I’m asking for myself as a writer, as well as a reader.
Recently I started reading The Lost Book of the White, which is the second in The Eldest Curses spinoff series by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu. Now, I will admit, I skimmed the first chapter of the first book and chose not to continue with it. But I was legit excited about this new addition to the Shadowhunters world.
The Lost Book of the White is set after the events of The Dark Artifices, and it picks up with the original characters — Clary and Jace, Isabelle, Alec, Simon and Magnus — in their present day. So, FINALLY moving forward with the people I cared about the most.
I was very turned off by The Dark Artifices focusing on some of the most unnecessary and dull (in my opinion) characters mentioned towards the end of The Mortal Instruments. I struggled to finish the first book in that trilogy, so really had no qualms about setting it aside. Despite my — at the time — really wanting more from the Shadowhunters world.
What’s changed, then?
Last night, around page 150, I gave up on The Lost Book of the White. It was becoming painful to try to persist in slogging through anymore. The characters I loved for years were flat, not like themselves, and not what I expected. The plot was recycled from other tales in the same universe, and read pretty stale even from the beginning.
And I remembered a while ago, how I wrote a post on my jumbled feelings regarding the many Shadowhunters novels. And a post about when ongoing series should stop. I had realized that the norm for any sort of genre is to simply persist with a series basically until the author dies, and that many readers get tired of the same characters and similar plots after 6 or 7 books. I could count myself among that group, and was beginning to wonder, as a writer — how will I know when enough is enough with my own fantasy series?
White Fang and I were talking about Percy Jackson, how years later it’s still popular with middle schoolers, and how fans keep hoping for future movies or a TV show. It’s become a sort of cult classic. It seems to me that Rick Riordian did see the value in stopping, even with a big bestseller on his hands.
There’s the difference between Cassandra Clare and other YA authors, it appears. Many YA authors known for a particular title or genre often try their hand at something else, or take a break from publishing. Clare is just constantly rehashing the same old, same old, either not willing to give up a proven cash-cow, or maybe this is the only idea she has. Yes, I’m aware that sounds pretty mean, but when an author has more than a dozen titles in their bibliography that are allllllllll in essentially the same series…
As a reader, I am merciless. As a writer, I try to notice what works and what doesn’t for others, not just in terms of sales, but also in terms of process, self-care, and longevity of certain genres. As both, I’ve heard this message loud and clear: When series drag on for too long, readers stop reading.
So, this is when I get my analytical hat on. Even if I’m having a great time writing, yet again, about characters near and dear to my heart, if the plot is getting harder to make cohesive, if ideas for non-related stories keep interrupting me, would I have the guts to decide the end is nigh?
And to stick to that decision? I believe authors can get easily swayed into continuing with a series for many reasons, but not always good ones. The story is our creation, so shouldn’t we care about maintaining its integrity more than money or status?
The tricky thing is that writers really SHOULD be who decides when what finishes. But, although we mostly create our work in a solitary fashion, we are definitely NOT the only people who contribute to the books.
That includes readers. While we don’t write our stories just for the readers — meaning if people love what we wanted to write, awesome, but if they don’t, so be it — we would do well to pay attention to feedback from our audience.
I don’t for a second mean listen to the haters. All art is subjective, and some people will just never like your work, no matter how much you try to make it amazing and perfect. But when you receive constructive criticism from trusted sources — such as betas or ARC reviewers that you know are being open-minded and fair — giving their thoughts some consideration isn’t unwise.
So, just when should a series be complete?
Most stories will reach a natural conclusion, no matter how deep or complex the world-building. Maybe it’s the mindset of “too big to fail” that pushes some of us to pursue labored extensions?
Endings can be anxiety-producing, yes. But what if the lasting result is a hole too big to climb out of? Personally, that worries me more, and what I’d prefer to avoid.