11 July 2012

An Author's Prerogative


Last week, while in the hospital with my babe, I read BITTERBLUE by Kristin Cashore. I was so, so, so excited to read this book. I couldn't wait to crack the cover and dive in. When I did, I had a difficult time getting into it. Unlike GRACELING and FIRE, this book didn't start with a huge hook. The prologue was a recap of a scene eluded to in GRACELING, so it was nothing novel. After that, I found myself putting the book down a lot. Mind you, it's a long book, and I was interrupted by nurses and doctors often, but I wasn't rushing to pick it up again. In fact, if it hadn't been for my love of her other two books, I doubt I would have finished it. My reading time is precious, so when I'm not clicking with a story, I set it aside and pick up another. I know this is blasphemy to some of you, but as I said, so many books, so little time. You do the math.

Anyhoo, I couldn't connect with the main character, Bitterblue. I wasn't crazy about her love interest, and some of the supporting characters blended together. Worst of all was the long-winded plot. The book could have been condensed by 150 pages and been an entertaining, succinct read without compromising pivotal elements.

Thinking of trilogies published today, have you noticed the first book is often shorter than the following two? I've seen trilogies where book three is nearly twice as long as the first installment. Why do you think this is? Do you think authors slack off or fudge a little on the second and third books because they already have a contract? If you signed a three-book deal, would you take liberties with the final book?

58 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

Interesting, Emily. I have this one on my TBR pile from the library. I really enjoyed Graceling, and liked Fire - though I trouble getting into that one too.

I often put down a book if it doesn't hold my interest.

Lan said...

I did the same thing as you did with Bitterblue with Ashling and Fire. I just couldn't get into either of them even though they were well written. I've noticed that follow up books are usually more substantial. Look at Harry Potter! I get the feeling authors get a lot more free reign in consecutive books so they can flex their creativity.

Cristina said...

huh, I had such a different experience reading this book. I LOVED it. It was a much slower pace then her first two books, but Bitterblue became my favorite character of the trilogy, and I thought Katsa and Po were a little annoying in this one.

and that prologue? I loved the intensity in it. Loved it.

:)

Irene said...

Interesting indeed.
I still don’t know what to make of this book. I liked it, but I also skipped several pages (read: a lot) that weren’t making the story move along.
I agree with your comment on the plot, I had problems figuring out what the plot was, and also had the feeling that the end was hasty. (Like it should have had a different ending, instead of a get-together of all the main characters from the previous books).
And what about Leck? The conclusion is that he was just a really evil person. Nothing more to it?

Sarah said...

I haven't read this book so can't comment on that, but I do have a three book deal and can tell you that writing trilogies is tricky! It's always so difficult to know if folks who liked the first will like the subsequent installments as much, because the story has to evolve. I'll be thinking about this post as I dive into writing my book 3!

Rebecca Taylor said...

I've only read the first one in the series and I really enjoyed that one. Like Sarah, I can't comment on either Fire or Bitterblue. But I do sometimes wonder if there is always enough materiel to keep the initial story going with the same strength as the first. One thing I see happen frequently is switching to an alternate character's POV and passing the story on to them--sometimes it works, sometimes it just feels flat. Also, I know writers don't always have the leisure of time with the 2nd and 3rd book that they had creating the 1st. The pressure of the deadline to get the other books out the door is often looming large.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

I tend to like the first book in a series or trilogy the most because it's the one that hooked me in the first place. Three good examples of this for me are the first Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and the first in Susan Beth Pfeiffer's The Moon Books. :)

Peaches Ledwidge said...

I haven't read the book, so thanks for the review.

Suzi said...

Interesting question. I don't read a lot of trilogies or other series (still haven't started the Hunger Games 2 & 3). Off hand I can't think of any I've read right now.

For me, I think I'd like consistency throughout the trilogy. But I also believe it's the author's prerogative too. So like you, if I'm not enjoying the other books, I'd set it down too.

Jaime Morrow said...

I have to say I agree with you 100% on this. I found BITTERBLUE to be way too long, and it shouldn't have been tightened up a lot. I wonder sometimes if two or three books in they stop editing them as much. Maybe that's why third books are so big. I really didn't like the storyline, and I felt that some of it was just creepier than I really wanted to read. We knew Leck was a creep, we didn't really need the details. I found the secondary characters more interesting than Bitterblue herself. Overall, it was just a 'meh' read, which was disappointing because I loved GRACELING and FIRE.

Cassie Mae said...

