Breaking Up With a Series

ETA: 13 May: Please note, this comment thread is so amazing and interesting, but because we’re talking about series and when readers stopped reading and why (or why not), it can and does get spoiler-y. Proceed at your own risk, be ye warned, herein be spoilers, yarr.

On Tuesday at the Bosoms booksigning at the Clifton Commons Barnes & Noble, I got into a thought-provoking discussion with Sydney, Marisa, Kiersten, and the other ladies who came (who told me they lurk and never comment – I didn’t want to embarrass them but hi, folks!) about what makes us break up with a series. I realized later that I read and talked about the Bosoms for only a very small percentage of the time. Most of the hour was spent talking about romances we loved and doing that thing where romance fans get together and vacillate between, ‘OMG WIN’ and ‘OMG NO’ when talking about books. Since so many new series books have come out of late, that was a very lively topic, particularly as Jaiku pointed out at DearAuthor when you are flush with the feeling of wanting to quit, and and you just can’t do so.

The discussion spanned across a ton of series, including the latest J.R. Ward book, Lover Avenged, and Kenyon’s latest, Acheron, as well as the Anita Blake series (note: what in the name of epic ass is up with that website? I can barely read the text), Feehan’s Carpathians, the Sookie Stackhouse series, and Stephanie Plum. All of us had different points at which we did – or did not – break up with these different series.

A few people said they’d stopped reading Kenyon awhile before Acheron came out, but had to read Acheron just to find out what happened to him. One woman mentioned she loved the Sookie series unconditionally, and another couldn’t stop reading Ward, even though she wanted to. I said that I think the signal for me to stop reading the Anita Blake books came when Anita stopped being such a terrible dresser and somehow became a sexpot badass with an unending amount of personal lubrication. When she put away the fanny pack with the matching socks and polo shirt, it was time for me to stop reading.

When I asked why they’d break up with a series, the answers weren’t so far from mine. A few mentioned the “sameness” of the books, the feeling that they’d just read one of the earlier books with different character names, or the habit of reading subsequent books just to keep track of ancillary characters who would reappear in each new installment.

As I listened to the folks talking about when they broke up with a much-loved series, I think I figured out what their breakup point had in common: all of the stories we were discussing based their foundation on a lot of world building. Whether it was Trenton or an entire otherworld, the world in which the books took place played as much of a role in the early books as the characters themselves,  and certainly that was part of the attraction.

But when the books became more about the characters, and less about the world, or when reader knowledge of the world was presumed by the text and therefore not built at all in later books, most of the women there, including me, started to lose interest. The world has to be as much a character that grows and evolves as the characters do, and when one is sacrificed for the other, or neither the world nor the characters evolve, the series is a lot easier to break up with and leave behind.

For example, I’m still way invested in Kresley Cole’s series because there is a larger plot facing the otherworld that develops in each book, as if that world of the Immortals is its own character. But I have stopped reading the Plum series back when it was still in the single digits because there wasn’t any evolution to the characters that I enjoyed – and what changes there were I didn’t like at all. I haven’t followed the Ward series past The Nomming of Butch By Vishous because, while often crackalicious, I didn’t care so much about the characters any longer, nor did I give a powdery ass about the Lessers, and on the whole felt that the world of the Brotherhood hadn’t changed much. I preferred to read Dark Lover again (and try to figure out WHY they can be so crack-luscious) than read any of the newer installments of the series. A few folks argued that Ward’s series was one they could not leave behind (no pun intended) because they loved the world within it so much, even as they didn’t love all the installments of the series.

Even when the author breaks the rules of that world, and breaks them hard, some of the readers I spoke with were still yearning to revisit it, either by reading older books or continuing to read the new ones. And while there was some agreement that one or two series had totally jumped the shark and kept on flying into the horizon, all of us had different breakup points with different series, especially those that seem as if they have no end in sight.

So what’s your break-up point with a series you love? Is it based on the world or the characters or a disappointment so great you’ll never get over it?



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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Miranda says:

    I’ve stopped series for all 3 reasons: a disappointment I can’t live with (the 2 main characters in the series have sex that I considered non-consensual), a realization that the books are essentially the same book, and a realization that no matter how much I hoped otherwise the characters were too stupid to live.

  2. 2
    MichelleR says:

    The Anita Blake thing started to give me a migraine —I was getting the bright lights in front of my eyes.

    I’ve pretty much divorced Betsy The Vampire Queen. Every subsequent book seems both longer and less substantial and Betsy seemed to never experience growth—eternity would seem extra long with her. I can’t even get into it for the Minnesota connection as there seems to be very little interaction with real places.

    been24—don’t rub it in.

