Thursday, December 18, 2014 | By: The Write Way Cafe

The End—When is it Time to Say Goodbye to a Series?

The Write Way Café welcomes author Suzanne Johnson, who shares her thoughts on how to end a series without stranding your characters...or your readers!

In a recent interview, author Kerrelyn Sparks talked about her long-running Love at Stake series, whose sixteenth and final book is being released this month. She likened writing such a long-running series to having family members who came to visit and wouldn’t quite leave. She loved them, but she needed a break.

It made me think about my own three series that are currently being published both under this name (Sentinels of New Orleans) and as Susannah Sandlin (The Penton Legacy and The Collectors). Book four of the Penton series released this past June, Collectors No. 2 came out a couple of weeks ago, and Sentinels No. 4 and 5 come out in 2015 and 2016.

Once upon a time in the olden days—you know, about five years ago—the question “When do you end a series?” had only one answer: “When the publisher decides to stop publishing it.”

That, I’m happy to say, is no longer the case. I know readers have often felt cheated when they’ve become invested in series that just….ended. No warning. Characters hanging off cliffs. Usually, the authors bore the brunt of the blame for that, but I can pretty much guarantee that 99.9 percent of those suddenly ending series were publisher choice, not author choice.

Now, with indie publishing becoming not only more accepted but financially viable, the burden is on the author to decide when it’s time to send the relatives home. If a series is still selling well, do you push it past its intended story life, publishing on your own, and risk it dying an ignoble, obscure death (or, in contrast, hitting the bullseye, sales-wise).

And how do you know when it’s time? I love my characters and all of my series, obviously, or I wouldn’t have taken them this far. But recently, I made myself take a step back from them, look at them from both a story and a business point of view, and see where their futures lay.

The answer I finally came up with was, when the story is no longer viable. When the characters begin to feel tired to me, they will be tired to the readers. I think we can all name a series or three that has simply gone on two or three books too long, that went from “must buy and drop everything to read immediately on release day” to “put it on a wish list for later.”

I have an end set for one of my series at either six or seven books, depending on how long the story arc in my head takes to play out. It has been building for a while, is about to explode, and then will need to play out. If it plays out in book six, then it’s done. I love the characters too much to see them grow tired and stale, or venture in directions that are wrong for the series. (Yeah, we’ve all seen that happen, too!)

Another series has reached a turning point where the characters need to go really big or go home. That one, I think, needs to end and morph into a spinoff series with new blood to mix with the old blood.

The third series is new and, as my first foray into a new genre of romantic suspense, is too early to call. It’s an odd premise in the genre—the continuing characters are the bad guys rather than the romantic hero/heroine, and each book can work as a standalone. But I’ll be watching it, taking its temperature, having a talk with my characters (and, oh yeah, the publisher) and deciding.

Of course plans change, there are tons of new stories bubbling around in my brain (and in my story idea folder on my computer desktop which goes by the unfortunate name of “Brain Farts”—true story), and publishers might want to go in one direction more than another.

This thing I know for sure, however. Authors now have options, which means we should never leave our readers—or our characters, for that matter—stranded. I’ve always said that if my series get orphaned, I’ll at least put out a novella to wrap things up, just as a gift to the readers who have invested time and emotion in my stories and my characters. It’s a hard thing to do, giving up writing time when you might be earning a living in order to write something that will earn more than goodwill.

But goodwill, and the trust between and author and a reader, is vital. I love my readers, and I hope they know it. I’d never strand them.

So, what say you? Have you been disappointed when favorite series ended without a satisfactory resolution of story? Do you think authors—or their publishers—have an obligation to readers to put out a final series book that wraps up the storyline?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of your choice of book in any of my series!

Deadly, Calm and Cold
by Susannah Sandlin
How far will ordinary people go to protect their secrets? The Collectors’ games are as much about manipulating lives as finding lost treasure. Everyone is expendable as the ruthless C7 pushes people into gambling with their lives in order to find priceless objects lost to history.