I haven't read this one, so I can't offer an opinion really on it. I do think it's kinda funny in trilogies that the books get longer as the story goes on, but maybe that's because the world has exploded into something much more, and it needs that many pages to do it justice. As for me, I have a hard time hitting a word count over 60k as it is, so I doubt if I ever write a series, they'd be longer than 300 pages each, lol.

prerna pickett said...

too true, about books getting longer as the series progresses. Which does make sense because you're doing most of the set up in the first one. Hmmm...curious.

Martin Willoughby said...

I don't have enough digits to count the number of books I've put down, skipped to the end of or just gave up on. If they don't grab me somehow, I'm not going to waste time on them.

As for trilogies, it could be the author trying to make sure people who haven't read the first two get an overview of what happened.

Hope Roberson said...

I hear ya, too many books too little time! I'm learning how to put a book down when I don't fall into quickly--hard to do :) And the Hunger Games book three I swear should have been two books there's so much going on and so many different settings. Probably gonna take heat for thinking that, but I wouldn't be surprised if they break that one into two movies. Still enjoyed the story though :) Glad to hear your baby is doing better!

Deana said...

That is very good to know. I almost bought it the other day at the bookstore. Now I think I'll just get it from the library:)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't even plan on writing a trilogy! As I'm finishing up the first draft of the third book, it looks like mine will all clock in at about the same word count.

Suze said...

'My reading time is precious, so when I'm not clicking with a story, I set it aside and pick up another.'

I did that just this week with not one but two novels. I read 'Age of Miracles' in one night. I later picked up my first Jennifer Weiner novel and was very disillusioned when a narrator drawn with great promise went and did something which seemed completely out of character by the end of the third chapter. I felt Weiner had taken this very unique potential and just tossed it the way of a knee-jerk amorality. It didn't ring true for me, at all, and I took it back to the bookstore within hours.

The other book, Little Century, I'm going to give another chance. It's just reading in a very plodding manner but I really want it to redeem itself. At the moment, though, I went back to a non-fiction popular science book. I'm craving excellent fiction, though.

Amanda Olivieri said...

I hate when I can't connect to a book in a series :( So disappointing, especially if you love the first book(s). I've actually heard all good things about these books though. You might be the first not-stellar review I've heard! They're all waiting patiently on my shelf. Can't wait to read them!

Hart Johnson said...

This definitely happens. I think with anything traditionally published, part of this is because publishers know to hook readers to a new series, it HAS to be tight, but later books, they trust the author's name recognition. I think it's a good lesson for us as authors--the PUBLISHER isn't going to do their job as carefully, which means more of quality control falls to US.

E. Arroyo said...

I've never read this one but I have seen the books following the first in a series get longer and longer. A great thought as I write book two of my series. =)

Lara Schiffbauer said...

Good questions, and I don't have an answer. I find it hard to do trilogies anymore, because my attention span is minimal. I like series books because they have a new story each time, but familiar, likeable characters.

I drop books left and right, which is why I like the library. If I pay for a book, I'm practically obligated to read it because I spent money for it. :)

The Golden Eagle said...

I actually blazed through this book faster than I did both Graceling and Fire; the plot and characters agreed with me, though it was slower than Cashore's previous works.

I've noticed that about some trilogies as well. I think it does partially have to do with the author taking liberties since they have a contract--which I can sort of see, since writers are forced to cut out so much at the onset.

Emily R. King said...

Andrea, FIRE was my favorite of the three. But that's the great thing about writing and reading; it's so subjective. There's something for everyone.

Irene, the ending confused me. Mostly I found it anticlimactic.

Madeline, me too! The first book is like a first love. You never forget it. :)

Peaches, I hope I haven't dissuaded you from reading it. Remember, this is just my opinion.

Jaime, I'm sorry to hear you had a similar reading experience. I was sorta hoping it was only me who didn't favor the book.

Prerna, very curious. :)

Martin, life's too short to read a bad book. That should go on a plaque so I can hang it on my wall!

Suze, excellent fiction can be hard to find. I hope you find a goodie to satiate your craving soon.

Lara, I don't read a lot of series books. I should!

Leigh Covington said...

Dang it! I just finished Graceling and I'm starting Fire. So I'm disappointed to hear this about Bitterblue. Personally, I want all 3 books in my trilogy to be awesome. It's like the 4th book of the Inheritance series. It's NEVER-ENDING! That book could be condensed by 500 pages and I'd love it! *Sigh*

Alleged Author said...

I've definitely had that problem before. Even after I push through those types of books, it's hard me to think fondly of them (no matter how good the ending is).

Donna K. Weaver said...

Yeah, that can be a huge problem. Ugh Worrisome as I consider a couple of trilogies. lol

Leslie S. Rose said...

