Thursday, December 4, 2014

Why Book Series Sell Better Than Singles

   I sometimes wonder if I should return to conventional publishing, if only because I am a conventional writer.
   That is, I would be a writer of some stripe in any era. Amazon, in particular, has made it possible for Ma and Pa and every one of their squint-eyed kids to foster so-called books on a reluctant public (very much like my uncle Fred used to make us sit down and endure his home movies), but I would write if I were limited to a sharp stick and a patch of dirt.
   Yeah, I'm one of those.
   I remain fully confident that my fiction star will rise. Much of my past success as a print reporter relied on the indisputable truth that I was a good writer and that what I wrote was devoured by the public. It gives me a measure of confidence that newbie writers lack. But these things take time. I have yet to meet an 'overnight success' who has not spent years perfecting his or her craft while failing numerous times before at last succeeding.
   So don't believe the hype, eh? There seems to be an assumption out there that genius of any kind will be instantly noticed, but I'd contend that real genius means your success, if it ever comes, will be posthumous (long after they've burnt you at the stake).
   Whether that fiction star I'm personally working on will end by hanging fairly low on the horizon or ascend higher is, as always, up to the gods. I'll get there eventually. If you know you have the talent, then nothing will take you farther than hard work and perseverance. Burnt offerings don't even begin to enter the picture unless you're superstitious. And besides, just as the ancient Romans sacrificed to the goddess Fortuna (and then went out to chop heads left and right), you can make your own luck.
     As I've said before on this blog, nothing will ever convince me that quality writing (coupled with hard work) is not the deciding factor in succeeding as a writer. I am, however, lately intrigued by the idea that the actual definition of what is quality writing has mutated into something new because this is the age of the series.    
     For example, I wrote Give It Back, an intense and, I think, reasonably deep-reading horror book. It made it into the ABNA Quarter Finals on my first try (and I had missed sending over the last third of the book!), but it has garnered little attention since publication. But with only one book of my Blood Tied series out and about (along with four companion stories), there is much more interest.
     Deep reading--the kind where you immerse yourself into a book so far that you might as well be walking around on a different planet--is peculiarly satisfying. But that kind of deep immersion seems to growing rarer all the time when it comes to novels. It is mandatory for computer games. For popular TV series with the luxury of time to deepen the natures of lead characters (this is why series like Supernatural and The Walking Dead are so addictive--it's the same technique used in early soap operas--just when you think you know a character, they do something else to recapture your interest).
     This is an interesting thing. Because what makes any form of entertainment compelling is just that kind of deep immersion that is now considered old-fashioned as per books. And fewer and fewer novelists are willing to put in the time--often years--to produce truly rounded characters in a single book.
     The repetition of characters in book series brings readers ever closer to a rounded character while ensuring the author doesn't expire of starvation at the same time. So it's really an instance of the more things change, the more they stay the same. People want the same thing as they ever did from entertainment -- to laugh or to cry over the all-too-human antics of characters they can either identify with or revile. And authors, too, want what they've always wanted: to achieve a measure of fame/monetary return that will allow them to keep on doing what they do best.
    We're still aiming at the ultimate book. But the ultimate book has changed. And I rather think classically trained writers--the ones to whom things like archaic grammar (When was the last time you read 'whom' in a modern sentence?), and imagery still mean something are likely to have an advantage here. This is because the ultimate book will be much more than a book; it will have cross-genre appeal, certainly, but the defining motif of this new breed will be cross-medium appeal.
     This has already started (I not only read the Harry Potter series endlessly, I played all the games and watched the movies and admit it--everyone, including yourself, hummed that damned tune while you were stirring the spaghetti sauce). It's still early days, however (The Hunger Games has been pushed to have this same kind of cross-medium success, but it's faltering now).
    Still, it certainly indicates that series are the way to go in these new days of indie publishing. Producing one or more series:
  • separates you from the Mas and Pas who have decided to share their life story with the world in a twenty-page pamphlet. You stand revealed as a serious author.
  • allows you to produce rounded characters that are more appealing than flat ones with decidedly less effort.
  • builds a loyal readership.
  • increases the odds that your book may have cross-medium success.
   Ironically, along with series, I also think short stories are making a bit of a comeback these days. But I'll tackle that topic another day.



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