  3. 3

    With Anita Blake it was the realization that each book was getting longer and that in each volume the added length consisted entirely of graphic porn; as series progress editors back off (I guess).

  4. 4
    Leslee says:

    I have quit a series when the author has played fast and loose with my intelligence, my emotions (killing off main characters-I’m talking to you Jennifer Roberson), when they don’t have anything new just rehashing characters with different names to keep the series going (Kenyon but I did read Acheron to find out his deal), and when it wasn’t fun to enter their world anymore (Sookie is moving in that direction for me but I am a fan from the beginning so I haven’t quit her yet)! I also realized from this post that I quit Evanovich because she doesn’t have any growth whatsoever !
    Thanks Sarah, for this great post!

  5. 5
    Kat says:

    I’m getting close with JR Ward’s BDB. When the book comes out and it’s $5 cheaper than my favourite pair of shoes, it’s a good sign that the end is near.

  6. 6
    Liz in Australia says:

    For me it started with Stephanie Plum (around book 6 or 7), Anita Blake (around 9 or 10) and Betsy the vampire queen (book 4) as all of them really stopped developing the main character. Note to author: having the main heroine whinge and whine about her life at every chance is NOT emotional growth.

    I’m still enjoying Kenyon and Sookie though I accept that I may grow out of these eventually.

  7. 7
    Sparky says:

    I just don’t break up with them… sadly

    I buy the new books. Put them on my shelf – wince because I know it’s going to be a trainwreck – read it then bitch about it. I still bought the latest Anita Blake books – gods help me.

    I should have broken up with them long ago. With Anita it made the change about book 9 – after that there just wasn’t any PLOT. Characters or world building both died entirely – it was just a series of sex scenes loosely connected with Anita’s new Shiny Powers of Sueness.

    Betsy I liked – but like Michelle she frustrated me. I still consider the books fun fluff reads (turn off brain, it’s some easy mush) but Betsy was a ditzy self-obsessed and rather clueless and incapable woman who remained… a ditzy, self-obsessed and rather clueless and incapable woman. All the characters are rather 2 dimensional – fun 2 dimensional, but it got old quicky

    Hmm – this long ramble says I break up with a series (or should) when the story stops happening. When nothing changes, nothing grows (and new shiny powers +lots of sex isn’t change and growth) and nothing develops

  8. 8
    charlane says:

    I thought that after the last Ward book.  I wondered if I really care when she totally changed up the course of the series and now threw in a new random creature to keep the money train moving…and left characters I really cared about hanging in the wind.  Now I’m ehhhh….but, in some parts I want to see how certain characters fare in the new book.

    I really dislike it when authors start being in their own hype (ahem you, Stephanie Meyers)

  9. 9
    Caty M says:

    I stopped reading Stephanie Plum at about book 7 or 8 because nothing new was happening.  It wasn’t a planned decision – it was more that I flicked through the pages of the next one in the bookshop, and read the back cover, and thought, ‘why bother?  I’ve read that three times already.’ 

    I enjoyed Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series, but I was getting a bit bored with the same family by book 8 and was glad that the set was complete.  Ditto Mary Balogh’s Slightly and Simply series: individually good, but after a while the repetition becomes a bit much. 

    If a book feels like I’ve read it before when I haven’t, I’ll just get bored and wander off in search of something new.  Either I have a short attention span or I’m secretly an inveterate thrill-seeker.  Or both.

  10. 10
    katiebabs says:

    I broke up with Anita Blake after 10 books and years of being emotionally invested in the series. When the author did a 180 and changed the whole dynamics of the series and the character I enjoyed, that was when I broke up and have never looks back.

    After reading Lover Avenged, I am still interested but I have the feeling that Ward may decided to break up with her BDB series after a few more books.

  11. 11
    Nadia says:

    I am a pansy-ass when it comes to breaking up with a series.  I’m always thinking maybe this time will be better…um, not usually, but there are sometimes surprises.  I did like Lover Avenged better than the last two BDBs.  Or maybe I’ve just lowered my expectations. ;)  If a series has jumped the shark, or is at least rapidly skiing toward that, I move them from “must buy on drop date!” to “get at the library or wait for the paperback to hit the UBS.”  I may have that compulsion to read, but not enough to pay full price.

    The long-assed series can be fun as you get to know the world and the characters so well, but a smart author really should know when to say when and provide the satisfaction of conclusion.  Trilogies are great for that purpose – you get the “what happened next?” without the “jeez, can we just defeat the great evil already and head for Miller Time?”

