Authors and Readers Throw Their ‘Wait’ Around

One great but also frustrating aspect of loving literature is anticipating the next novel in a series. Or anticipating an author’s next standalone novel. Or, back in the golden age of serialization, anticipating the next chapters of a novel.

After finishing the eighth Outlander book during a 2020 binge-reading of Diana Gabaldon’s riveting series, I wanted so badly to continue with the ninth novel. Unfortunately, Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone wasn’t out yet (it might appear later this year). I don’t blame Ms. Gabaldon — authors work at their own pace, she’s very busy with various projects, and her Outlander romance/adventure novels are long and carefully researched and thus take years to write. Plus I was lucky in a way to discover the series late — meaning I could read the first eight books (published between 1991 and 2014) without waiting for the next one to be written.

(Pictured above are Caitriona Balfe as time-traveling 20th-century English physician Claire and Sam Heughan as 18th-century Scottish warrior Jamie in the popular Outlander TV series.)

There’s also plenty of anticipation, but more publishing-date certainty, for the addictive Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child (now being co-written by his brother Andrew). A new Reacher thriller arrives every fall like Halloween — with both having treat appeal. Book number 26 expected this autumn.

Of course, probably the most famous modern book-anticipation phenomenon involved J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels published from 1997 to 2007. I and my 1989-born older daughter — like millions of others — COULD NOT WAIT for each new installment to appear. As many people reading this will remember, quite a few bookstores even opened at midnight the day a new Potter novel was first available.

We also look forward to new stand-alone novels written by authors we love. Depending on how prolific the writer is, the wait might be long or short. We know that someone like Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates will churn out one novel after another, so there’s not TOO much waiting. But in other cases…

Take Marilynne Robinson. I loved her first novel, Housekeeping, which came out in 1980. Then there wasn’t another, Gilead, until 2004 — nearly a quarter-century later. Unfortunately, I found Gilead rather boring, though it somehow won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Then Robinson wrote three more novels between 2008 and 2020. Didn’t see THAT coming.

There are also authors known for long, often-literary works that take many years to write. For example, Donna Tartt has authored only one stand-alone novel per decade — in 1992, 2002, and 2013; the third the excellent The Goldfinch. Could there be a fourth novel in two or three years? Maybe. Hope so.

Then there’s the serialization phenomenon most associated with the 19th century, as readers eagerly anticipated the next installment from novelists such as Charles Dickens. Even excitedly meeting ships as new chapters arrived. And if readers suddenly became less eager, authors could adjust. A famous instance of that was when Dickens, after about a half-dozen years of enormous popularity, found interest lagging in his being-serialized Martin Chuzzlewit novel. So the English author changed the plot on a dime to send Martin to the United States, and 1840s readers were hooked once again.

Which authors, series, and novels have you greatly anticipated?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about teachers finally getting the okay for COVID vaccinations, and about new luxury apartments in my town even though it desperately needs more affordable housing — is here.

101 thoughts on “Authors and Readers Throw Their ‘Wait’ Around

  1. Dave, last year with coronovirus gave me the perfect time to read all the Outlander books. I found once I began, I wanted to consume them all. I had watched some of the series , but the new material was very fun for me. I am waiting on her new book. I borrowed all the books from my daughter and Go Tell The Bees Im Gone is not out that I know of but I will check it out this very day. I have been watching Men in Kilts with Sam Heughen and Graham McTavish from Outlander. It is a great series with beautiful scenery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, janierhea!

      I guess we both made “Outlander” our pandemic-time reading. ๐Ÿ™‚ Like you, I couldn’t stop reading the books — not reading a different author for several months. The “Outlander” novels are certainly not short, but so compelling. I also can’t wait until “Bees” comes out! I haven’t watched the TV series, but have seen clips on YouTube. It looks excellent.

      Nice to hear that the “Men in Kilts” series is very good, too!

      Like

  2. Most of the series reading I have done was written well before my addiction was in full flower. But one series, the Hamish Macbeth series by MC Beaton, I determined to read, but found over the years the quality had fallen off so precipitously that by the time I had but the latest in series to read, I had long since cared to purchase it. So I’ve read all but that one, having purchased the rest en masse– a dozen here, a dozen there.

    I did find myself anxious over Lee Childs’ output, hoping he might make more than one Reacher annually in the years I needed to pass time in airports, at a rate higher than one per.

    (And for trivia completists, it was Dickens’ “The Old Curiosity Shop” that had American readers waiting on the docks so as to learn from British sailors whether or not Little Nell was dead.

