Too Many Trilogies

by flickr user erin_everlasting
by flickr user erin_everlasting
I like a good YA book. Obviously. And I love and hate the attention YA gets lately from the general public — love it when people acknowledge that a lot of the most creative and experimental writing and a lot of the most progressive things (more and more LGBT teens who do more than just come out, for example) are in YA; hate it when people think that YA stands for “any book published for a person who can’t vote that isn’t a picturebook” or when they think that all YA is Twilight (and that fiction for adults doesn’t have equivalent books of varying literary quality).

But because of the greater attention given to YA, I feel extra bad about a trend that I think tends to lower the literary quality of so many potentially wonderful books. There are just too many trilogies (or duologies, or quartets) in YA.

Tell me I’m not the only one who finds this frustrating. You’re reading a new book, probably fantasy or science fiction, and for 250 pages, all is well. Then there are 50 pages of gibberish, nonsense, or a bunch of brand new characters and plot twists when what should be happening is the wrapping up of ideas. Or this situation: you come to the end of a book, and it just ends. That’s it. No tying up of loose ends, no delicious cliffhanger, but just a final sentence that makes it look like someone just pressed print at a random page of a much longer manuscript. Or maybe you’ve read what is a really good book, and it ended just fine. It was well written, and you’re happy. There are just a few things that could possibly be looked at again. But a year to eighteen months later, you’ve forgotten everything that happened, and the sequel’s out. And you read so much, you just have no time (or energy, or willingness, or desire) to reread Book One.

It’s not that I’m against all sequels. It’s just that it seems a requirement these days, not a thing you do when a story demands it. This is based on no real research whatsoever, but my guess is that if you write science fiction or fantasy, you can’t sell your book if you’re not willing to divide it into pieces. I’m sure this has to do with the popularity of YA and publishers needing to make money to stay in business, but I feel it really diminishes the quality of the books, which is not helping YA detractors think of it as a worthwhile area of literature to explore.

I want a good book to be a good book. I don’t want overcomplicated plot lines and extraneous characters, and I especially don’t want to have to keep all of those twists and turns in the back of my mind for an entire year just so I can understand what’s going on in the next book. I’m just tired of trilogies. I made a pledge this year not to start any new series unless I was required to for school or committees, and I’m sticking to it. If one looks good, I’ll read it when it’s all done. But honestly, I wish editors would focus on helming good books in the hopes that their authors will be loved for that and be able to write other good books, rather than force them into premature or badly executed series just because people will feel obligated to finish them.

What do you think?

— Hannah Gómez, currently reading and listening to Charles & Emma by Deborah Heiligman

Published by

Hannah Gómez

Hannah Gómez is a former independent school librarian and now works remotely as a librarian consultant/teacher. She also teaches fitness and writes things. She is on Twitter @shgmclicious

34 thoughts on “Too Many Trilogies”

  1. I guess I’m not burned out on trilogies yet and I don’t mind a cliff hanger ending, if the writing is really good and it makes sense. But it does seem that the industry pushes trilogies because it wants to build a longer-lasting fan base and hook readers into buying more books. I actually enjoy staying in a world for a long period of time and also like anticipating the next book in a series. But the story has to be really good.

  2. I’m up & down on trilogies. I love some & read them all. However, sometimes I read the first book and I’m not interested enough to read the rest. I also find, if I can get the series in rapid succession, I am more likely to read them all. If I read a first book, it has got to be great for me to wait a year or more for the second.

    1. I totally agree. Sometimes I want there to be more of a really great book and I wish it had a sequel. At the same time, I’m always so behind on my reading lists and even when I really loved the first book I don’t always have time to read the sequel or as you mentioned I really don’t have time to reread the previous book to remember what happened so I’ll appreciate the sequel. Sometimes it’s my fault (that huge stacks of other books to read), but sometimes it takes so long for a sequel to come out that I’ve forgotten some (usually important) details from the previous book.

  3. I’m so frustrated with this. I love sci-fi, but I prefer stand-alones to series, and these seem almost impossible to find in YA these days. A well-crafted series that takes up three or four books because of the epic scope or because there’s just SO MUCH STORY is one thing; but cliffhangers and series that seem like one long book broken into three drive me crazy.

    1. Agreed! What makes me craziest is that there is a difference between a cliffhanger (like hanging off a cliff), which is what you wait until next week’s episode for (or maybe next season’s, but that’s three or four months, not a year or more) and a fully realized novel that still has potential for more stories, you know?

      1. Agreed! Hannah, I feel really cheated when I reach the end of a book and it doesn’t really end because a sequel is coming. My opinion–It’s not a novel if it ends with a cliff hanger. A novel is a total piece. In a good novel, everything is there that’s needed for the story, and nothing is there that is not.
        Thanks for writing about this. I read the Hunger Games and was progressively disappointed by the following books. I read The Graceling, and was disappointed in Bitter Blue.
        I would rather read stand alone novels.

