Erwin Schrödinger was driving along at a brisk clip when he caught sight of blue lights in his rear view mirror.  He pulled to the side of the road and rolled down his window.  The police officer walked up to the window and said, “Sir, you were driving awfully fast.  I’m going to need to search the car.”  The officer found nothing in the front and back seats, so he continued on to the trunk, where he made a disgusting discovery.  He walked back to Schrödinger.  “Sir, did you know you had a dead cat in your trunk?”

Schrödinger threw his hands in the air.  “Well, I do now!”

(Sorry, but I love science jokes.  If you’re at a loss as to why this is hilarious, feel free to go here for background.  I’ll wait.  *smile*)

There is something so magical about waiting for something, about not knowing for sure what I’ll find when I open the box.  I remember when I was waiting for Tim Powers’ book Last Call to hit the stands.  It was 1992, nearly three years since The Stress of Her Regard came out, and the wait had been excruciating and delicious.  The only thing better than the days leading up to the book’s release was the actual release date.  I held that book in my hands, stroking the cover and wondering what amazing adventure I was about to experience.  If I remember correctly, I even waited a few days to begin reading.  As long as I didn’t open it, that book could be the most amazing book I’d ever read (in much the same way Schrödinger’s cat’s condition isn’t certain.)  I’ve never had a problem waiting between books.  For me, it’s much the same as waiting for Christmas to come.  Even when I was a kid, I loved the run-up best.  Christmas Eve was bliss, and on Christmas morning, I was the one who insisted we eat breakfast before opening presents, just to drag the thrill out a little longer.  Unwrapped presents are thrilling, and books I wait for are a joy.

I can’t tell you how sad and confused it makes me when people announce that they never read a series until all the books are on the market. It happens all the time at the library.  People ask me for recommendations, so I steer them toward new series I think they’ll like.  The minute I say something like “This is the first in a new series” or “The third book is due out next year.” they look as if I’ve beaten their puppy.  “I can’t wait that long,” they tell me.  “If all the books aren’t out already, I won’t read any of them.”  But what was even worse was a comment some time ago, right here on MW, when David was talking about the upcoming Thieftaker series.  Someone actually said that May 2012 (the release date at the time) was “too long to wait.”  My heart broke to hear that.   Too long?  Why?  Unless you’re planning on leaving the planet for a twelve year mission to Jupiter before the book comes out, I can’t understand what “too long” even means. 

Except that it might mean someone won’t buy David’s book when it does come out, for fear that she’ll have to wait a little longer for the next one.  A writer’s career can fail on the basis of sales.  If I’ve planned a five book series, and books one and two get great reviews but hardly anyone buys them, it won’t matter how good the stories were – there probably won’t be any more.  So the writer should write faster, yes?  Well, no.  I mean, we can.  We can skip those pesky annoyances like sleep and day jobs and turn into drooling zombies (the old-fashioned kind that do nothing but shamble around) and use our extra time to write twice as fast as usual, but the publisher can only schedule books when they have room to do so.  As fast as we try to write, no one’s five-book series is released at once.   Doesn’t happen.  The fact is that writing takes longer than reading.  It can’t be helped, no matter how fast we writers would like to create more stories for our readers. 

So if you’re out there in the world, and you hear someone declaring that they never read a series until all the books are out, please step up.  Tell the person that patience is a virtue, the cat may be alive and well and sometimes the wait is worth it.




20 comments to Waiting

  • >>My heart broke to hear that. Too long? Why? Unless you’re planning on leaving the planet for a twelve year mission to Jupiter before the book comes out, I can’t understand what “too long” even means.>>

    Misty, I had a giggle-fest on this one! Does Kindle reach that far? If so, maybe Scotty can beam it up to us! Yeah, like you, I buy books as fast as I can and gulp them down as fast as I can and then wait for more. Wait for a whole series? No way.

    On a different subject…
    I LOVE the new website look!

  • Well said, Misty. I feel the same way about the “Too long to wait” thing. As you say, if readers wait until all the books in the series are out, the series will die before it’s ever finished. I have a friend here in town who buys the books as they come out but waits to read them until the series is done. That, it seems to me, is a somewhat better solution, in that it doesn’t doom his favorite authors to commercial failure.

  • This reminds me of the foreword in one of King’s Dark Tower books (might’ve been the 5th, but I’m not near my copies to check) where he talks about people writing in to him to find out how the story goes since he took such a long hiatus from it. He had people on death row writing in and, in at least one case, an elderly woman on her deathbed wanting to know what happened to Roland in the end. For those people, they literrally couldn’t wait.

    I used to fall into the category of people who didn’t start a series until it was finished, but I’ve got a few I’m reading now that are ongoing and I don’t regret it. You have to take each book in the series as a single story. Think of them more like a full season of a TV show rather than a single episode. How often do we skip an entire TV show until it’s completed?

  • Misty> I totally get where your coming from, and I don’t understand the “the first book has been put off? Well, I won’t buy it now because it is too long to wait.” It’s the FIRST book. It isn’t like you’ve got time to forget the characters.