  12. 12
    Lori S. says:

    I have a hard time breaking up with a series, so I’ve developed a scale to determine the strength of my addiction:

    1 – I’ll buy it in hardcover, the day it’s released.
    2 – I’ll buy it in hardcover, if it’s on sale.  If not, I’ll troll ebay for an affordable copy.
    3 – I’ll wait until it comes out in paperback.
    4 – Used bookstore (or time.
    5 – I’ll read the synopsis online.
    6 – Done.

    I quite Anita after book 8 (or was it 9?) because the Anita I loved had been replaced by a blow-up doll with ammo.  Betsy from the Undead series is down to used bookstore status – is it just me, or is every MJD heroine a carbon copy of Betsy?  I tried her mermaid series, and it read like Betsy with fins.

  13. 13
    Marilyn says:

    I love series. I love/hate the anticipation of that new book. I lost interest in Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, he was my first series heartthrob, when he started writing with other people. It just didn’t have the same voice. I was a huge fan of the Stephanie Plum series until Janet Evanovich apparently got as bored with the series as I was. I stayed through 12, hated 13 and 14 and won’t even try with 15. I love Sookie Stackhouse, I can tolerate Betsy the vampire, but my favorite series couple is Joe Pike and Elvis Cole. To me, that is a romance on so many levels. All that’s missing is the kiss. :-D

  14. 14

    I broke up with Anita Blake when it became less of a mystery/thriller story and more of a “It’s all about me, me, me!” fest for Anita and her lovers.

    I was thinking about this the other day when I was reading the latest J.D. Robb, wondering why it still captures me.  I believe it may be because while each book has a wink-and-a-nod to the reader about the characters (Eve is going to diss Somerset, Peabody’s going to admire Roarke’s butt, Roarke is going to be revealed to own another planetary system), at the core of the book is a story—a mystery, a character developing, new characters who are interesting enough to make you wonder if they’ll return, etc.

    I’m still reading Sookie Stackhouse, but I’m beginning to get to the edge of tolerance.  And I gave up on Stephanie Plum around book 10.  She just doesn’t grow, change or make real decisions and I can’t relate to her anymore.

  15. 15
    JoanneL says:

    I stop reading a series when the author stops telling a good story.

    Sometimes an author forgets—or ignores— the fact that it’s not about them or their name on the cover. It’s about wanting to know where that author is going to take the characters/story next.

    If we aren’t going anywhere new or the character(s) are going to become something else entirely then it’s time to move along to another book.

    I HATE breaking up.

  16. 16
    theo says:

    Like Charlane, my love affair with Ward’s BDB really ended with Butch’s book. I thought V’s would be so awesome because he was the baddest of the bunch and would finally get his HEA. AND it was advertised/classified as a Romance.

    By Ward herself.

    When less than half the book was devoted to V, and any kind of romance, and then she pulled a Casper at the end…I skimmed Phury’s. That was even worse, and again, advertised/classified as a Romance, also by Ward.

    I’ll stick with a series if it’s still got a strong romance factor, though I need an HEA at the end of every book or I won’t read anymore (which is a big reason why I never got into the Anita Blakes) but lie to me, change genres in the middle of a series, or make me have to visit a forum to find out who new characters are, and that’s it for me!

    need84…I don’t need 84 books in a series, kthnxbai

  17. 17
    Anj says:

    The stopping point for me does have a lot to do with emotional growth. I quit Stephanie Plum about book 7 when I realized that she wasn’t going to learn how to be a better bounty hunter… and she was going to keep jerking Joe around for another 8 books. I don’t want to read about someone who never learns or grows. I will admit Joe was the reason I read books 5-7. : )

    I quit Anita when I realized the books were going to be focused on sex and not the great mysteries/action that the first few had. I can’t even remember the number. Just when Anita lost all her sexual inhibitions, I lost her character too. The funny thing is I read the first couple fairy books (Mercy?) and the sex didn’t bother me because it was a part of the story. A little weird part, but from the beginning she let us know that was the focus.

    But usually I have a hard time quitting a series unless it really gets under my skin in a bad way.

  18. 18

    There are series I stick with even though the writing and characterization is only getting worse and worse because I’m hoping for a good idea—stuff by Harry Turtledove would be my own canonical example.

  19. 19
    Vicki says:

    I agree totally with you about series. I have given up on the BDB. Her books have become soap operas instead of compelling romances. Its sad, because the first three were the best vampire romances I have ever read. I borrowed Lover Avenged from the library and every chapter started with “back at the mansion” or some other location.

  20. 20
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I’m a little wary of open-ended series in general, as they tend to go the route of long-lived TV shows after a while and become bored with themselves and disrespectful of their audience.  I much prefer when an author states up front, “There will be X number of books in this series, and then the story arc will be complete.”