        1. Or when you spend your time to finish a trilogy and the LAST BOOK leaves a cliffhanger.

  4. I knew there were a lot of series books in YA, but I never realized HOW MANY until this week when we began creating shelf signs for series–one of my most asked questions is, “I’m reading X series. What comes after book 2?” I think we’ll end up with enough signs that I will need at least 24 sign locations and will have enough series to rotate the signs throughout the year without a whole lot of repeating…. That’s a lot of series in one little department…

    1. Cari:
      The librarians in my district have been working on a Google Doc that keeps track of YA series so they have immediate access when a student comes in and asks “What comes after….” That might save you some time and running around.

      1. That is a really cool idea! I feel like I would also need to add notes like “picked X as boyfriend” and “Y died” so that I could pick up my reading more easily when the next installment comes out.

    2. My teen volunteers and I have been working on making lists of all the series in our YA section, organized by author. I plan to have a binder available for easy reference (which, of course, will need constant updating), and we’ve been numbering the spines of all the series on the shelves, so people can see at a glance the order of the books. Incredible how many series don’t have the order clearly listed anywhere on the book! But yes, seems like nearly every book in YA is a series. Grumble… ;)

  5. Preach! I totally agree with you. I feel like everytime I finish a book, I think that it could have cut out 100 pages of boring. I don’t need to know what the narrator is thinking every second. Of course there are exceptions to this, and of course there are series that I love. But, in spotting this trend, you are spot on, Hannah.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I find the pressure on authors to write sequel after sequel is ultimately self-destructive. I feel that this is what happened to the Hunger Games series which, if it had only been one book, would have been AMAZING. As it was, I thought the second book was good, but I hated the third book and worry that the weakness of subsequent books takes away from an awesome first book premise.

  7. You forgot my least favorite scenario: the story that would have been a great 300-400 pages, but has been stretched out to nearly 1000 because the publishers insist that they want trilogies (I know two authors to whom that happened). All that padding… ugh.

  8. I’m a school librarian and find it hugely frustrating that series books sit on the shelf because we are waiting for a student to bring back book number 1. Authors like John Green, Sarah Dessen and Jodi Picoult are out all the time because the titles can be read independently, but series books are a lot more trouble. And as a reader I agree with those who posted already, that often the first book in a series is fantastic but I can’t be bothered wading through sequels when the plots slow down or turn sideways just to fill more pages.

  9. I completely agree. I feel like the older elementary school kids won’t read a book unless it’s a series. I feel bad because they are missing out on all these really good stand-alone books.

    I usually only read the first book in a series and stop. I rarely read more than just the first one, I just don’t have the time.

  10. I guess the question is really “too many trilogies for who’? Teens still seem very much connected to series. I think for many of them, the investment in the characters, world, society, etc, matters and they want it to go on longer than one book. Poor quality is to be lamented whether it’s a series or stand alone.

  11. Your post is just what I have been thinking! I think a law should be passed that a trilogy can only be published in its entirety. :) I hate having to wait a year or more for a sequel. With the number of books we need to keep up with, who can remember all the details in that amount of time? I can put up with trilogies if I can read all three books within a short period. And it is hard to recommend a trilogy or series when the first book is not in. I hope more stand alones will be on the horizon.

  12. Agreed! Give me a good stand-alone any day!

    In fact, lately taken to NOT reading a book if I discover it’s part of a trilogy/duo/quartet/ etc. Because, unfortunately, a lot of books that end up getting sequels…well, they’re just not good. There are exceptions to this (Harry Potter & The Golden Compass to name a few), but more often than not, I enjoy a book better if the entire story is contained within one singular volume.

    So authors, listen up: Sometimes it’s a *good* thing to end a story at the last page of Book 1, even though there may be some loose ends. Leave it up to the reader’s imagination to ponder what happens to the characters after the final page. Please! Don’t write a half-dozen (or even one) sequels chronicling in detail what happens next. Sequels should be an exception. Not a rule.

  13. Series can be frustrating at times to deal with in a school library for all of the reasons listed above but a lot of my middle school students are looking for serial books and not standalone ones. I understand, because I can easily get caught up in series books too. I spent the first half of my summer devouring The Mortal Instruments series. The continuity is nice and the anticipation for the new book is always fun. I am now counting down the days until Allegiant by Veronica Roth comes out this fall and the new Mortal Instruments book this spring. I think series are great when done right. :)

  14. I don’t mind reading a trilogy/series but I do want each book to finish its own story. Obviously there are overarching story lines and maybe minor characters don’t get fully dealt with in each book. I get really annoyed when I realize that there is no way the current story is going to be wrapped up by the final chapter. I promise that if you give me a good book with strong characters, I’m going to want to know what happened to them on their next adventure. If you just stop randomly, I am probably not going to read the next one (or I’ll wait until the whole series is out).

