I like series fiction. Or, at least, I like the series fiction I like: Discworld; Jeeves and Wooster; Narnia; The Church Mice; The Sandman... It’s a lovely feeling when, browsing the shelves in the library, I come across an unfamiliar volume of a well-loved series.
And I like writing sequels. Zeus on the Loose and Zeus to the Rescue will next year be joined by Zeus Sorts It Out, and I’m currently working on a couple more ideas about the egocentric deity and his long-suffering high priest. Jack Slater, Monster Investigator returned last year in Jack Slater and the Whisper of Doom. Bansi O’Hara and the Bloodline Prophecy is soon to be followed by Bansi O’Hara and the Edges of Hallowe’en.
I would, however, hate it if someone decreed that from now on series fiction was the only legitimate form and no-one was allowed to read, write or publish anything else. Just imagine a world in which such a law had always existed: a world in which Hardy’s The Return of the Native came between The Native and The Native Returns Again; in which Watership Down was followed by Watership Up and Watership Left A Bit; in which Treasure Island was but one book in the Treasure Archipelago series. A world, in other words, which had no room for the stand-alone novel.
Of course, that would be ridiculous.
And yet... it would appear that something not a million miles away from this is happening in children’s books, or at least in books aimed at the newly-confident reader. It seems as if, no matter what I submit at the moment, the question comes back: “But does it have series potential?” A quick glance at my ‘recent rejections’ file comes up with this sort of thing:
“We all enjoyed reading this... The writing is really good... pitched at the right age range... very much like Roald Dahl... the main problem was that we can't see this working well over a series”
“utterly charming... truly very funny... loved the concept...What we’ve had a little difficulty seeing past is how to truly make this into a series.”
This can’t be right. I know there are economic imperatives to consider, but surely there are also cultural imperatives? Should we be teaching newly confident readers that all good things come ready-branded; that no story is self-contained; that one is never enough? Can’t we make children into readers without also turning them into consumers?
Worse, I suspect that for certain publishers the ideal is a series which can be pitched in a maximum of three words, and which combines two concepts from a limited and familiar range. Superhero Pirates! Football-playing Dinosaurs! Vampire Fairies! Ponies in Space! Better yet, slap some vapid celebrity’s name on the front and pretend that (s)he wrote it. What could be better?
For the publisher’s bank balance, probably nothing. I just can’t help feeling that someone’s being short-changed.
John’s website is at www.visitingauthor.com