    Most of the series listed here I’ve given up for reasons already mentioned (except for Anita Blake; couldn’t even get halfway through the first one), although it sounds like I have far less patience than most of you guys; I got bored with Stephanie Plum after Book Three.  Another factor that will make me lose interest in a series is too many characters and too many plot threads left unresolved; The Dresden Files has been veering in this direction lately, but I still love the writing and characters, so I’m likely to stick with that one til the end.

  21. 21
    WendyC says:

    It drives me nuts when I have to stop reading a series but sometimes it has to be done because the story that drew me in in the first place is gone or the characters that I originally loved have morphed into unrecognisable beings.

    The Anita Blake series lost me when Anita started resembling a Mary Sue and the plot of each book became all the sex. I remember feeling intensely angry with each succesive book until I hit the point when I couldn’t get past the first few pages and ended up chucking the book at the wall. It was a big disappointment as I’d invested a lot into the series, not only financially but emotionally and timewise too.

    With the Dark Hunters and Carpathian series, I can’t pinpoint an exact book since I didn’t read them in order but it was after 4-5 books, when I couldn’t tell the characters apart and the stories started to blend into each other.

  22. 22
    Liz says:

    Usually when I give up a series, it’s because I’m bored with it, often to the point of forgetting about it entirely.  Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series was like this for me, although I reckon that’s mostly because I started reading them when I was seventeen and, well, things change as you get older.  I have to admit I was a huge Stephanie Plum fan up through book twelve.  (I’m on the Ranger side of the fence.)  Thirteen fell apart, Fourteen was unbearable, and there’s no way in hell I’ll read Fifteen.  The thing about Plum that disappointed me the most was what Evanovich did to her characters.  Morelli, a once likeable guy, became a controlling, misogynistic asswipe who was often more preoccupied with his penis than he was with anything else.  Stephanie, whom I loved, warts and all, went from bumbling to idiotic and from incompetent to just plain lazy.  The last book I read (14) had no plot at all.  Stephanie talked about Ranger’s penis, then she talked about Morelli’s.  Then Morelli talked about his penis.  And then Lula talked about Tank’s penis.  And then a pizza fell from the sky and that was the end of that.  I have never been so outraged as I was the moment I realized Evanovich must think I was a real idiot to have invested my time, money, and energy in such garbage, and that she had been right.

  23. 23
    Elaine says:

    For a while an author I liked going into hardcover seemed to be the clue that the series had jumped the shark for me.  Like others I have a progression which varies whether the book is mass market or hardcover.  The current sign that an author (publishing in hardcover) is losing his or her luster is whether I put the book on hold at the library when it is announced.  I know I officially have broken up with a series when I won’t even pick it up when I see it in RapidRead or on the new book shelves.

    With mass market books, if I don’t buy it within a week or so of it’s being released, it is a warning that the relationship is in trouble.  I tend to purchase new (to support authors) unless I am glomming backlists. 

    I have not yet figured out how purchasing for the kindle fits into this work flow.


  24. 24
    kris says:

    I broke up with Robert Jordan.  I thought he could have completed a story arc focused on fewer main characters in, say, a trilogy.  Then he could have focused a second arc on other characters, and so on.  I’m not saying he had to end his main storyline in a single trilogy—the thirteen wards and other parts wanted and need all the books.  Just that Perrin, Lan, Matt, and others deserved focus, deserved to be built on, to have their powerful and interesting stories told.  Instead, the parts I loved were constantly sidelined.  Those characters appeared just enough for me to start feeling satisfaction, and then their storyline could disappear for entire books.

    I really need for characters to evolve, too.  The first few books are often the best in a series because the main characters are still feeling each other out, and there’s a dynamic of the unknown.  In Cornwell’s Postmortem, we don’t really know at first if Marino is a big mysoginist blowhard, or if he’s worth something.  When a series gets stale, when I feel like the main characters are just going through predictable motions, I put it down.  Maybe a few books later, if a book gets a good review, I’ll pick it up and give it my “30 pages” worth of time to see if it has anything new.

  25. 25
    Jess B. says:

    I stop reading when I feel like I’ve been left outside. I’ve felt this most recently with Ward’s BDB series and Moning’s Fever series (to a much lesser degree). Basically, if you’re writing a series, and I’ve been reading that series from the beginning, I don’t appreciate feeling like I’ve missed out on some crucial information because I don’t follow your message boards.

    The angel (whose name I don’t even remember) at the end of Phury’s book was created on the message boards, and I found his appearance in the book extremely jarring. It’s really great when author’s are able to connect directly to their readers via message boards, I just wish they wouldn’t do it at the expense of the fans who don’t read the boards religiously.

