatting differences it really is hard to say too much about the typical novel length. I find certain authors good value for my money and their novels average anywhere between 350 and 450 pages. Anything below 250 pages in average font seems like a little bit of a money grab if it is priced at the $9.99 or above. And, I certainly do run across them. Harlequins if we are to compare a very typical and average LesFic romance to something mainstream run around 180 pages with a price point of about $3.85.
Lise, you mentioned that you would be at the GCLS conference this year. It will be my third and as a reader I truly enjoy them. It has made me truly appreciate the work and creativity that goes into keeping me reading happily. Hope that you are still planning on attending. Heather, not sure if you attend but each year I get a little less “shy” and will certainly search both of you out to introduce myself.
Lise – fellow Canadian and ex-hockey player here (goalie)
I attended GCLS the last two years, but I found it just didn’t seem to be a good fit for me. My general sense was that people were mostly only interested in contemporary fiction there, and I felt very out of place most of the time. I don’t think I”m the right sort of lesbian for GCLS, when it comes down to it.
That’s too bad, I’d hoped to get the chance to meet you IRL.
Not sure what the right sort of lesbian is (for anything actually) but totally agree that it probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I read your two latest novels after the last GCLS – unfortunate timing.
I have to admit, I sometimes lose interest in the open-ended series, especially when there doesn’t seem to be an endgame in play. I prefer tightly-plotted arcs over multiple books. Of course, that being said, I’m experimenting with a more loosely-plotted new series right now. It does have an planned end, however.
I’m not going to worry about my price points either. People are definitely getting their money’s worth with my books, even if only through the word count.
I look forward to meeting you at GCLS! I’m rather shy myself, so it’s only fair to warn you, I may be somewhat awkward. It’s always exciting to meet another Canadian hockey enthusiast (is that redundant?). And I love goalies! I’m dragging my best friend with me to GCLS, and she’s been backstopping me for 8 years now.
Very neat looking forward to it. I’ve played off and on with both men and women for a long time…. but had to retire. My left knee is such a mess that I was told if I injured it again that the only option was a knee replacement. So not worth it.
Now that we’ve had this exchange – I’m not so uncomfortable about approaching you – so I will search you out as it is likely easier for me to find you than vice versa. My wife is not much of a reader so she doesn’t usually come along but in addition to the conference I look at it as an opportunity to visit an American city that I’ve never been to every year. We have always wanted to visit Washington so she is making an exception and will join me. We are staying a few extra days afterwards to make a “real” vacation” out of it.