The title of this post is slightly sensationalist, but in a literary sense it’s actually very true. I mentioned recently that I’ve finally started reading A Game Of Thrones, which is the first book in George R R Martin’s A Song Of Ice & Fire series. This comment lead to a few discussions in various places that has subsequently lead to this post.
When I mentioned that I was finally getting around to reading A Game Of Thrones a lot of people assumed that also meant that I’d only just bought it. Especially when, in answer to the question, “Why has it taken you this long?” I replied, “I was waiting for the complete story before I started.”
A lot of people do this, and fair enough. When you notice a big old fantasy series that you think catches your interest, it’s reasonable to assume there’s going to be a whole story told. Often these days a writer will sell a trilogy (or bigger series) to a publisher and that publisher will set a publication schedule to release those books over a relatively short period of time, maybe even inside a year.
However, if no one buys the first book, it’s very possible that books two and three will never see the light of day. An author survives on their sales figures. If they perform poorly at the checkout, the publisher will discard them like a greasy burger wrapper and think nothing of it. That’s business. It’s fucked, but it’s business.
Going back to Martin’s series, when people started telling me how awesome it was, I started buying the books. They’ve sat on my shelf for ages. I wasn’t going to read them until there was a whole finished set, but I bought them to ensure that Martin showed solid sales figures and stayed in favour with his publisher. (I ended up starting to read recently because of the forthcoming TV series, and I wanted to have read the books first).
Obviously someone like George R R Martin doesn’t need my help, but the same thing applies across the board. For example, I was on a panel recently with Paul Cornell and he talked about one of his comic series being cancelled. There was conjecture that the series was cancelled because so many people these days wait for the trade, rather than collect the individual comic books. If no one buys the comic books, the story is considered a failure and there’ll be no trade.
The same applies to big series of novels. If no one buys the first book, the author/story will be considered a failure and there’ll be no release of the rest of the books. The people that read the first one are denied closure, the people that were waiting for a whole series have missed the opportunity and, most importantly, the author is dropped and never has the chance to expand their career. This is a very sad result of market forces and it’s actually a false result.
So if you see the first book of a series that you think you might like, buy it! You don’t have to read it right away – consider it an investment in your reading future. Buy the subsequent volumes as they come out and you’ll end up with a solid reading experience once the whole series is finished. And you’ve done your bit to ensure the success of an author and their literary vision. Hopefully you’ve had a good read too. If you put off buying that first book, you could have actively participated in the failure of an otherwise awesome story and potentially stellar career. No pressure.