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I often try out books that are the first in a series, and in my review I usually comment on whether or not I am likely to continue the series. They generally fall into three categories:

1. Blah. Not interested in continuing.
2. Eh. Will probably pick up the next book eventually.
3. Liked it, definitely want to read more.

There is a very rare fourth category, which is:

4. OMG need next book now!

Of course some books are a little more blah or eh than others. "Blah" ranges from "Hated it, no f***ing way I want to read the rest of this series" (e.g., Mr. Churchill's Secretary) to "Not bad, just not interesting and I don't care what happens next" (e.g., The Cloud Roads).

Looking at the books I read in the past year that were the first in a series:

Wool: Was not bad (I read the entire first series in an omnibus), but not really interested in reading the next series.
Ancillary Justice: I will almost certainly read the next book, though it's not at the top of my TBR list.
The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin: I am going to preorder the next book and read it immediately.
Steelheart: Meh. Might read the next book if I am bored.
One: Had potential, but no.
The Girl of Fire and Thorns: Double meh.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack: Liked it. Will probably read next book if I see it for sale.
Nobody Gets the Girl: I've already bought the next book, even though the author had to self-publish it.
Ashes: Liked it, planning to finish the series this year.
Crystal Soldier: This is a very big, long-running series, and the first book didn't hook me enough to invest me in it.
World Made By Hand: It was okay, but not really interested in what happens next.
Storm Front: It did not impress me much, but everyone loves this series and says it gets better. I'll probably give it another chance eventually.
The Farm: Oh, hell no.
Ghost Road Blues: Meh.
Jane Carver of Waar: Cheesy fun, will definitely seek out next book.
Altered Carbon: Was okay, will read next one if in the mood, but no urge to seek it out.
Kris Longknife: Mutineer: Just didn't impress me.
Coyote: Liked it, will read more.
The Stepsister Scheme: It was not the greatest thing ever, but it was entertaining enough that I ended up finishing the whole series.
Consider Phlebas: It wasn't awesome, but I liked it and want to check out more of Banks' work.
Mr. Churchill's Secretary: Oh f*** no.

So, it looks like I am about 50/50 on whether or not the first book in a series usually entices me to read on. I think it's rarely a cliffhanger or even dangling plot threads that make me want to read the next book ‐ if I don't care about the story or characters, I just don't care what happens next. But Ian Tregillis's Milkweed Triptych has both an epic, twisting plot and an exciting pace (I am reading the final book now), while Catherynne Valente's Fairyland books are so wonderful that I'll follow them to the end.

That said, it's been a long time since I became invested in a really long series. I have never even attempted the Wheel of Time or Game of Thrones. I read all of Tony Hillerman's Navajo mysteries, but over many years. It's also rare nowadays that I tear through an entire series quickly: the last one I did that with was Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy; before that, probably Harry Potter. I think I actually appreciate stand-alone books more now, as they don't demand that I read another right away. But I am still on the lookout for a series that will grab me.

For discussion: how often do you read series? Do you like the fact that practically all genre books nowadays are part of a series? When you like the first book in a series, do you usually read the rest right away? Or do you come back to them intermittently?

Poll #1951688 Reading a series

How often do you read a series?

I love series, the longer the better!
I read a lot of series, but don't particularly prefer them.
I prefer not to get drawn into a series unless it's really good.
I hate series. Finish the story in one book, authors!

Once you start a series, how often do you finish it?

If I liked the first book, I have to read them all right away.
I prefer to finish a series, though not always immediately.
If the first book doesn't hook me hard, I'm probably not going to read any more in the series.
I don't care about series books. I even read them out of order!

What is the right length for a series for you?

Two or three books, Who needs more than a trilogy?
Maybe half a dozen (or a Harry Potter seven), but not many series stay fresh longer than that.
Ten books, maybe twenty - some stories really do need to be that long.
If I like it and the author enjoys writing it, why should it ever end?

Previous Saturday Book Discussions.



( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2014 11:23 pm (UTC)
Did a quick count and came up with 17* first books I read last year. Most of those I'll probably continue the series at some point or already did. (I finished two series.) I also gave up on one I started the year before.

I find that if I try reading too many books from a series too close together, I tend to burn out on it faster.

I also prefer series where the books aren't too interdependent on the previous books, but those can be hard to find.

*18 if you count The Player of Games, which was recommended to me as a better starting point than Consider Phlebas.
Jan. 12th, 2014 12:01 am (UTC)
Series can mean a lot of things.

