Is this a trend?

Lately I have binge read a few longer series and I’m noticing a trend.

The narrative is linear for the first three, maybe four, novels. That is, the reader knows everything that happens because they’re reading the books. Then suddenly there’s a jump. Between book, say, four and five, something important to the story happens off-scene. A new character integral to the story is introduced, or an important sub-plot that provides valuable information takes place off-scene. In the next series book there’s a fleeting reference to what happened off-scene and we go merrily along with the story.

And I go, “Huh? What happened there? Where did that come from?”

As the series continues, we get more and more jumps like this.

If I do my research, I can find these missing stories. They are available, usually as novellas or short stories, separate to the main series. Often with different protagonists.

I confess, as a technique, I find it annoying. I don’t want to have to go hunting for the whole story. Sure, I like my sideline stories to give me new insights into main characters in the series. Acquard’s War, for example, will certainly give you a different insight into Jordan Rossi, but it doesn’t tell the story of what happens in the Linesman books, (hmm. Better make sure of that, hadn’t we) and it won’t tell the story of what happens next to Ean Lambert.

If you’re an author who does this why do you do it?

Is it because in a long series you get tired of writing about the protagonists in the main story? I mean, eight plus books straight and I’d be getting tired of it too. (We’ve always said we’d like to do it like Robin Hobb does. Three books, then write something else and come back to that series—in our case Linesman—refreshed and ready to go. By the end of three novels you need a break.)

Is it a marketing tool? Most of the series I have read that do this are in Kindle Direct. Is writing the shorter stories a way of keeping readers interested while you write the next book in the series?

Or is there another reason altogether?

6 replies on “Is this a trend?”

Now that you point it out, I seem to see it most with authors who have a very active online relationship with their readers – maybe that’s part of it?

Also, unrelated, but I’m so glad you mentioned returning to linesman!! I look forward to the new book, but the question of the aliens has been poking at me since book 2 >.<

All I know is that I have read the Linesman series many multiples of time: it’s what I imagine a drug addict goes through! I NEED that fourth book!

Later books in a series tend to get the readers already invested in the series, minus some fall off. Unrelated books are the best chance for new readers. Absent a runaway bestseller, publishers want SOME non-“main” series books to expand an author’s core audience. Author boredom is a thing, but I bet it’s secondary to publisher pressure.

Yes, and I admit that I have actually come into a series via spinoff characters. I don’t know how I’d feel if the publishers ever pressured us to do that. But having said that, we do have Acquard, which we want to publish one day, and it’s a spin-off from Linesman, so I probably can’t talk. Even so, I don’t think anything happens in Acquard that has material impact on Linesman.

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