Thursday 18 February 2021

Binge Culture

I made recent post to encourage people to read my latest book, since my next one is due out in April.

One reply, ending with winking smiley, said "Since George RR Martin let me down I don't read books until the series is finished."

To which I replied:

With respect, this is not an approach based on reasonable evidence and punishes the majority for what has happened to two very famous outliers. I've produced at least one book a year for 11 years (four in 2019), and every trilogy I've had published has been completed before the first book came out. With two notable exceptions it is extremely hard to point to any trilogies and series where the author has not produced the books at regular and reasonable intervals. /rant

Now, it is of course the right of any person to buy/borrow and read books whenever they want. I am hardly going to rail against people who buy my trilogy once it's all out. They are far far more helpful to me that people who don't buy it at all, and I'm very grateful for their custom. I, myself, am a regular participant in binge culture. There's so much TV out there these days that many series I come to are already complete and I watch the lot in a relatively short space of time. I came late to Breaking Bad and watched all 5 seasons in a couple of months.

My only point here is this - we have in that comment a person who was previously prepared to start a series and wait the typical year or two between books. Because of their experience with one series (something that happens with very few authors) they have become a person who isn't prepared to wait at all.

Why is this important? Two main reasons that break up into various sub-reasons. The first relates to the author, the second to the reader themselves.

1. It's very important for an author that the first book in their series sells well. The chatter around it, both the online and water-cooler sort, draws in more readers. To use pandemic parlance, it helps get R>1. It is very common in translated series, and becoming worryingly common in UK/US series, that if book 1 sells poorly then book 2 is cancelled. There's so much choice out there and the conversation moves on so swiftly that sleeper hits are becoming less and less likely. If a book sinks nobody dives the wreck. This issue particularly affects new authors who might have been the one to rock your reading world for years to come.

2. As above, the series may get cancelled. The reader might shrug and say that it can't have been very good then. But that's not how book sales work. Being good is necessary but not sufficient. And it might have been a trilogy from an author you love. You might have been looking forward to reading it. But not buying in on book 1 helped sink it so you'll never get to read it.

Additionally, as a reader I (and I'm sure many others) build a relationship with books and characters. Significant acres of the landscape of my imagination are given over to good times had with books. I am not convinced that those relationships would be so "deep and meaningful" if instead of being fed over the course of years, with time for things to settle and be mulled over, and time to anticipate more, they were replaced by a swift "wham, bang, thankyou, ma'am" as I devoured the series in the days or weeks it took me to binge. 

So, to reiterate: All authors are grateful for sales at any point. But if you let the rare experience of having to wait many years tip you over into binge culture, then I'm just letting you know that it's an almost entirely unfounded fear that does significant damage to authors and even, potentially to you, albeit far less damage than not reading them at all!

Happy reading, binge-reading, and 2021!

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  1. First, thank you for the insight into the process from the publishing side of things and how important it is to support wonderful writers. I have in the past bought first books (usually by authors I already know and love) even though I didn't plan to read them right away. Come to think of it, I did that with at least one 2nd book, where I bought and read the first but decided to wait to read the 2nd until the 3rd came out. Because of poor sales, it's indefinitely delayed. :(

    I really appreciate your second point, though: several of my favorite authors are ones who write those massive fantasy books--Robin Hobb and Steven Erikson both come to mind. And my appreciation of their respective works and my love for those characters have absolutely been deepened by re-reading the books, usually to refresh my memory before a new one comes out.

    My wife and I have been binging a number of TV series over the past year, as so many are doing, but it's been interesting to us to watch WandaVision and The Mandalorean not only because of the shows themselves but also because of the experience of being forced to wait a week in between episodes. Thinking about what's happened, anticipating what's coming.

    Can't wait for the new book! And the one after that, and....