    Quite often, the 19th century got its novels in serialized form– I have seen literary magazines in which a James Fenimore Cooper novel was published in quarterly installments. Certainly Dickens published this way. Important to remember, in the context of a whole book: it’s not the way its first generation of readers read it, and there was no skipping ahead, as ‘ahead’ often lay in the unmapped future, once the author had written it.
    And it explains why there are so many little climaxes and expectations set up at the ends of chapters or set up at the end of every few. Gave readers something to wonder about, and something to look forward to. Heart-stopping cliffhangers would probably be less numerous had it not been for the dictates and publishing conventions of serialized fiction.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      Yes, the anticipation for the next book in a series can get less enthusiastic if the quality goes down — as it does more than once in a while.

      There was one year (2010) in which Lee Child churned out two Reacher novels, but one a year seems about as productive as readers could hope for. (And I thought the quality of the most recent one, the first co-written with Andrew Child, was quite good.)

      Ah, the Little Nell situation! Talk about engaged readers!

      And serialization definitely affected the content of novels, as you described so well.

      Like

  3. Yes. Perhaps the logic, though I’ve not a fan to my name, is keep writing? Write. I think it is easy to become distracted in a thousand ways with a project that will prevent my progress. The only thing that produces more writing is more writing, for me.
    Then I thought of a second part of this piece you wrote. The gaps that some writers seem to have between their quality works. Perhaps that time is the quality aspect. Perhaps there are other factors. Either way, if they aren’t writing it, then the writer should be living it. I believe old Benny Franklin said, “write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tyler! Some very wise words there. Yes, writing and writing more is what many authors do/should do, but some just have more of a prolific gene for that than others. Whatever pace works for a specific writer! And, yes, living life fully can be fodder for future writing — in addition to being a good thing in of itself. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  4. When Anne Rice’s “Interview With A Vampire” first hit the bookstores I absolutely loved it. Yet little did I know it would become a series. Unfortunately, during the interim, I saw the movie, and just couldn’t get past Cruise and Pitts as vampires or, in my opinion, their horrible acting either. Consequently, I never read the second book or any of the others which followed. Ya’ know the reader imagines what the character will be like, and when someone else’s imagination gets in the way of your own it can have tragic results. Great post Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Anonymous! I totally hear you. While some screen adaptations of novels are welcome, if the actors don’t seem right for the part it can mar what we “see” in our imagination and affect our enjoyment of subsequent novels.

      Speaking of Tom Cruise, he also wasn’t right as the star of the Jack Reacher movies.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An interesting article, Dave. I don’t generally read series. It’s not a particularly planned thing, I just seem to gravitate more towards stand alone books. I did read Harry Potter and I do remember the fanfare when the 6th and 7th books came out. I was a bit disappointed in the last book and it rather spoiled the series for me. Endings are very difficult and I have felt rather let down a few times in my reading life, including with the outcome of IT by Stephen King which really disappointed me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Robbie!

      I also read mostly standalone books, with a few series in the mix over the years.

      I thought the last “Harry Potter” book was very good, but I agree it could have been better. It dragged in spots until the riveting closing chapters. (Followed by the clunky epilogue of the characters in the future.) Endings can indeed be difficult, though of course there are many stellar ones out there: in “A Tale of Two Cities,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s more recent “So Much for That,” etc.

      “It” is a Stephen King novel I have not read. Sorry the conclusion wasn’t better.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dave, I skipped chunks of the last Harry Potter because I thought it dragged. I felt the author added a lot of unnecessary ‘words’ to that book. It is the large piece where Hermoine, Harry and Ron are on the run all of the countryside that I am referring to. The rest of the book was good and Harry’s experience in the waiting room was fascinating and chilling. As for it, I may be the only person in the world who thinks that giant spiders are overrated, but I would expect a sophisticated alien presence to find a more appropriate way of presenting itself to the world.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I totally agree, Robbie — the long part with the trio on the run could indeed have been condensed. Maybe J.K. Rowling was already envisioning that seventh book as the two movies it would become? And I like your take on those giant spiders. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

  6. Great pun, Dave! When I discovered Gabaldon’s Outlander series it was during a publishing pause between books 5 and 6; the wait became excruciating. I enjoy stand alones too. However if I really like a particular author, I’ll shamelessly read their entire oeuvre, unless I can’t find a title. The fun thing about novel series is the immersion factor; it’s almost like binge watching a favorite television series but better. With someone like Dostoevsky or Dickens, spreading them out over time is necessary. They’re so dense. Winston Graham’s Poldark historical fiction series is fantastic. They’re not just romantic fiction as portrayed in the television adaptation, which is very abridged. Graham wrote these 12 novels between 1945 and 2002! There was a 20 year hiatus between books 4 and 5. Talk about a wait back then, 1953-1973, but lucky for me…there was none!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo!