  15. Couldn’t agree more! When the story arc demands it, it’s one thing. But sequels for sequels’ sake are just infuriating. Perfect example, “What we saw at night” by Jacquelyn Mitchard. That book was very interesting and had an intriguing plot, and was short, to boot. When it ended with a cliffhanger I just couldn’t believe it! I felt like with just 75 more pages or so she could have had a few more twists and turns, then just wrapped it up into a very satisfying read. Instead, I got an unnecessary cliffhanger that just frustrated me as a reader.

  16. Often it isn’t only the kids/teens that don’t want to invenst their time/energy in a standalone book. I can’t tell you the number of times I help parents in my library find books for their child/teen and they reject great books because “Oh, I was looking for a new series for them. It’s too hard to keep coming back for different books.” Silly parents! You’re missing out on sooo many great books. And I agree with the frustration of subsequent books languishing on the shelves because book 1 is out. I hate walking my shelves with a patron and have to keep saying over and over…”That’s a great series. Oh, but book 1 is checked out. You’ll have to wait.” (or book 2 or 3…)

    We need to rebel!

  17. I was just with a School Library Journal journal online event, and someone asked a question about why there were so many trilogies. One of the participating authors tried to say it was the 3-act structure. Others reminded him that authors have known how to do their 3 acts in one book. The big point seems to be that publishers find trilogies more cost-effective, more bang to the same buck involved in creating an audience. So they work to get stories elongated into multiple books. It’s good for the audience who learns to care about the characters and what will happen next.

    But, the caveat is that it only works if the story is long enough to support three books. Too often there is a lot of padding in the second or third book (or both) and that can send readers running away.

    1. Exactly! They are not just now inventing 3-act structure. That’s how movies have been for, like, ever. I completely understand the marketing push to do it, but I think it’s terrible when it so often encourages bad writing.

  18. Don’t know how I missed this the first time around–I couldn’t agree more. Like, with sequels in general–was the sequel to Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl necessary about 10 years after the fact? I loved that book the first time around, but the sequel, while still well written, felt more like a “safe” visit back to a beloved character than a genuine desire to continue a story that had pretty much already been concluded. I think that for the most part, it’s fairly easy to distinguish whether an author planned on sequels from the beginning, and that reflects the quality of the sequels. I don’t blame authors for writing sequels Just Because, I think because that’s the hot commodity now there’s a lot of industry pressure for them and I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the same thing in their shoes, but I do find it frustrating.

  19. Too Many Trilogies? Yes, I agree, there should be more Duodecologies!

    Would Harry Potter have achieved the depth it did with one book? Would we remember Middle Earth if we had seen only jolly dwarves and hobbits and not the Fellowship of the Ring traveling the Two Towers? I know some people hated the third book of the Hunger Games, but that’s the book that elevated the series from frothy adventure to true tragedy.

    There are some authors who don’t naturally write long stories, and they should stick with single novels–a story should never be padded to meet some outside word quota. But for myself, I prefer a deeper story and a more fully developed world.

  20. Yes! Thanks for expressing this so well. As a YA librarian, the predominance of trilogies, series, etc. gets frustrating, because I find myself having to choose between ordering new, well-reviewed titles and keeping up-to-date with popular (and often sub-par) sequels. Even series that began well tend to expand (later volumes almost invariably get longer as, apparently, less time is given to quality) into shallowly conceived, poorly-edited tomes that (my theory, here) are pumped out simply to make money or because the publisher wants more books. I begrudge them my shelf space and collection budget dollars, as well as my teen patrons’ brains and the resources it takes to print and bind three books when one would have done just fine. So yes, please – fewer and better books would be preferable. Okay, done with my rant. :)

  21. I totally agree. It’s terrible that all new YA is just series based. There needs to be more stand-alone books like when I was in High School (granted, that was only about 7 years ago, but it seemed that Harry Potter was the only series out there at the time). Now as a Youth Services Library Associate, I read what we have in YA, and all I find is series after series after series, and now I’m so caught up in about 4 different series’ that I don’t know what to do with my mind! I’m going to do the same as you, and not pick up another series if I can help it…After I start City of Bones, because my teens all seem to love that and I want to know why. :-)

  22. Another thing that really frustrates is when an author writes a perfectly awesome trilogy (one that has a great story, great characters, and a satisfying ending)…and then, many years later, decide to write a fourth book that completely ruins what was built in the original three books. I’m seeing this happening more and more too.

Comments are closed.