Saturday, February 28, 2009

BOOKS: To Be Continued ...

Are there three more innocuous words in the English language, that when strung together invite more violent spasms of anger, than "T0 be continued?"

I'm reminded of this because of the recent experience with the fourth book in Charles Stross' Merchant Princes series of books. In essence, this book was just a chapter of a much longer sequence. I was unhappy about it, but wasn't exactly murderous over it. Not like seeing that phrase in a Star Trek novel years go and in John Birmingham's opening volume of the Weapons of Choice. But I was angry to have built up increasing angst over how the book was going to end, only to discover it was coming to a stop, not an end.

Interestingly, this week, Stross talks over the issue, dovetailing his own difficulties getting it all done with the infamous troubles George R.R. Martin is having with the next book in his Song of Ice and Fire series. You can read about it here. Take the time to read the comments.

Now, let me tell you about THE BOOK. My book. The one I've been writing too long now. I actually have a series-length collection of notes, good enough for two books. Because the book HAS become two books. The first was the one I wrote with a co-author that I had to part ways with, with about a third of the book written. All of her contributions had to go out the door. I had to start with my basic premise, change all the characters around, especially the nationalities, and start from scratch. With the added problem of having certain ideas, dialog and story-lines ruled off-limits for having been in there before. In essence, I had to come up two stories to write one. I struggle on.

But the struggle gives me some sympathy for Martin (and yes, I have the first four books in the series, but wasn't daft enough to start them without having the full series) and Stross (got suckered into that one because I thought it was only a three-book series). My only complaint is more or less a truth-in-labelling one. I have NO problem buying a book and then shelving it, awaiting its companion volume(s). What I hate is being surprised. I think that when a book is NOT a standalone (and clearly at that), the book should advertise that status as such. For example, each of Lee Goldberg's Mr. Monk books is clearly a standalone. Details DO get referred to in subsequent books in the series, but always with some sort of explanation. Thus, no need to loudly proclaim ON GOING SERIES on the book cover. For Martin and Stross, that warning should be clearly visible.

Would that cost authors sales? Yes. On the other hand, I'm sure knowing it was part of a series would convince other people to buy multiple books at a time. I think the trade-off would work out in the wash. And you wouldn't cost yourself future sales.

I have not bought a Star Trek book since the completion of that Dark Passions duology. I was given one (the Captain's Table omnibus, which I then went out and got an electronic version of, to save developing a hernia holding it up).

For the writers out there that want to spring surprising "To be continued ..." taglines on the readers: Good-bye. I know it's tough. And as heartless as it may seem, I don't care. Tell me up front ... or just don't do it!

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