At one extreme you have the Lord of the Rings type where it's really a problem with bindings -- you can't put them out as one book so it gets chunked.

At the other you have things like Terry Pratchett's Discworld and Andre Norton's Witch World, where you have novels that happened to take place in the same setting.

And all between. The same-setting series can in fact contain subseries where characters move from one book to the next, and so do consequences, and even subplots.

The more loosely connected your series is, the longer it can last, because it can take in new stuff, and doesn't have to have a plot complex enough to support twenty volumes.
Jan. 12th, 2014 12:57 am (UTC)
I used to love series, the longer the better. Then I read Game of Thrones, and I waited 8 years between one book and the next. Obviously, I had forgotten a lot about the plot or the characters and I never bothered picking it up again (and I don't care how good the TV series is). I've learnt my lesson now : I only begin a series if the author has already finished it (or is about to publish the last book).
Jan. 19th, 2014 04:00 pm (UTC)
I tend to take the same viewpoint. I begun reading the Eragon series when the second book was published having seen Christopher Paolini's interview on Oprah. At this point, his book had been around for about seven years. I waited with great anticipation for the third book and had forgotten a chunk of the plot so found myself skimming the previous books. By the time the final book was released, I had lost all interest. It sits on my kindle but the list of must reads is far too long to slot this one in at this time. The same goes for the Twilight and Hunger Games series.

The Harry Potter books could have suffered a similar fate if movies hadn't been released to keep the story alive.

I'm so thankful I didn't start on The Game of Thrones. The box set was on my Christmas wish list, but I fear it's still incomplete.
Jan. 12th, 2014 01:24 am (UTC)
i read a lot of series, but don't particularly prefer them. the problem is that i but like 80-90% of my books used, so if i get into a series i'd have like the first three & then find the fifth & sixth and it's a ten book series. with stuff like the cat who.... series i was trying to wait until i found the next in the series, but after a while said "frell it" and just read them as i found them, but that leads to confusion when they talk about stuff that happened previously. the thing is now i have booksfree.com and; 1. they don't always have the complete series. 2. they do have it, but it would be a long wait before the next book comes ofeen because there is a high demand or not enough to go around. or 3. they cull books that are too old & worn or they can't get new ones from their list.
and some series go on too long, the aforementioned the cat who.... by lillian jackson braun went like 39 books & became very formulaic to the point that i was thinking i wouldn't even bother with them any more. the author's death solved that. on the other hand the amelia peabody series by elizabeth peters had about 19 books and i enjoyed them enough that the author's death was a bit of a blow and i'm seriously considering re-reading them. (this would be my third read thorough the series, except for the last one which would be only twice)
Jan. 12th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC)
I'm with others in pointing out there are two type of series - one telling a single long narrative and the other with a recurring character or a multiple stories which share a setting.

I find myself more open to the latter. It can still add up to an epic narrative, but it's less prone to falling apart and sometimes the best view of an epic is in fragments.

For example I've read nearly all of CJ Cherryh's Alliance/Union novels, but I've yet to get past the second book of her Foreigner Universe because it has (so far) a single whiny protagonist.

Recently I've noticed authors with great ideas which turn stale once they give too much space to the epic narrative, which is ultimately a rote energy suck particularly for those who've are infected with Joseph Campbell's bland formula.

The Dark Tower, Repairman Jack, Odd Thomas, Harry Dresden and even Harry Potter are all examples of how the epic narratives of grand destiny and ultimate battle can provide an excellent ongoing subplot, but suck all the life out of a series when they become the primary focus. For example, we already know Jack plays a heroic role in the original version of Night World, but now Wilson is making every single event in his life part of his ultimate destiny which suffocates the thrills. It was better when Jack was a mercenary who kept crossing supernatural conspiracies until he's sucked into the heroic position. Harry Potter's appeal was the rhythms of the school year, once this was shove aside for the final journey to the big battle it showed just how much Voldermort was just seasoning on tale of going to school. King's books which have fragments or references of the Dark Tower concept are far better at evoking a grand fantastic world than those prolix Moorcock rip offs.