    I think Moning drops similar hints about upcoming character and even Barrons’s true nature on her boards, but because this is a limited series (only 5 books), I think of them more as spoilers though I still feel like I’m missing out on parts of the series because I’m not dedicated enough.

    Still I hate quiting a series, even when it loses track of the overall world as SB Sarah mentioned because I do want to see how it turns out in the end. It’s just hard when a lot of these series have no end in sight.

  26. 26

    Ha, this was actually a topic of conversation at lunch with my mama yesterday.  My first big break-up was was Stephanie Laurens.  I read the Cynster series all through college, even started the Bastian series, and finally had to stop.  Like Sarah said, I got tired of reading the same book over and over.  No matter how unique a make character was as a secondary in a previous book, once the spotlight was on them, they seemingly lost most of those individual traits and became all alpha, all the time.  Don’t get me wrong, I like alpha, I just needed a break.  Also, I realized that if I had to read one more “he smiled internally” or “mentally blinked” I was going to punch someone.  Don’t any of these people display emotions on their faces?  Beyond the intense, gleaming eyes, of course.

  27. 27

    Er, holy typos, Batman.  That’s breaking up WITH Stephanie Laurens and a MALE character.

  28. 28
    Kate Y says:

    I usually do well with romance series where each book focuses on a different set of main characters.  I like how Eloisa James and Liz Carlyle (for ex) have books in smaller sets, but old characters keep popping up and getting spotlight time.  each book in this kind of series is focused on its individual story arc of getting to the HEA; so while you run the risk of getting repetitive each story has an equal chance of being tightly written and polished, complete in itself. 

    I also really like Stephanie Laurens, although I’ve been struggling with myself over her books lately.  as Kelly W just remarked: “No matter how unique a make character was as a secondary in a previous book, once the spotlight was on them, they seemingly lost most of those individual traits and became all alpha, all the time.”  I agree completely!  her male characters all seem to come out of the same mold and yet I can’t stop reading them!  I think for me I’m still there because the plot and relationships are individual enough that I can still deal.  I do a comforting kind of suspension of disbelief, “once upon a time in SL England…”  ^_^

    I’m wary of starting open-ended series following a single protagonist (or set of them).  I like how Elizabeth W compared them to tv shows, that “long-lived TV shows after a while .. become bored with themselves and disrespectful of their audience.”  the beginning books may be very well written, but it becomes really obvious if the drive and life of the story slacks off.  what SB Sarah said about the importance of balancing character growth with world building is very true for me.  when these two elements slack off,  they may still be fun, but nothing -happens- ! 

    this points to a more basic element of the series that is crucial to my investment, the story arc.  often with long running series they can start out with what looks like a good story arc, but it goes all to pieces when the author sacrifices tightness of story to keeping spinning it out for more and more books.  with some stories/worlds there is no end of potential; but with others there really isn’t, not the way the author set it up.

    one recent series that I praise to the skies is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books.  the books follow the relationship between a single couple, Fawn and Dag.  throughout the four books we watch Fawn and Dag experience growth and change as individuals, and we see their relationship mature and deepen.  unlike other series/tv shows/movie sequels, the writer does not throw random wrenches into the relationship to get tension and plot twist! thrills.  the tempering of the characters and forging of the relationship is strong, the world building is solid, and the minor and major story arcs wrap up into a richly satisfying conclusion at the end of bk 4.  happy time all round.

    anti22 = please god don’t drag a series with one main character out into 22 books!  of course, that’s just what happened with Christie’s Poirot and Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and by the end the authors couldn’t stand their characters.

  29. 29
    Jody W. says:

    I break up with series pretty easily since I have a limited book budget and limited time to read. There are some I follow if I find a volume on sale but the releases get so far ahead of me I lose interest. The hill just gets higher with every release. I like the releases to have a bit of a gap between books (I know other voracious readers hate that but it suits my budget!) so I can remain current. The only series I bought in hardcover was Harry Potter.

  30. 30
    sadieloree says:

    Feehan-book 9 or 10
    Kenyon -book 10
    LKHamilton-book 8 or 9
    Evanovich- book 12

    Mostly, I leave a series when it becomes repetitive – when the basic plot begins to feel recycled.
    With Feehan, it was when they started feeling like club-her-over-the-head-like-a-baby-seal-and-drag-her-home romances.
    And for Kenyon, when the romance became secondary to the subplots in the book.
    With LKH I completely agree with Anj – once the books switched their focus to Anita’s sexcapades, I no longer identified/cared about the protagonist.
    And for Evanovich- grow up and make a decision already! Agh! And really, how many cars can one person destroy?

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