TT: Series — The Conclusion?

JANE: Welcome to Part 4 of the Jane and Alan Tangent Trilogy about series…

ALAN: That’s the trouble with trilogies. Sometimes they just grow and grow.

JANE: Yep, and then they become tetralogies.  If there’s a word for it, we must not be the only people to do this.  So, where were we?

ALAN: As I recall, you were telling me about the unexpected sequel to Changer.

Three Lindskold Series

Three Lindskold Series

JANE: Right!  When I was asked if I would like to write a sequel to Changer, I was excited, but also a bit overwhelmed because I’d never written a series before.

I asked the editor if she had any strong feelings about what made a good or bad sequels – especially in a case like this, where the first story didn’t leave a lot of loose ends.  She said that she preferred sequels that didn’t simply reintroduce the same problem all over again.  I thought she had a point, so Changer’s Daughter introduces many new situations, while expanding the reader’s exposure to the athanor’s culture and introducing new complexities.

ALAN: That was one of the things I found attractive about it. The clash of cultures between Nigerian and Western folklore and mythology was unexpected and quite fascinating.

JANE: Thank you…  I really enjoy venturing into African mythology.  It’s as rich and much more varied than the more familiar European material.

Given that the publisher actually requested the second book, I’ve always been mystified that it then did its best make certain the sequel would not find the intended audience.

First Avon refused my initial choice of title (Changer’s Daughter).  My then-editor and I went through a vast list of possible titles.  The title higher-ups eventually agreed to was one title that in no way would signal that there was continuity.  Given that up until that point in my career I had only written stand-alone novels, there was no reason that readers would think that Legends Walking had anything to do with Changer.

Legends Walking was also given it a completely different package (style of cover art, cover typeface etc).  To this day, I still run into people who ask me for a sequel to Changer and, when I tell them there is one, they say “There’s a sequel!  I never knew that!”  It’s exquisitely frustrating and why, when I re-released both Changer and Legends Walking as e-books and print on demand, I gave Legends Walking back its original title.

ALAN: Speaking purely as a reader, I don’t find this at all surprising. Publishers marketing decisions constantly astonish me. In my more cynical moments I sometimes wonder if perhaps there is an international conspiracy of publishers whose goal is to sell as few books as they possibly can.

The New Zealand writer Phillip Mann, who we spoke about in one of our tangents, wrote a four book series under the general title of A Land Fit for Heroes. The first two volumes have the lettering of the title in the same font and in the same place on the spine. The third volume has the same font but the lettering is in a different place. The fourth volume has a completely different font and layout and looks nothing like the others. The books have pride of place on my shelves, but I hate looking at them because, considered as a set, they appear ugly and unbalanced.

But before I get carried away into apoplectic anger at the stupidity of that design, perhaps you can tell me more about how your Artemis series has developed.

JANE:  If I may back up slightly, there’s a key element to series that that professional writers are all too aware of, but most readers don’t seem to gather…  Except in a few situations, the author is not in control of how a series will develop.

Especially these days, contracts for more than one or two books are rare.  Even when an author does get a multi-book in a series contract, the author cannot be assured that the publisher will remain enthusiastic about the series.  If the initial book doesn’t do brilliantly, later books may be given no support by the publisher.  This, of course, means readers don’t find them, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the days of old, a series would have time to garner followers.  However, these days it’s much harder to convince publishers of the need for continuing a series beyond maybe two books if it doesn’t “break out.”  I hate to say this but, in cases where a series is given additional volumes even when sales figures were not fantastic, almost always the publisher had signed for more than a couple of books and is now obligated.

ALAN: Perhaps that’s because there are so many more books being published these days than was once the case. Turnover is very rapid and the books simply don’t have the time to establish themselves, except for the very lucky few.

JANE: Maybe so, but I suspect it has a lot more to do with how many publishing houses are no longer independent, but need to answer to some multinational conglomerate owner.

Anyhow, this is what happened with the “Artemis Awakening” series.  Great reviews.  Lots of interest in “what next” on the part of both readers and reviewers.   But this wasn’t enough for the publisher.   Someone in the higher echelons of Tor Books sunk the ship before it could really set sail.

Whether there will be a third book remains up in the air, possibly indefinitely.  I would really like to write this book because, in addition to truncating the series, Tor also chose to set a very low word limit on the novels themselves.  This meant I had to juggle plot elements, sometimes being put in the position of having to provide foundations without being able to develop how those foundations supported the larger story.  I also had to write with less closure book to book than is my preference.

ALAN: There you go! I knew that the international publishing conspiracy to sell as few books as possible really does exist. And now you’ve just confirmed it.

JANE: I’m glad I’ve made you happy!