      I can imagine how excruciating the wait must have been between “Outlander” books 5 and 6! Diana Gabaldon definitely leaves readers wanting more after each novel.

      Like you, I’ve read most of the canons of some authors during a short time period. That immersion factor you cite can be really exciting and satisfying. I’ve done it for George Eliot (which I know you’ve also been doing), Margaret Atwood, Willa Cather, Colette, Sinclair Lewis, Carson McCullers, Edith Wharton, and Emile Zola — to name just a few.

      Wow! That 20-year “Poldark” gap — so interesting! I wonder why that happened. Many of Winston Grahamโ€™s fans must have indeed been distraught!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I can remember awaiting delivery of the latest ‘Harry Potter’ – often timed to arrive as I was due to go on holiday somewhere, which meant there were a heart-stopping couple of days wondering if it would turn up in time!
    Books that I read and really enjoyed as part of a trilogy have been ‘Lord of the Rings’ (my father’s copy of the three book collection, sits in a bookcase looking rather battle worn). Another was Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake – but both collections published somewhat before my time so I had them all to hand.
    Over the years I haven’t really got into a particular series of books (apart from HP), although I don’t mind dipping in an out occasionally – especially Scandi crime like Wallander. My husband is a big Jack Reacher fan and also of Bernard Cornwell’s Uhtred books, but I’ve not really dabbled. I just hear about the latest battle scenes and how amazing the research is.
    I did try ‘Game of Thrones’ but got half way through the first book and decided to stick with the TV series. I didn’t NOT enjoy it, it just wasn’t gripping me in the way I thought it might.
    Interesting what you said about Chuzzelwit. I knew there was something about America in it, but I thought (and my information is based purely on fictitious TV adaptations, so obviously I’ve done my research here ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) that Dickens had upset the Americans by being somewhat derogatory after a recent trip there.
    It takes some commitment to stick with characters over the decades. Your post made me wonder if an author would go back and change anything about their earlier novels. I feel that when Rowling got to book 3 she was writing with a screenplay in mind (rather more so than the first two) as I think her writing becomes more ‘filmic’ in nature although, I understand, she had the entire series mapped out before she put pen to paper.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for the excellent, wide-ranging comment, Sarah!

      The “Harry Potter” series was definitely addictive, as was “The Lord of the Rings.” My paperbacks of Tolkien’s trilogy are also well-worn, like your father’s, from rereading. Great point about Rowling making the “HP” books more filmic as the series unfolded! Longer books, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I felt the same way as you about The Song of Ice and Fire series. Liked it, but not enough to spend the many weeks with it that would have been required after the first novel.

      As for authors wanting to change earlier novels, I think many would — at least a little. And some have done that when new editions came out. For instance, I believe Dickens toned down some of the perceived anti-Semitism in a later edition of “Oliver Twist.”

      My sense is that Dickens had very mixed feelings about the United States. He did return in the 1860s! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • I keep reading comments about Dickens’ antisemitism. Certainly in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ he wasn’t one for holding back about some of his thoughts on other nationalities so I can imagine that these views may well pervade his novels. How interesting that he was either insightful enough or had the good guidance of a publisher/editor to tone it down!
        Dickens, generally, is quite a curious creature. Not sure he was very likeable – which I appreciate is perhaps not a popular opinion to have, bearing in mind he’s a National Treasure. And maybe he did a bit of grovelling or hoped that people had short memories as I’m sure that his visits to America were very bountiful for him!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think Dickens was stung by the criticism of “Oliver Twist.” From what I’ve read, I don’t see him as a raging anti-Semite by any means but someone who had sort of the casual bigotry toward various groups of many 19th-century novelists (and 19th-century people in general). As far as anti-Semitism goes, George Eliot was a major exception for authors of her time; her “Daniel Deronda” had several admirable, three-dimensional Jewish characters and was beloved by Jewish readers back then.

          Dickens indeed seems kind of mixed as a person. There was also his unfortunate treatment of his wife when he had his longtime affair.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Really interesting to hear about George Eliot and her well received characterisations! ‘Daniel Deronda’ Another book that sits on a shelf!
            Dickens didn’t have a great deal of respect for women really did he. There was a very good BBC4 programme on at Christmas that looked at the Dickens’ marriage through the eyes of his wife. Quite an eye-opener!

