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Long ago, back in the days before I even began Black Ships, there was this thing called the long series. Remember the Deryni Chronicles? Anne McCaffrey's dragons? The Heralds of Valdemar? There were a dozen books or more, all woven together, all interrelated, and readers would wait breathlessly for the next book in the series to find out what happened to beloved characters and ongoing plotlines. Maybe the first books weren't bestsellers. Maybe it took a while for the series to catch on. Maybe The White Dragon was the first McCaffrey book to sit on the NY Times bestseller list, and it's far from the first book. New readers would find the series with subsequent books and then go back and buy the whole lot. Libraries would have them all and you could check them out over and over.

But something happened. Big publishers had to start showing bigger and bigger profits, and there was no room for the backlist, no room for books that didn't make a splash right out of the gate. There was no room for a series to grow. If book one didn't make the NYT, there was no book two and certainly no book three. Editors simply couldn't commit to more than two books -- certainly not to a long series of eight or ten books with no guarantee that the first one would sell a hundred thousand copies! The multibook contract started disappearing unless your last book topped the charts, and even then it might -- might, if you were really the sensation of the year -- be two or three books. And once the numbers started to decline, once next year's big thing was big instead, the series moved to the back burner, eventually to drop soundlessly out of sight. Author after author found that they were in the middle of a series and the series was dropped, leaving them with the story half told, the climax unreached. Forever. Because no publisher will pick up a fading series.

What this means for authors is that there is tremendous pressure to write books that will stand entirely alone, without any context before or after them, and yet have series potential if the publisher wants it -- but be able to be wrapped up complete at any point when the numbers don't allow the next book to be bought. How in the heck does anybody do that? How do you plot a long series when you don't know if it's four books or ten books? When you don't know whether this is part six of twelve or part six of six? It's the same problem as episodic tv -- will the show be renewed? This episode has to stand as the last one if it needs to -- or maybe it's the last episode of season four out of a seven season run! It makes writers insane.

However, the advent of epublishing and print on demand means that smaller publishers don't have that problem. For example, Fandemonium signed a six book contract for the Legacy series. That meant that we knew for a fact there would be six books, and each book could be plotted as an act in the play. The plot arc could run coherently for the entire six book series, each book moving the plots forward, without any danger that suddenly we would have to wrap the entire plot in The Furies! That's an almost unheard of luxury today.

For the reader, it's much more coherent. You know there will be six books and you know that each one will fill a legitimate place in the story. You can read it as a whole -- one long story over six books, like a plot arc over twenty episodes of tv. It doesn't have to be choppy and it doesn't have to resolve everything neatly at the end of each book for fear that there won't be a next one.

With the Order of the Air, Crossroad Press has committed to the entire series. That means that we can have the long plots, lay the foundations of stories that will come to light later, plan plot threads that will carry through. Yes, each book wraps up the plot of that book, but it also is part of the larger whole. Each book builds on the last one. Characters can grow and change and be introduced in one book in preparation for greater importance in another. Events in one book can cause events down the line, and we can put them in the earlier book knowing where they'll lead.

In other words, we can do the things that used to happen back in the seventies and eighties when publishers signed for double trilogies. And that's a win for writers and readers alike.



( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 4th, 2013 08:15 pm (UTC)
Helluva luxury, to know you aren't going starve while you wait for a publisher. Congrats!

Btw, I remember waiting for The White Dragon to come out, and it seemed interminable. Oh, the excitement I felt when I saw it in the shops for the first time - I went out and bought it straight away. It was always such a thrill to get the next installment, and I'll show my age and say I recall that for LoTR way back when I first read it, which would be back in the early 70's. It wasn't published together, but as the three separate books, as I recall, and even then we got them from the library. I don't think you can quite beat that excited pleasure from new reading material that you've been looking forward to so much.

Edited at 2013-07-04 08:16 pm (UTC)
Jul. 5th, 2013 11:01 am (UTC)
Oh yes! The White Dragon wasn't my first McCaffrey. It was already out. I think I actually started with Dragonsinger, which is a very strange place to start! But I loved it and then went back and found all the others.
Jul. 5th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
Ah, Dragonsinger. The book that made me want a firelizard so bad I could almost taste it. I read Dragonflight first, and then the rest pretty much in order, but then I think I can give you a good decade or so. If I recall rightly, Mennolly was one of my older daughter's fave characters (she's a musician too), and she knew every one of those firelizards in detail, even wrote little stories about them. The fanfic gene runs deep, it seems. lol
Jul. 6th, 2013 04:02 pm (UTC)
*g* My sister wanted to be Menolly! I was more Lessa myself.
Jul. 6th, 2013 11:44 pm (UTC)
I've always been more like Brekke. Before she lost her queen.
Shawn Edwards
Jul. 13th, 2013 01:41 am (UTC)
It's nice to know that I wasn't the only one to start with Dragonsinger. Mennolly will always have a special place in my heart.
Jul. 14th, 2013 12:19 pm (UTC)
I loved Mennolly! Though I think I'm more of a Lessa myself. Who would you be?
Jul. 5th, 2013 07:33 am (UTC)
SO very glad to hear that the Order of the Air is going for the duration (until our intrepid, if damaged, heroes actually save the world?).

Can't wait for book 3!

Edited at 2013-07-05 07:33 am (UTC)
Jul. 5th, 2013 11:09 am (UTC)
I'm so glad too. It's absolutely wonderful to be able to say, "You know, I think this scene between Jerry and Karl-Maria is premature. I think this really needs to go in Oath Bound rather than Wind Raker." And be able to do that. Not to have to rush things because there may not be a next book.

And clues! In Silver Bullet, Jerry finds an amazing archaeological clue to the lost tomb of Alexander the Great. But in Silver Bullet all he's got is the clue. Oath Bound is where he gets to follow it up, where he gets to go to Egypt and dig. But the final wrap up on that plot isn't until much later, in Operation Eagle. And we can know that now -- we can give the plot time to develop over the next several years of Jerry's life.
Jul. 5th, 2013 08:25 pm (UTC)
see, I love that! when a small thing happens in book 3 and it doesn't pay off until book 6 or 7. I'm far less a fan of the series where a problem occurs and the hero has the magic solution in his pocket the whole time, but this is the first we're ever hearing of it.

(wormhole drive springs to mind there)
Jul. 6th, 2013 04:11 pm (UTC)
I hate it so much where something just suddenly and conveniently pops up! Oh wait! I just remembered I know how to fly a jumbo jet! Actually, I do speak Urdu.... When it makes no sense and if they'd been able to do this before, or when there is absolutely no established reason this character would be able to do this/know this, it completely throws me out.

I love that with the Order of the Air we can set things up. There are all kinds of things that way. For example, if Iskinder, the Ethiopian prince, just showed up as Jerry's pal in Oath Bound, it would be SO clever-clever. But since we meet him in a smaller role in Silver Bullet as Jerry's college classmate at Harvard, and he was mentioned back in Lost Things as the other witness to Alma's wedding to Gil (with Mitch), when Iskinder pops up in Oath Bound I hope it won't be, "Oh of course Jerry just happens to know an Ethiopian prince!" Because we've known all along what Iskinder's plot in Oath Bound is, and we've set him up.
Jul. 6th, 2013 11:51 pm (UTC)
That's proper writing, that is. :) George R R Martin does that, and so do the good authors, but that's what it's all about is plot/planning and knitting a dozen threads together to make a whole. Never waste a word if you can help it is a good maxim, I think.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )