Although it may be a winner of a well-written award, a single book, an independent novel, has little chance of commercial success in today’s reading market. The mass of readers want recurring heroes, protagonists who return to deliver the merchandise on more adventures. It is something the reader can look forward to and is comfortable with. Serial novels are the key. And looking back, reading about the army of fans who followed Arthur Conan-Doyle and eagerly awaited his latest Sherlock Holmes gift, I feel like it’s always been that way. Now is a great time.
Serial novels are invariably thrillers in the crime, mystery, and espionage genres. Some arise by accident. They start with a single book, which is then followed by another, maybe a sequel, and then a third and so on. Others are thought from the beginning. My new novel, ‘The Sum of Things,’ recently released on Amazon’s Kindle, is one of them. It is the first of what I intend and it will be a long and successful series.
While writing my novel, I began to think about how long a series should be. Given that it is successful, how far should a writer continue to produce his series before ending it? And what criteria should you use to regulate the continuation of the series? Intrigued, I began to peruse some recent thriller novels.
Probably the most popular thriller series today has to be Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Two of the novels: ‘One Shot’ and ‘Never Go Back’ have become successful and profitable films starring Tom Cruise.
Starting in 1997 with ‘Killing Floor’, this writer has consistently produced one novel a year for twenty years, many of which have won awards. His latest, ‘Midnight Line’, # 22 in the series, will be released in November. His previous novel ‘Night School’, (# 21) has garnered 5,464 reviews on Amazon and counting. I’m impressed. Since only a small minority of readers bother to write a review, that gives an idea of the sales figures that children’s books enjoy. And sales have to be one of the main indices a writer will use to decide whether or not to continue. But reading some of the Jack Reacher reviews, I can see that cracks are popping up.
Many readers, some die-hard fans of the series, complain that the plots are getting hackneyed and see Child struggling to find new situations and new ideas for the story, his increasingly formulated style, and his villains turning into ‘ jester cartoons’. ‘It looks like Child’s creative well might be running low. However, based on current popularity, I’m sure we’ll see more of Jack Reacher.
Among other works, the excellent British writer Stephen Leather has published fourteen novels in his suspense series Dan ‘Spider’ Shepard and continues to receive good reviews.
Another successful series has been Andy McNab’s thriller Nick Stone. Book No. 19 ‘Line of Fire’ is due out in October 2017. But get this: it can be pre-ordered on Amazon Kindle for a whopping $ 26.78! Woof. How about the cheek? Not a hardcover mind, an e-book. It would be a long, cold day in hell before I paid $ 27 for a gift-wrapped signed hardcover edition, let alone a Kindle e-book. His previous book, ‘Cold Blood’, number 18 in the series, is priced at $ 14.24, which is still too expensive for a Kindle novel. And the reviews of this series are no longer enough. 2- and 3-star reviews outperform 4- and 5-star; It is not a good sign. It’s time for me to quit, but I feel like Andy will carry on. You might have seen the writing on the wall and decided to do everything you can before it crashes.
A prominent series in recent years was the Inspector Morse Series by British writer Colin Dexter. Turned into a television drama with that excellent actor John Thaw in the role of Morse, it was excellent, well produced, and I enjoyed it immensely. And in the middle of the TV series, I turned my attention to the books and enjoyed them even more.
Dexter wrote thirteen Morse novels, beginning with “The Last Bus to Woodstock” and ending with “A Sorry Day,” in which Morse dies. Yes, he closed his series by killing his protagonist. Dexter didn’t apologize or explain. It was the writer’s decision and his alone, and therefore it had to be. But his fans were disappointed, myself included.
By turning Morse into a heavy drinker with poor eating habits and indifferent to his health, could it be that Dexter was setting up his hero for an ending where he could cause the fatal heart attack that would end the series whenever he wanted? It seems that way to me. It is worth recording that he successfully killed Morse and closed his series on a high note, his latest novel receiving lavish reviews. Not for Colin Dexter the disappointing reviews from frustrated fans.
And it was death that ended another great series; the James Bond saga. Not Bond’s death, but his creator, Ian Fleming.
When Fleming died next to that English golf course on August 12, 1964 at the age of fifty-six, he ended a fascinating series. He is not a great writer; it didn’t have to be. But it was good. And while it may be true that he wrote fantasies for grown children, his prose was simple and understated, and every word counted. His novels turned the pages and he was eminently readable.
His latest novel, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’, unfinished at the time of his death, was improvised by his publisher, Jonathan Cape and published eight months later. A poor work that lacked everything fans expected from a Bond novel, it received poor but respectful reviews. I didn’t really enjoy it. It seems that heavy smoking and lifestyle-induced poor health had taken their toll on the writer. But unsurprisingly, it was an instant best-seller in both print and paperback.
Fleming left a corpus of twelve Bond novels and a few short story compilations, and that’s it. Or it should have been. However, publishers Jonathan Cape refused to accept it and, in conformity with the author’s heritage, began looking for writers capable of writing Fleming-style Bond stories in what became known as the “follow-up” Bond novels. .
The first out of the blocks was Kingsley Amis. Using the pseudonym Robert Markham, Amis produced the novel “Colonel Sun,” which received mixed reviews and sold well. Bond fan that I was, I didn’t enjoy it. And I don’t read any more of the continuation series that continues to this day. Though aside, the Bond movie franchise seems to have no end with a fanbase that has never heard of Ian Fleming. For me, Ian Fleming’s alter ego, James Bond, died along with his creator that morning in August 1964. RIP
Should a writer “age” his protagonist as a series progresses or should he make him eternal, impervious to time, and therefore capable of holding the ring forever and a day? I believe in the first option; it is closer to reality and makes it more credible. And also Lee Child. Jack Reacher, born 1960, will turn fifty-seven on October 29. Retirement at sixty? It would seem logical. The clock is ticking.
And if we gave James Bond the age of thirty-nine when he faced Le Chiffre at the baccarat table in that Royale casino in 1952, he would be 104 years old today. You don’t see it in the movies though, and the sequel writers seem to have ignored this reality as well.
My son, James Fallon, moving forward and showing his credentials in ‘The Sum of Things’, is thirty-five years old in 2017, so he has a lot to do, a lot of villains to destroy, and a lot of time to do it. on. It depends on me.
Several factors can determine when the curtain falls on a series.
The advanced age or poor health of the author.
The author’s desire to write other things in other genres (it was Arthur Conan-Doyle’s desire to write more historical fiction that resulted in the ‘death’ of Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls).
The increasingly bad reviews telling the author his ability to produce good stories are fading and waning, and the series has run its course.
But if the series is very successful, sells well, and makes a lot of money, an author would be tempted to move on despite bad reviews. Closing it would be like killing a Golden Goose.
I have to conclude that there is no hard and fast rule about this. At the low end, you have writers posting nonsense series, written quickly and aimed at low-visibility readers with the sole intention of making money. That garbage should never see the light of day. At the high end, we have a good example in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, which held strong for twenty years and twenty-two novels. I hope my James Fallon series follows the same path. And I’ll be more than happy if it’s half as successful.