When I think of unified epics which I've consumed, it's often been in omnibus volumes.
Jan. 12th, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
It depends how well the story and character keep over the series's duration. Harry Potter, for example, held up very well over 7 books because the characters and the story were always developing. Twilight, on the other hand, had what I felt to be a decent enough "first book" and didn't develop much past that. There was really no point in reading the others, I thought, except maybe closure.
Jan. 12th, 2014 07:35 am (UTC)
I like series. I tend to gravitate toward them more than standalone novels. I like getting attached to characters and following them on more than one story. I like it more if there are lots of books in the series already though, because I hate waiting. Especially if it takes so long, like the ASOIAF books do.

There are some authors I love that can't seem to get me hooked on the story or like the characters until 2 or 3 books in the series. The first book of Gini Koch's Alien series was a good read, but I wasn't really invested in the characters until the second book, and now I'm completely in love with the entire series. Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series didn't really do anything for me until the third book, and is now one of my most favorite series ever, while I've read up to only about 1/4th of the 2nd book of their Edge series and I just don't have any drive to finish it.

Then there are some authors that I've learned from experience I would rather just have quit at a certain point at the series but can't seem to control themselves and just write and write to the point that they run out of ideas or completely ruin what was great about the series in the first place. (Anita Blake, Black Jewels, Sookie Stackhouse...)

And then there are a few who start out really really good with one or two books, lose steam, and suddenly feel like a ghostwriter took over at the end because it feels like up is down and down is up. It took me three series from a specific author to learn my lesson and never buy anything from them again.

As long as the stories remain interesting, I don't mind if the series is super long. Sometimes I even prefer it to a series with a fixed number of books, especially trilogies, because it feels gimmicky and predictable to have a cliffhanger for the second book nowadays.
Jan. 12th, 2014 08:07 am (UTC)
I have a personal policy that even if I love every individual book in a series, that I stop a series when it hits more books than letters in the author's name. That policy and repetiveness are why I gave up on Piers (Dillingham Jacob) Anthony's Xanth series. The Wheel of Time (13 books total) was actually saved by Robert Jordan's (death and) taking on of Brandon Sanderson as coauthor, though I don't like Sanderson's writing as much as Jordan's so I'm stuck in Book 12 and may never finish it.

For the most part though, whether I continue a series depends simply on whether I enjoy the individual books, as well as whether the series as a whole maintains originality. I gave up on Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth because I hated the characters and Goodkind's philosophy more than the torture porn could make up for. I still read Pern novels despite their complete lack of originality now because they're a quick fun read (and with McCaffrey's son being taken on as new/co-author the series still passes my letters-in-author's-name test, I think, I've deliberately avoided checking). I got tired of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) books not really having any overall narrative arc so I'm not planning to read any more.

I prefer to read serieses in the order they're written - the newer (internal chronological) order of the Chronicles of Narnia irritates me, though the most recent time I re-read the series I did read it in that order just to see what it was like. I accidentally read the second Shannarra book (Elfstones) before the first (Sword) b/c I picked it up at a tag sale w/o realizing it was the second, but in the end it worked out well b/c I didn't like the first book that much and might have actually put it down otherwise. I'm sure I've read some of the subsequent Shannarra-verse sub-serieses out of order b/c I haven't cared enough about the series to look them up in order, I just read them when I stumble across them, but I do read each individual trilogy in order. I've been reading the Vorkosigan Saga out of order because by the time I started it I'd transitioned into primarily reading audiobooks and that series was hard to get ahold of in that format when I started it (there's still a couple I haven't been able to find). Eventually I'll acquire all of those in audiobooks and reread the entire thing in the proper order.
Jan. 12th, 2014 10:22 am (UTC)
From what I've read, the more books a successful author has "out there", the more people are likely to go pick up their earlier works. In other words, people may pick up book two in a series (or hear people raving about it) and go pick up book one as a result. A series--as long as it doesn't get too unweildy long or take too long between volumes--is probably going to sell better than a bunch of stand-alones by different (or even the same) author. Plus, people are wary of plunking down cash on something new and unknown, when they could have something old and familiar--hence why certain authors stay in business, even though their books jumped le shark years upon years ago. Publishers seem very fond of trilogies, but if an author can pull it off, I bet 7 or 8 books would sell even better.

All of which probably just serves to further contract the book market into a few superstar winners and a bunch of rejected losers.
Jan. 12th, 2014 01:57 pm (UTC)
mmf. I got burned on Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series--it was like the freakin' energizer bunny, it kept going and going, while getting more and more splintered and complex, with no end in sight. I read six books and called it a day. (Which was apparently a wise choice, since he died without finishing the story!) I read the first of the Game of Thrones books, and realized it was like the comic books of my youth, always "To be continued..." So I never picked up another one in the series, even though the first one was pretty darned good.

