T’S AN ILL WIND THAT BLOWS NOBODY ANY GOOD. Who has benefited from the typhoons and twisters of the last few years in publishing?
Series authors are one example. Series are among the few types of fiction that have actually sold better since the big downturn that began in 2008.
Series aren’t affected by the trends of the moment. Readers become so invested in the growth of a character that they feel compelled to keep track, “marrying” the character, integrating him or her into their own ever-changing lives. Just as in a real marriage which is for better or for worse, we stay loyal to that character. If a financial crisis forces us to cut down on book purchases, we’re not going to skip or delay reading about a character who is part of our lives.
I’ve also seen a benefit to authors whose books emerge from their personal history, identity, and voice. While a series allows a reader to form a bond with a character, standalones can also do that, only this time the favorite character is the author. Readers don’t feel they are reading standalones, but rather a constellation of associated books. They have a unity, supplied by a consistent authorial persona that expresses aspects of itself in each book.
Such authors have done well even as the market as a whole suffered in the recent recession, or perhaps even a as a result of the recession. Recessions cause us to be very careful when we spend money on a book. We’re less inclined to experiment. But we won’t miss a new book by the author who has become part of our extended family.
Readers have been shunning individual books that don’t have enough scope and power to prevail against the many other distractions of our era. They are turning to books that are part of a powerful experience that spills out beyond the boundaries of a single book.
In a world of tweets, blog entries, and other hasty ephemera, readers look for the opposite when they choose a book. They seek an experience so rich and deep that, like a marriage, it will take years to explore.
So what’s the trend right now? Is it contemporary fantasy, vampires, zombies, military SF, alternate history? Maybe, who knows, I don’t care. It could be any of those or something I’ve failed to list. It could be something I’d never heard of until your query letter lands on my desk and describes something so bizarre I don’t know whether to represent you or report you to the authorities.
Instead of certain subjects or genres, I look for books that are intricately interwoven with the author’s other books, tiles in a mosaic.
It’s not only the recession that has pushed readers in this direction. The recent evolution of the Internet has provided the perfect support for these constellations of books.
The Net allows us to experience the connections between the author’s novels, short stories, graphic novels, speeches, essays, Op-Ed pieces, columns, YouTube lectures, podcasts, tweets, Facebook status updates, and news feeds.
Even the author’s actions in the real world — the announcement of tour schedules, the signings, availability at cons, the baby pictures, the medical and marital news, arrests, lawsuits — all become part of this meta-series, this super-work of which novels are just one part.
I’ve had this advice thrown back in my face by clients who do not want to be locked into writing about the same world or character, or to have every single work rooted in a psyche or persona from which they would damned well like to be able to escape now and then. Of course. I totally understand. I will support you and your work without condition. But your sales are going to go down, you know that, right?