I recently read Graceling and was NUTS about it. I couldn't wait for Bitterblue, and then...I agree with you it was tough to get into it. I so love Po, Katsa, Raffin, and the world. Once they entered the story I was all in, but Bitterblue didn't grab me the way Graceling did. There are some very wonderful brushstrokes and new interesting characters in it, but over all it fell a tad short for me. I haven't read Fire yet.

elizabeth seckman said...

Or do you think the writer gets enough clout to ignore the editor?

Jade Hart said...

I'm a firm believer that trilogies are a money making ploy. I mean, sure, some books do need three books, or more, to get the story complete. But it seems like the market is overloaded with trilogies right now. Might just be me :) And I've never heard of this series, but I might give it a go. :) My first book will have a sequel, but I doubt 'll stretch it to 3.

Iain said...

I think that they get longer because there's more threads to tie in from the earlier books.
Seeds that are sewn in the first book grow and blossom in the third one alongside the main thread of the new book's plot.
Well, that's how I plan to write my follow on books. :o)

Tyrean Martinson said...

I've read several trilogies, and series books, and I usually love them except when the third book drags or just doesn't fit with the rest of the series.
I hope someday that I'll stick with tight writing throughout a trilogy or two.
Some of my favorite authors actually improve as their series continues.

My family and I got hooked on Jon Flanagan's Ranger Apprentice series, and I have to say that his writing definitely improved as he wrote the series.

The first four books are fun to read quickly but there are mistakes in them that sometimes jar me out of the plot, but then the next four books just step it up a notch in writing and plot. They aren't longer, just better.

That's how I hope to write as an author . . .always getting better.

Marcia said...

I think later books in a series, or even later standalones, are longer because the market for them or for that author has been proven. Debut books need to stay within certain salable lengths. Once you've got an audience, the publisher will take a chance on a bigger tome. Also, everybody's on deadline with later books, more so than the first.

ilima said...

I think they are longer probably for all the suggestions you gave. Plus as long as the book will sell (because the first one did well), the publishers let the author do what they want, more. IDK. Haven't read Bitterblue yet, but it's sitting on my shelf.

Phil Siegel said...

I've definitely noticed that with big series like Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Those finals books were HUGE. I think at that point, the writer nearly has carte blanche to write however much they want. The editors let it slide because they know people will still read it no matter if it's long.

Mark Noce said...

I think you raise some good points that apply to all fiction. A reader's time is precious and it's best to think about that when putting ink to the page...so to speak:)

Melodie Wright said...

Totally agree w/ your review, Emily. I had the same reaction. Boo-hoo - SO wanted to like this book. Cashore took three years to write it...which make me think she should've just left it as a two-part series and moved on after Fire. Such are the pitfalls of signing multi-book contracts.

Nick Wilford said...

I absolutely agree on not sticking with a book that doesn't grab you - life's too short!

With trilogies, I agree with points made that the author is maybe given more leeway with length because they have already proven themselves to be a saleable quantity... I don't have any problem with a long book if the quality is maintained throughout, though.

Mark Murata said...

With a recent science fiction urban fantasy, the first novel was great, the second was good, and I couldn't force myself to finish the third. Do I think this was laziness on the part of the writer, once the first one was successful? Yes.
In other cases, a writer has to undo the lovely bow that was tied together at the end of the first volume, in order to get the characters in trouble for a second volume.
Then there are the ones that just keep getting better, like my favorite author John Hemry, who also writes as Jack Campbell.

Jay Noel said...

I'm wondering if that first book gets more of a thorough editing, and lots of cutting happens.

With subsequent books, maybe publishers allow writers to take more liberty with their writing.

Also, sometimes a trilogy wasn't originally imagined as a three part installment. I've heard of authors having to jam 4 or 5 volumes into a trilogy.

Trisha said...

Bummer you were disappointed! I have a series to read (longer than a trilogy) whose first book is tiny, and the latest book is probably about 5x as big. I'm not sure what to expect from it, but it is a renowned Australian fantasy series, so...yeah.

I am reading a book right now whose protag annoys me with his incessant "duh!" questions - I keep wanting to smack him. We'll see how I go with it ;)

Lynda R Young said...

I also loved Graceling but couldn't get into Bitterblue. I skipped Fire. I guess I should check that one out.

As for longer books as the series progresses, I've heard readers say they feel they don't get their money's worth if books 2 and 3 aren't longer. I personally don't get that, though.

Tara Tyler said...

totally agree with not wasting time on a book i cant get into!
thanks for the honest review!
i will be finally finishing two books this weekend and review them forthwith!

ps, i have something for you later today =)

Brinda said...

i haven't read or heard of this series. This topic is sort of one I discussed with a friend of mine this week. She would ask my opinion about the first book in a trilogy and my answer was, "It was okay, but I'm not interested enough to read books two and three." It's funny how I qualified several book opnions with that statement.