On the other hand, trilogies are no problem, and I will often read the second or later book in the series first just by chance, not realizing it was a part of a series. I got into the Laurell K. Hamilton Anita Blake series that way years ago; and I read Speaker for the Dead without having read Ender's Game, which made it I think a much more impactful book. So I have no hard and fast rules about dipping into a series as long as it is a self-contained part of the series that provides a satisfying read on its own.
Jan. 12th, 2014 03:05 pm (UTC)
My idea of heaven - discovering a new author I love who has published a series of fifteen books. Hey, it happened with Patrick O'Brian, and it might happen again.

I'll carry on with a series until it starts repeating itself or becomes a parody of itself. I'm still reading C.J. Cherry's atevi books, and Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January books. I gave up on The Wheel of Time and The Wars of Light and Shadow about five or six volumes in, though they started off splendidly.
Jan. 12th, 2014 05:34 pm (UTC)
I'm the umpteenth person to say there's two sorts of serieses but I'll say it again coz it affects my answers to the poll - for the second question I'm less likely to finish a loosely linked series, I'll buy/read till I lose interest without worrying if it's finished or not. With a more closely linked series I probably won't read more than book 1 unless I think I'm going to finish it. And in terms of length of series if it's closely linked I'd like it to go somewhere and then finish, if you see what I mean, but if it's loosely linked it can carry on as long as the writer has some new story to tell.

I did, in the end, read all of Jordan's Wheel of Time even tho it got stodgy enough in the middle that we stopped buying them in hardback and went back to library-then-buy-paperback. But there I had the advantage of not starting to read it till the first 7 books were out, so it didn't feel like it had been going for as long as it was. Game of Thrones I'm sticking with, for now, but I really hope the next book shows some signs of pulling the narrative back together towards a climax.

On the other hand, the thing that stops me from finishing serieses I enjoy is forgetting when the next book is due and not picking it up till after enough time that I'm not quite sure if I'll still like it - and then I make a mental note to re-read and forget more often than not. And on that note, your post has reminded me to reserve the last of Hugh Howey's trilogy at the library - I enjoyed Wool (and then Shift) a lot more than it sounds like you did, and kept forgetting to check if Dust was out. If something is hugely popular (so I see announcements for books) or if my husband is reading the series as well, then I've got a better hit rate with finishing.
Jan. 12th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
I go through phases; sometimes I'm just in the mood for a good series, & sometimes I want to one-and-done it. Usually, anything longer than a trilogy, I won't read in a row; I break it up with other books in between. I'm on the fourth book in the Song of Ice & Fire series, & since there are only supposed to be 7 in the series, I don't feel like it's too long. In fact, the first book was pretty slow moving compared to books two and three. I can see why people get frustrated with it, though; books four and five are broken up by region but take place at the same time. That's a lot going on at once.
For the most part, if I read the first book in a series, I have to finish it. I thought Fifty Shades of Grey was horribly boring and obnoxious, but even still, I'm thinking about reading the other two, just to get it done. I hate leaving any series unfinished, just in case it gets better or I miss something. That's really the only reason I haven't started the Discworld books; I'm not quite ready to take on a large group of books like that, & I know I'll have to read them all.
Jan. 12th, 2014 08:47 pm (UTC)
Re: series length, it depends. If they're simply written and only novella-length children's books (cf. Emily Rodda's Rowan), four or five might be alright. But unless it's a great big sprawling complex world like Discworld, with lots of characters, and you're as good a writer as Pratchett, anything more than three novels in a series gets stale pretty quickly. Doorstoppers like Inheritance and ASOIAF are alright as duologies or (maybe) trilogies if they have tight prose, but more and more now authors use the premise of 'it's a series' not only to hook readers but to prolong series indefinitely. For god's sake, end the damn thing in less than four books.

What really bugs me is trilogies made out of freakin' novel-length YA books. Harry Potter is the exception, because at least the novels got longer and they were based on each year at Hogwarts. But it annoys me authors randomly decide that their book would be better as a series for absolutely no relevant reason, and we get three steaming piles of crap instead of one. With no plot, to boot.

tl;dr It depends largely on the writing quality.

Edited at 2014-01-12 08:50 pm (UTC)
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