    1. "I have in the past bought first books (usually by authors I already know and love) even though I didn't plan to read them right away. Come to think of it, I did that with at least one 2nd book, where I bought and read the first but decided to wait to read the 2nd until the 3rd came out"

      I do this normally, and started doing it with new authors as well: I get book 1 soon-ish, read it close to the date of book 2 coming out to know if I'll continue the series, and if yes I buy book 2 right away and then wait to read it until I also have book 3.
      It's more related to my poor memory than any need to "binge" (I hate that word!)

      However, I normally just buy paperbacks, so I'm usually about 1 year behind the hype.
      In many cases I've read books 1 and 2 in paperback, then just really want to read 3 asap, so as soon as it comes out (in hardcover), I ask my library to get it, read it from there, then buy the paperback when it's out to have the full trilogy at home.
      My local library is really good about doing this, it's got quite a large SFF section - I really miss it!

  2. As a devoted reader, I feel very fortunate that you are able to produce such wonderful work at such a good pace. I am eagerly awaiting The Girl and the Mountain because I trusted you enough that I read the first book before the second was published. People should save their skepticism for the two guys who earned it.

  3. I count myself lucky that I've only found your work recently and have thus been at liberty to 'binge' two and a third of your trilogies (so far.) Jorg's tale, Nora's tale and I just finished One Word Kill this morning.

    I drive between photo shoots. A lot. Driving is the only time that I have to 'read' via Scribd or Audible. I typically try to read a few books solely for the joy of a story and then read something on Science, History or Biography (learning a joy all it's own, but different) and then back to a story. I will continue to work my way through your content, but wonder, are you compensated well at all from those of us who enjoy your books being read, or only from those printed on dead trees? I'm never averse to buying books that I've listened to when I've enjoyed my time as much as I have so far with Jorg, Nora and Nick, but do want to make sure that I'm not 'cheating' you out of a living for such fine craft. - Michael Eric Berube

  4. Because of this post, I have decided to start reading Girl and the Stars now instead of waiting for it to be completed.

  5. I must admit I tend to avoid series untill they're done. I mean specifically fantasy series (crime, thrillers, urban fantasy series etc tend tohave standalone novels instead of one continous storyline). It's not really waiting so much as I absolutely refuse to reread novels aside from few of my favorites. And these days epic fantasy tends to be so dense with names and characters and often get 2 years gaps between volumnes that they tend to require re-reading before each new volumne for optimal experience.
    Now, I do make exception for few authors and you, Mark Lawrence, are among them precisely because with you I can count of timely releases and most of all you include summaries of previous volumnes. I don't know why more authors don't do that.

  6. I like to binge watch TV, but I never understood this concept of waiting until a book series is finished business. Do I care if GRRM ever finishes Games of Thrones? Sure, but I won't hold it against him if he doesn't, there are plenty more books in the sea (hopefully not). I'm still waiting for JV Jones to finish her wonderful Sword of Shadows series. Would I like it if she did? Absolutely. Will it diminish my enjoyment of the three books I read? Not at all. Support your authors people. As Mark said, if you don't buy their books, they very likely won't finish their series.

  7. I much prefer consuming books and TV in periodic installments. I think my enjoyment of WandaVision and The Mandalorian would have been greatly lessened if I had watched the entire season over a weekend. I recently finished reading the last of the Realm of the Elderlings series, and I purposefully read only one series a year, to try to recreate that feeling of anticipation between series/books.

  8. It's strange that I just signed up to this site and started reading it. I've been a big fan since The Prince of Thorns.
    I have a different view on waiting to read a trilogy/series of books, and I made this decision to follow it with your books actually.
    Authors I trust to deliver something I will enjoy reading will automatically make it on my pre-order list. I buy everything you publish as they come out.
    I have decided to buy them and shelf them until they are all out. I want to remember everything about the previous book as I move on to the next one. This way I get to fully enjoy the series.
    That being said, I just got The Girl and the Mountain, and it's really hard not to start reading this trilogy right now.