Lisa Regan said...

Great questions. For me, in most trilogies, the third book usually feels rushed and almost unedited sometimes. Like neither authors nor editors had or felt like taking the time to make it as good as the first two. I always expect to be very disappointed in the third book. I do not like this at all. :)

Madeleine Maddocks said...

I can so relate to your comment: My reading time is precious, so when I'm not clicking with a story, I set it aside and pick up another. Sometimes I'm just not in the right frame of mind for a particular auhtor or theme.
It takes great planning to esnure that the final book in a series is as good as the first, such as Harry Potter. JKRowling took 7 years of research for her best seller. It obviously paid dividends.

Medeia Sharif said...

I haven't read this series and I've only finished a few series. I have noticed that sometimes the 2nd, 3rd, or both books are bigger than the 1st. I imagine it's because the author is adding new characters and plotlines, while also putting things to a close. Other times I notice excessive backstory of book 1 in the later books.

Donna Hole said...

It is frustrating to be disappointed by a book you waited so long to read. I have experience with that :)

Most of my favorite authors produce about the same word count for all the books - exception JK Rowling. But sometimes I think there could be more emphasis in the new story plot and give up some of the recap of prior books. By the time a reader gets to book three in a series, they know the story; and if it is the first book the reader has picked up, then they need to go back and read the prior books to catch up.

Have a good weekend Emily. Hope everything is fine with your Babe.

..........dhole

Jeff King said...

great post, thx.

Jaye Robin Brown said...

Finally responded to the Booker award, well soon, it's in process. :))

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Trilogies are hard. The author has to ensure the readers are happy with the end of the book. No book is perfect and I do think authors sometimes slack off on the last book. Bitterblue has a great cover.

Emily R. King said...

Jade, they could be a money-making ploy. Not all books should be trilogies.

Marcia, I agree about deadlines, and authors proving themselves, but that doesn't mean they have to write a trilogy. Lots of authors write stand alone novels.

Ilima, I hope you like Bitterblue more than I did!

Phil, carte blanche would be nice as a writer, wouldn't it? :)

Mark, agreed! Time is valuable to all of us.

Trisha, I hope you like that book you spoke about. Let me know what you think!

Tara, I look forward to reading your reviews!

Sheena-kay, I think the temptation to slack off on the final book must be huge!

Jolene Perry said...

I think that when book 3 comes around, the author gets to talk about all the things in the world they've created that they couldn't go into before, thinking everyone will be ecstatic to get the long version of the information, when that's rarely the case...

tfwalsh said...

A shame it wasn't as good as her other books. I really enjoyed Graceling.

Kimberly Gabriel said...

I'm having a hard time getting into my recent read too - like you said, reading time is precious. I'm trying hard to get through it instead of putting it down and picking up Lauren Oliver's Delirium. I haven't read Graceling yet - I have to put it on my list!

David P. King said...

Excellent topic! I've noticed too that the third book of a series these days tend to have less steam then the previous ones. Any number of reasons why this is, and I hope to not follow this trend. :)

Kathryn Purdie said...

In the end, I'd say I really enjoyed Bitterblue. It took a long time to get fully into, I agree with that. But once I was in, I was in deep. In fact, I actually cried when Bitterblue had that dream about her mother and Thiel (and I haven't cried while reading in over twenty years). It was a very, very character-driven fantasy, and Bitterblue doesn't have any special powers like Katsa or Fire did, so that also makes her more blaah, I suppose, for people expecting more. And I do agree the love interest wasn't as gripping as Po or Brigan. But this book took the author four years to write, she completely started over again at the advice of her editor, and she cut a ton from the novel to even get it to this length. I thought the idea of salvaging a kingdom from an abusive king was a very tough one, and Kristin Cashore did a fine job. Having said all of that, I think it could've been 2/3 the length it was. :-)

J.L. Campbell said...

I like the cover on Bitterblue. To answer your question, I want each of the books to be the best possible to keep readers satisfied. The only liberty I'd take with the last book is to make it so good, the reader wants to pick up something I've written right afterwards.

Hope baby is doing well.

Christa Desir said...

I actually think the length difference in book 1 vs. books 2 & 3 has to do with the fact that authors initially have to be able to sell book 1 as a stand alone (if need be) so there's that. Also, I think that if book 1 is successful, editors don't ask them to pull back or cut as much in book 2+. By the end of the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling was barely content edited. I guess that's what happens with sure things.

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