Serial Killer: How The Binging Culture Affects Serial Fiction And Its Authors

The blogging world seems to agree on one thing: Pay the writer.

And we should. Without fiction and its authors, what sort of “culture” would exist?

There are plenty who won’t pay the writer, but even those who pay the writer can cause problems.

I’m talking about the practice of waiting for a book series to be completed, before buying it.

The Netflix Binge-Watching Culture has begun to bleed into the book world, and authors and publishers are already feeling the effects of this change.

Would we be able to read the Harry Potter Series today if everyone had waited until J.K. Rowling had finished writing “Deathly Hallows” to buy the series?

No.

If “The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone” had not sold as well as it did, Rowling’s publisher likely would have dropped her, and the rest of the series might have ended up in the endless lower reaches of Amazon KDP, waiting an eternity to be discovered.

Of late, a few people have even had the nerve to suggest that, in this binge-reading climate, that publishers should not acquire trilogies and the like, until the author has finished writing the entire series. I guess these people would have wanted Joanne to stay on the dole for years and years more than she had to. 😈

In these days of shrinking advances, almost all authors have to work a day job, which consumes a large amount of time that could otherwise be spent writing. The general readership, by and large, seems to be blissfully unaware of this situation, and expects authors to crank out a 100,000 word masterpiece of a sequel in a few weeks.

Holding off on buying the first volume of a series “until the author is finished”, therefore insures the author has to continue to work their day job, slowing down the writing of the sequels, and may even doom the series outright if the publisher sees this as simply “bad sales”. Publishers are becoming more risk-averse by the minute, and they want results. The Big Five New York publishers were once known for developing properties they believed in, and giving them time to grow. Nowadays, you’re lucky if any publisher will ‘invest’ in further series development if the first volume doesn’t take off immediately.

All this notwithstanding, there are some compelling arguments for authors not to shop a series around until they’ve completed writing it. Prospective publishers will know in advance 😉 exactly how the series ends, and they don’t have to ‘worry’ about the author going off on some unforeseen wild tangent. Which makes me wonder if The Twilight Saga would have ever been picked up if they had been able to read the completed “Breaking Dawn” manuscript, replete with its gory birth scene, Jacob’s questionable imprinting, et cetera. Even if publishers reject the author’s completed series, the author can upload the whole series at once to Amazon KDP and (if nothing else) satisfy the “binge-reader” contingent.

We live in an impatient, instant-gratification culture, where authors and publishers will have to adjust their perspectives to stay relevant. We do need to educate the reader body that creating a series under these constraints in never easy, and on how readers’ early sales support keeps the books flowing. Publishers also need to keep in mind how the “binge-reader” culture affects early volume sales of serial fiction.

We may be heading for “don’t quit your day job until after you’ve finished your series” territory, nonetheless….

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