Lately I’ve read the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch. While I’ve enjoyed them (a lot) they’ve been read maybe a month apart so there hasn’t been as much of a gap between them as there will be reading future ones. This will matter because while the main plot is tied up, there’s an ongoing story through the series, leaving questions that probably won’t be answered for years.
This isn’t unusual for fantasy, but I’m not sure whether this is ongoing or planned for a certain length of story. It’s no different from TV series that end a season on a cliffhanger (although it’ll usually be less than a year to wait [Unless it’s Sherlock]), but they can irritate me (especially if they’re the kind that also end each episode on a cliffhanger, so you never have any sense of resolution from the stories, which more often than not lead into the next one with little break point).
I know that ongoing series are what traditional publishers look for, hoping they’ll have more audience retention than a series of stand alone novels. Does it also run the risk of alienating readers with knowing they’ve got a year (by most traditional schedules) to wait for the story to continue?
With TV series we’re more used to waiting for answers, and it’ll only be a week till the next fix, even if that doesn’t answer the questions (although viewing habits are changing with new technologies). You can’t control the audience’s pace of moving through a book as easily, so reading quickly through a good book could face a more jarring end if it finishes unresolved.
It can get the customer to stay with the series if it’s as well-written as Aaronovitch’s stuff, but I can’t be sure if I’ll feel the same by the time the next one comes out, or whether I’ll have forgotten the dangling plot threads by then.
My Use of Ongoing Stories
I tend to shy away from more overt uses in my stuff since I don’t do many series (I switch, trying to find something that’ll catch on [and as inspiration takes me]). The only time I’ve intentionally started with an overall story planned was the Shadows of the Heavens series of novelettes, which I released on a weekly schedule. Even they didn’t have the overall story too overt to begin with, but all had been written before the first was published.
I’ve done other projects with overall stories more roughly planned, such as Blade Sworn (which had a conclusion but the larger story not quite seen in the background won’t be expanded on unless the book starts selling), and the Tales of the Thief-City series of short stories (which I’m planning out the remaining parts of story for, so they should be released on a close schedule).
I’m unlikely to commit to larger ongoing stories until I start seeing more sales that’ll make it worthwhile (while sales are low sequels aren’t likely to gain me many readers [unfortunately most of my stuff at the moment is sequels, but ones spun out of the previous story rather than part of a planned larger story]). Even then, I don’t know how I’d feel committing to a seriously long project, and the last thing I want to do is start one and then leave readers hanging if I can’t carry it through (or get so bored that the work’s likely to be boring).