Friday, July 25, 2008

To Series or Not to Series

I’m often asked by writers how to deal with the “series issue” in your query letter. If you know that your book is the first in a series, should you tell the agent up front or just tell her about the book in question and bring up the idea that it’s a series later. With some genres, like cozy mysteries, for example, the answer is obvious. Address up front that this is a series since that’s the way those particular books are published. With other genres, when a series is not necessarily a requirement, I would leave it up to you. I think it never hurts to tell the agent your thoughts. If the agent likes the book well enough but doesn’t agree with you that it’s a series, she can always tell you as much.

But all of this series talk got me thinking about other things. I represent a great number of series. Some are short, only a few books, like Elizabeth Amber’s Satyr series, while others, like Maggie Sefton’s Knitting Mysteries or Kate Douglas’s Wolf Tales series, are planned to seemingly go on forever (we could only hope). In genre fiction there seems to be a greater stress on series from some publishers. There’s at least a publisher or two who want a series that will go on forever, while others prefer an author who can write a two- or three-book series and then move on to something else. But what do we prefer as readers? I have to confess, other than the books I read as a child, I am not much of a series reader. Sure I’ve read a couple of Robert B. Parker’s Spencer books (more than a couple, actually) and I was a big fan of Patricia Cornwell for a while, and I will confess I did read all of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Prince series (only three books), but typically I’m not the type of reader who latches on to a series and waits impatiently for the next to come out. By then I’ve usually moved on to something else I’m enjoying. For me there are so many books, so many authors, and so little time that I tend to jump around.

As an agent I’m also on the fence about series. I think they work very well in some genres and see nothing wrong with the endless series if it’s working. My one hesitation about series writing is that it might limit your readership. Readers who don’t love knitting might not gravitate toward the endless knitting mysteries even if they would enjoy the books, which is why, except for cozy mysteries and other genres that lend themselves to the endless series, I tend to like the idea of a short three or so book series. A shorter series gives authors the ability to tap into a number of different audiences. If you don’t love werewolves you might avoid an author’s werewolf series, but if her next three books focus on vampires you might jump all over that, and even eventually give the werewolves a try.

What about you? As authors, readers, or publishing professionals, where do you fall on the series debate?