Saturday, August 20, 2005

Today's rant: Multi-Volume Novels!

Hold on a minute, let me adjust my tin-foil hat here...

I'm going to spend some time complaining about something that I'd imagine no one else has thought much about, or indeed will care about after I've thought about it for them. I'm talking about the current practice in the Science-Fiction/Fantasy publishing industry to produce huge, multi-volume stories that take years to unwind. Yeah, yeah, I know all that market system crap, the public buys it so it must be what it wants, blah, blah, blah. But if you like a certain author, and the only books s/he puts out are 500 pages long each and the whole tale takes 5 volumes to complete (5 volumes which take 10 years to finish and cost an average of $7.95, or more, each), what are you going to do? You're either going to go with their program, or you're going to give up on the author. Because much of what is published these days is Multi-Volume, both in adult and children's sci-fi/fantasy. Just look for yourself; even brand-new authors are releasing things that are "Book 1 of the Whatever Saga".
Now, my feeling, is that while it is very lucrative for both publishers and authors to create a long lasting story-line that people keep coming back to (see Harry Potter), in the long term this strategy may explode in their faces:
Scenario 1: Imagine if you will, someone getting three books into a five book series, then getting hit by a bus (or just plain quitting). Now you've got a bunch of readers who've shelled out 24 bucks (or more if it's an author who rates hardback) to get 60% of a story and who will never see their investment pay off. Oh sure, they'll understand the first time, and probably the second, but after that they'll start to get a bit cranky about it.
Scenario 2: Some people, myself included, get very anxious when their stories dont end. Take Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series: The first three books were seperate entities, each with a story arc that had a beginning, a middle, and, most importantly, an end. Then came book four, the One Tree. It had a beginning, and a middle, but then ended without actually ending! Agony! How many people will respond to this situation the way I did; when Donaldson started his Real Story series, I refused to read it until it was finished. For a writer with the stature of Donaldson, this may not be huge predicament. Even if his sales are halved as people await, he'll still sell a respectable number of books. This may not apply to authors who hover at the lower sales range. If half their readers hold off until completion, they may find themselves dropped (due to low sales) before they finish the series, and we're back to scenario 1 again.
Scenario 3: After experiencing scenario 1 or 2, the reader determines that he's sick of the whole business, and switches genres. I reached this point a couple years ago, and started reading "regular" fiction and, more recently, non-fiction. This is not to say that I no longer read sci-fi/fantasy. I do, lots (Terry Pratchett, anyone?). But I dont read it like I once did. Multiply me by the hundreds, or thousands, as statistically you ought to be able to do, and this cannot be good for the sci-fi/fantasy press, however good it may be for me (Charles Pellegrino, anyone?). Much as I may enjoy the Harry Potter books, I encourage sci-fi/fantasy authors out there everywhere to consider writing things one book at a time. Feel free to use the same characters again and again, 'cause I like that (Terry Pratchett, anyone, again?), but at the end of the book, END THE BOOK!

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