            Liked by 2 people

  8. Unfortunately I can’t contribute any proposals as far as series are concerned, because I propably don’t have the necessary perseverance! But at the moment I am also reading Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, which you recommended me an I very much enjoy it! Thank you, Dave, for all your proposals!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I didnโ€™t watch Downton Abbey until the series finished, but I digress. Last year I read 44 Scotland Street, which is an episodic novel by Alexander McCall Smith, the author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. We had planned a visit to Scotland and when that was curtailed by the travel restrictions, I headed to 44 Scotland street with AMS. The next books, Expresso Tales had a 2021 finish. The story was first published as a serial in The Scotsman, starting 26 January 2004. The 14th book just came out in 2020. I has been a delight to follow the stories of people who live at 44 Scotland Street. Check out this brief video of Alexander McCall Smith visiting locations that are in his books. https://youtu.be/G_Hzx1igRi4

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother!

      I’ve never read anything by Alexander McCall Smith, but I should! Sounds like you’re hooked on his work, and I’m sure there’s a very good reason for that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I thoroughly enjoyed the video you linked to; AMS is a really avuncular presence, and it’s wonderful that he uses some real people and real commercial establishments in his books.

      Waiting to watch a TV series until it has ended makes a lot of sense. Immediate gratification rather than waiting for new installments!

      Liked by 4 people

      • I read several of Alexander McCall Smith books and Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin and continued with all of his other books. I will go back to more of Smithโ€™s books in the future. I find Diane Gabaldonโ€™s books very long and at times tedious, still enjoy reading them. Have about 5 more to go. At this moment I am reading Natchez Burning.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Claire!

          There are indeed some tedious times in the “Outlander” series, though I find them occurring not too often for such long books. The time-travel premise of the series, the vivid characters, the romantic elements, the danger, the well-researched history, etc., keep things moving for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Like

    • Downton Abbey is fabulous! My husband marvels at my capacity for watching an entire TV series (and movie) where nothing happens – according to him. He just doesn’t understand the finer details of running a big estate. Another Julian Fellowes series, which is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it, is another period drama called ‘Belgravia’ which is set in the early 1800s. Entirely predictable, beautifully filmed and, as you’d expect from him, has excellent detail!

      Liked by 2 people

        • I have a love/hate relationship with the TV I must admit. I often resent it for the time it drains from my life, but then I find it a joy when gems are discovered. I do look forward to the summer though when I don’t feel quite so compelled to be inside and I can make use of the garden instead!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I hear you, Sarah. I used to watch more TV, but lessened that for several reasons — including needing time to read enough fiction to feed this blog. ๐Ÿ™‚ But there is indeed some great stuff on TV.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, this must be a full time job in itself! But we, of course, benefit from your vast knowledge of literature out there…so put that remote control down! ๐Ÿ˜†
              Your comments above about Outlander have me interested. Iโ€™ve not seen the tv series but wonder if the books might make for good holiday reading…if weโ€™re ever allowed to do that again!!

              Liked by 1 person

              • LOL! ๐Ÿ˜‚ Thank you, Sarah, for the kind words and humor! This blog is not a full-time job, but a significant part-time pastime. And I don’t begrudge a minute of it. I love reading novels, writing about them, seeing comments about them, and having conversations about them. ๐Ÿ™‚

                The “Outlander” series is good reading, I think, during holidays and non-holidays, but of course people differ in what they like to read. I love time-travel novels so much that a book or series with that element would have to be pretty bad for me not to like it, and Diana Gabaldon’s series is excellent. (Her books encompass much more than time travel, but it’s a key and riveting element.)

                Liked by 1 person

                • I shall bear in mind your very good point that books aren’t just for holidays! I can’t say I’ve read many time travel books…if any come to think about it…well, I’ve just downloaded the first Outlander. I may be some time as I am still yet to finish ‘Crime and Punishment’…

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • The first “Outlander” book really goes into high gear a few chapters in. ๐Ÿ™‚

                    Would love to hear what you think of “Crime and Punishment” when you’re finished with it! Perhaps you’ll be writing about it on your blog? I’ll be heading over there as soon as I can to read your new “India” post.

                    Like

                    • ‘Outlander’ may have just made its way to the top of the TBR pile!

                      And yes, will definitely be writing about ‘Crime & Punishment’ at some point – so much to say about it! In short though I’m really enjoying it.

                      And thanks for heading over – hope you enjoy the new post!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • To say “Crime and Punishment” is a compelling read would be an understatement. What a novel!