Samantha Crowe’s secrets could ruin her career, while Brody Parker’s could get him killed. They become pawns for two Collectors seeking Bad King John’s crown jewels, which disappeared in rural England back when Robin Hood roamed Nottingham. This time, however, the Collectors—a ruthless dotcom billionaire and a desperate London detective—might not be playing for the same team, leaving Sam and Brody trapped in the middle.

One thing’s for sure: if either hopes to survive, Sam and Brody will have to find a way to overcome their distrust—and their growing attraction—in order to succeed on this winner-take-all treasure hunt.

Find Deadly, Calm, and Cold in print, digital, and audio at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository. [Book one, Lovely, Dark, And Deep, is on sale for Kindle in December at $1.99.]

About Suzanne:  Suzanne Johnson is the author of the award-winning Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street, River Road, Elysian Fields, Pirate’s Alley (2015) and Belle Chasse (2016), and, as Susannah Sandlin, writes the award-winning Penton Legacy paranormal romance series (Redemption, Absolution, Omega, Allegiance, and the spin-off paranormal romance Storm Force). She also writes The Collectors romantic suspense series, Lovely, Dark, and Deep, and Deadly, Calm, and Cold. She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her elderly rescue dog Tanker and a yard full of chipmunks. You can find her at her website, on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.


HiDee said...

I'm interested in writing series books so I found these suggestions helpful. Thanks for being with us today, Suzanne!

Suzanne Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for having me, HiDee! Series decisions are tough ones!

Sullivan McPig said...

I've been very disappointed when a series wasn't continued, but I don't think any author owes me anything.
I do think a publisher should not just buy two books when it comes to a trilogy. I can understand not wanting to invest in all books in a longer series, but not buying that third trilogy book is just torturous!

Suzanne Johnson said...

Totally agree, Sullivan! I can't imagine a publisher committing to a trilogy and not seeing the third book through. I'm sure it happens, though! At least now, authors have the option of publishing that third book themselves should they want to do so.

Anonymous said...

Your reasoning for ending a series is spot on...if you've 'grown' them to the point where there is nothing fresh to add, just like 'real' people, they become tiresome and it is evident to the reader. Some of those series I've referred to as 'penny a word books', assuming the author was under contract for x number of books. Does the author and reader a disservice...still, I really hate it when 'people' I've grown to know and love, fade away. Merry Christmas! And my next Sentinels is on order!

Barbara E. said...

Yes, I think if fans have followed a series all the way to the end, they deserve a satisfying conclusion. I haven't ever been disappointed in a series ending so far. I hope my luck holds. :D

miki said...

i think it's a question of respect, when it's possible, to give at least a form of conclusion...i need the story to have closure i neednot to be left hanging without knowing.
i do understand it's not always the author choice yes but still while i would not hate if an author can't publish the next ( final) book) but i would be glad if hemade at least a kindof novella to give closure...even better if it's free....from teh publisher i think it's inacceptable to play with readers like that, to ask they invest ina series and then just stop oki economy is important but it's not the only variable.... if a publisher do it too frequently i won't trust it again so he looses more ( because i do think i'm not the only one^^) than he would by offering the series a chance in teh long term

Suzanne Johnson said...

Thanks for the comments, @h5apby, Barbara, and Miki! (And thanks for that preorder!) Miki, I think you make a good point I hadn't considered--I guess if a publisher cancels enough series, the publisher itself can lose the trust of the reader!

Rebecca Tang said...

I would rather have a book end too early than too late, if that makes sense. Doyle got sick and tired of Sherlock Holmes but had to keep writing because that is what is publisher wanted. The first books are so much better than the later ones. I also know that sometimes an author can get a little long winded and needs a publisher or editor or someone to tell them to cut it short. Your books had been a lot of fun so far so as long as you feel like it, i vote for keep going. once you are done, don't let the publisher push you for another book.

Anonymous said...