And before you ask… Yes, there are series that go on and on and on…  In fact, many a bestselling author finds him or herself in the opposite situation to the one I found myself in with “Artemis Awakening.”  Rather than having a series truncated before it can go anywhere, he or she finds that his or her career is now constricted by one property or, at best, two.  For a creative person, this can be stifling.   Sometimes the publisher will humor the author by releasing something outside of the series universe, but that’s a sop to Cerberus.  They rarely give the new work as much support.

ALAN: That must be both stultifying and frustrating.

You are also writing the Stephanie Harrington series in collaboration with David Weber. Does having a collaborator make any difference to the way you approach the series?

JANE: Very much so.  In the case of Stephanie, we’re somewhat limited in that these stories are prequels.  Therefore, certain events are already fixed within Honorverse history.   When you add into the equation that these novels were part of Baen Books experimenting with the YA market, we’re limited in that Stephanie’s age provides constraints.  At one point, Weber and I talked about transitioning Stephanie from YA to adult, and that may still happen.  Someday.  When he’s not so busy.

ALAN: That’s a problem with collaborating, isn’t it? Sometimes events overtake one or more of the collaborators and things have to lie fallow for a time. We’ve found that on our Tangents as well.

JANE: Indeed we have!

ALAN: And that probably brings us to the end of this trilogy.  Err…  I mean tetralogy… Thingy.

Don’t miss next week’s thrilling installment of “Jane and Alan Do a Completely Different Tangent!”

8 Responses to “TT: Series — The Conclusion?”

  1. Louis Robinson Says:

    As is so often the case, your tangent sent me off on a tangent. I looked at you using trilogy and said ‘that literally means “three words”‘, which most trilogies manifestly are not 🙂

    Then I thought of biology, and wondered if I had that right. As with many of the most delightful questions, the answer seems to be yes and no: according to the folks at the OED, the Greek logos [insert appropriate Greek letters here] means ‘word’, so you can read trilogy literally as ‘3 words’, but also ‘discourse’, which is rather more correct in this connection.

    And, just to derail the train of thought completely, they go on to say that biology isn’t really ‘words about life’, since that version of -logy is actually the verb logein ‘to speak’ – making it ‘speaking of life’. Despite the fact that most -ologists do far more writing that speaking. Often, like yours truly, too much more.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      That’s really neat! I was always told that “logy” as in “biology” was translatable as “study of,” which may not be accurate in one sense but I think is colloquially so.

      By that logic, “trilogy” could be seen as a “study of three” or even a “study in three,” which I rather like!

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        “study in three” might not be all that far off. The term was apparently coined by the Athenians for the sets of 3 tragedies by a single poet performed during the Dionysia [the tetralogy was the trilogy followed by a satyr play]. An admittedly hasty look suggests [apparently no full trilogies have survived] that the 3 plays were often united by their examination of 3 aspects or examples of a single theme, rather than continuity of plot or characters. I’m inclined to suspect that even the example I’ve found where the narrative may carry on through the 3 plays [the set starting with The Suppliants, with both of the suggested companion plays now lost] may have been regarded by contemporary audiences as three views of the theme that just happened to have a continuing narrative. So, 3 studies of a theme.

        Nowadays, anybody who wants to do this type of trilogy would probably have to organise it with 3 different authors. Otherwise, readers are just going to say “Hey! You wrote this book already!”

      • Alan Robson Says:

        The Butterfly Kid by Chester Anderson, The Unicorn Girl by Michael Kurland and The Probability Pad by T. A. Waters form just such a trilogy…


  2. Katie Says:

    Oh no! I have really enjoyed the Artemis books and was looking forward to a sequel! I hope that Tor changes its mind.

  3. Paul Says:

    I agree with Katie about Artemis. As for trilogies that get longer, Arthur C. Clarke once laughed about a copy of his famous “2001” novel which said, on the cover, “Author of ‘2010’…”

  4. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Firekeeper’s Saga, Natalie in Spellfall by Katherine Roberts, Alexa in Beyond the Valley of Thorns, Maria in The Little White Horse.

    I don’t lose myself while reading your series with Blind Seer and Firekeeper dear Jane. However I understand the wolves’ true attitude clearly enough to feel much more like I’m running with a friend who’ll help me stay off false paths. Thanks.

    Plus dear Jane I find this series of Firekeeper and Blind Seer much more worth reading than any adult book about having romance with an aminal.

    For learning where we belong I’d indeed consider your Firekeeper Saga one of the very best series of all Jane, the fun ones like this series are difficult to find online and there aren’t many similar series at libraries either.

  5. henrietta abeyta Says:

    With how much I like Blind Seer’s Support I’ve already Clicked the picture in case you’d like to peek dear Jane. Jasmine Olson speaking.

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