                      If you do read “Outlander,” Sarah, I’d love to hear what you think of that, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

                      Liked by 1 person

  10. The problem with writing, that kind tends to become an addiction for many, is that it takes up a lot of one’s reading time. I can remember years ago, before I got in to serious writing, I could read thru the night, being awakened at 4 or 5 in the AM when the book fell out of my hand and hit the floor with a wake up clatter.
    As to the Outlander series, which was indeed great, though ever so lengthy, that of which I eventually found a bit too long. Maybe my lack of indefinite attention span, is the reason poetry became my life blood, at least occupation wise. Despite this, and since I learned to read at a very young age, there has never been a day in my life, that I haven’t had a book in reading progress, nor can I get to sleep without reading until my eyes close, despite fighting to keep reading. Thanks Dave, as Dave Astor on Literature, once again, always an interesting read!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Jean-Jacques!

      I hear you — addictive fiction can indeed take a lot of time (including middle-of-the-night/falling-asleep-reading/drop-the-book time ๐Ÿ™‚ ) and perhaps make it harder to read as wide a variety of material as we might like.

      Re the “Outlander” books, after reading the first one in 2019, I read the second through eighth ones consecutively from part of spring 2020 through part of summer 2020. Enjoyed the experience immensely, even as I did feel some guilt not reading any other fiction during those months. “Ever so lengthy” indeed! Poetry — or at least short poetry, like your great verse — can be the antithesis of that.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Thank you, Shehanne! Nothing wrong with having a preference for standalone novels. I read more standalone novels than series myself. And SO true that “flexibility is hugely important in an author,” as was the case with “Martin Chuzzlewit.” One aspect of that, as you’ve mentioned with your own novel writing, is being willing to let a book and its characters go where they will. Seems to be a better way than an author adhering to a rigid outline.

        Liked by 3 people

        • Oh I do think flexibility, the ability to stand back from work and say, ‘ okay…..I am open to suggestions here’ of the book or the public’ taste, is very important, as opposed to sticking to something cos the plot chart says so.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I have found the same Liz. Sometimes too I’ve found that success can mean burnout. I’ve seen folks now getting a contract on a book and being asked to write three, and the result was that one book told in three because there’s also this immense pressure to churn these books out. Way back I used to like Mary Higgins Clark, her early books anyway cos these were different but then she got successful and it felt that they just became a case of changing the names. so I stopped buying. I also guess I’ve never been much one for a series. I mean I never thought about it before but I’m struggling to think of a set of books I’ve read that way. Probably Little Women and all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Great conversation, Shehanne and Liz!

          I agree, Shehanne, that public taste/reader preferences can at times be helpful and positive for novelists. Of course, authors ultimately should write what they want to write, but at least some notice should be taken of the audience and “the market.”

          And I hear you both that series can eventually disappoint. The author might get a little bored or repetitive. (Liz, I’ve never read Robert B. Parker.) One series, or perhaps more a set of sequels, that comes to mind is L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” books. Two or three of the various sequels were great, but still didn’t match the first book — or Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle” standalone novel published 18 years after the first “Anne.”

          Liked by 1 person

  11. I will have to get around to the Outlander series one of these days. So many people recommend it, but their hefty size scares me off. At least I won’t have to wait for each book to be released. Great post, Dave!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Betsy! The size of the “Outlander” novels is indeed scary.

      My original intent was to just read the first novel, which is the shortest (albeit not short). But I got totally hooked to the point where the 1,000-plus-page lengths of several of the subsequent novels didn’t faze me as much as it should have. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  12. I can’t believe you didn’t include the greatest “waiter” of them all, George R R Martin. Many of his readers have sadly come to the conclusion that The Winds of Winter is never going to appear.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, The Reading Bug! Great mention! I’ve only read the first book in George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire series, so I didn’t feel qualified to discuss it. I liked that first “A Game of Thrones” book a lot, but not quite enough to continue on to the next books. I hope Martin finishes “The Winds of Winter.” I wonder if there’s some burnout involved? That series can’t be easy to write!

      Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, rajatnarula! Excellent point! It has to be especially gratifying for an author to have her or his next work desired so much when there are so many other things readers can do with their time. I guess great storytellers hook readers. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 3 people

  13. One of the things that has both surprised and thrilled me is the number of readers of my first book who are begging for a sequel. My first thought was, โ€œhuh?โ€ and my second was, โ€œIโ€™d better start writing!โ€ Iโ€™m about 45,000 words in.

    Liked by 3 people

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