    That said, here’s the other side. I’m not reading any more George R.R. Martin. I read the first three and thought they were great. By the time the next one had come out, I’d gone through a couple relationships, taken phd exams, written a dissertation, gotten a job, and had read literally hundreds of other things. That meant I’d have to, if I really wanted to understand what was going on, reread the first three books. That’s 3000 pages of material. That’s also 3000 pages of OTHER stuff I’d NOT be reading. So, now, if I ever read the rest of the series, it will be after it is done because I’ll likely have to reread the whole thing. I don’t think I loved it enough to do that. Of course, it’s George R.R. Martin, so I don’t have to feel guilt about not supporting an author–he certainly doesn’t need the sales from me. 🙂

    So, I waver. I totally get the post from Neil Gaiman “George Martin is not your Bitch.” He’s right. Martin owes me nothing, or at least not very much. He’s a writer, he can write when he wants. But I also feel like an author has some obligation to readers if they make promises. “This is a 5 book series, with a cliffhanger ending in book Three” suggests that book four ought not take ten years–probably not even five. It’s different with non-series books. If you’re writing something new, then it’s, well, new and it might takes years to write. If an author has a five book arc, somewhere in book three that author should know enough about where it is going that 5 years of writing time seems a bit much.

    Stuff happens, life happens. People miss deadlines. I get it, and it’s fine. And I don’t blame authors for publication stuff they can’t control–in that case the ire should be directed at the publisher. I certainly don’t hesitate to start a series “until it is finished” because that seems absurd. Most of the time when I stop reading a series, it is because it isn’t for me, it isn’t interesting to me anymore, or other things have priority. It isn’t because “it is taking too long.” But that does happen. I guess I’m just on the fence and offering a slightly different perspective.

  • Pea Emily, I totally get that. I’d like to see some middle ground for those of us who don’t wait to read a series until it’s done — and for my own readers who watn to get caught caught back up on a series when the new book cosme out. I’ve been thinking of doing a character list and an outline for my website — if it ever gets fixed — that will work something along the lines of *Here’s what happened so far*.

    You know. If I ever find the time!

  • Mikaela

    If I find a book that I like and I want to read NOW I grumble about having to wait, but I’ll still get it when it is released :). And if I finish a book, and want the sequel, I’ll also grumble. But in many cases I start to buy the author’s backlist.

    But I can also be patient, and wait years for books by authors I love :). ( I think I get impatient when I hear release dates. :D)

  • Sometimes the difference between whether the cat is alive or dead is how quickly someone opens up that trunk (or their wallet at the bookstore). Timing is crucial! That said, I also completely agree with pea/Emily’s point and in a similar situation, would probably make a similar decision. I’m pretty sure it was Neil Gaiman who wrote that piece about how George R.R. did “owe anybody anything,” and while that may be true on one level, it then HAS to be equally true that readers don’t owe Martin anything either. Loyalty is earned, and while Martin’s stories may be excellent, his execution has not been. He will inevitably pay a certain price for that. As he should.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    While I’ll start an unfinished series if it looks cool or is by an author I like, I’m one of those horrible people who buys books when I have the time and money, so my ire is directed firmly at Bookstores for not carrying enough backstock and at the Stupid Rule that a book is a flop or not after a month (or whatever too short a period). Busy people find new authors when they can and its really frustrating when, by the time you do, half their back-list (including at least one Newberry finalist!) is out of print.

    On the other note: Hey, if we had the resources and infrastructure for a manned mission to Jupiter, I’m sure NASA would be more than happy to transmit extra reading material from time to time. Psychological well-being of the team and all that. Extra porn would be more difficult, though, as I’m pretty sure I heard NASA has a firm no-sex-in-space policy.

  • I grew up spoiled. Reading all of my dad’s already-completed SF&F meant I could burn through series wholesale. He said, “Just you wait until you have to wait a year for the next book to come out.” As I grew older, I understood, but I remained spoiled. I wanted to wait.

    Nowadays, though, I get it. I understand *why* it’s important to support an author right off the bat, so I’ve been buying them right away whenever I get the chance, if I think I’m going to like the book. I have a sagging TBR shelf, but that’s another issue entirely. 😀

  • Cindy

    Wow David, your friend has amazing self control. I read them as they come out and suffer the wait. If it’s been awhile I do reread the earlier books before the next in the series. I could never buy them and keep waiting. I read the last two volumes of the Southlands literally in one day because I had to know what happened. So while I hate the wait, I still buy and read the books as they come out.

  • Razziecat

    Waiting for the next book in a series drives me crazy, but it also gives me something to look forward to. I still remember waiting for each book in Patricia A. McKillip’s Riddlemaster trilogy; it was 16 months between the second book and the third. Oh, the elation when I finally had that third book in my hands! Right now I’m counting the weeks until the final book in Carol Berg’s Collegia Magica trilogy (Jan. 2012).. want-want-want! So I can wait, but boy do I get antsy! 🙂 There’s no way I could wait to read my favorite authors until I had all the books of a series in my possession.

  • I have the memory of a … a … something that doesn’t have a long memory, so I’m big on re-reading when the next installment of a series comes out. Like pea I’m going to wait until George finishes his series before I get back into it.
    A solution to getting people to stay with a series is when the next installment is released, give ’em a discount on the previous ones, dependent, of course on who holds the rights and/or how flexible your publisher is.

  • “George RR Martin is not your bitch.” Nope, but neither am I his. I will wait for an author, but I am not patience on a monument and I don’t need to, as it were, sit home alone on a Friday night hoping he’ll call. To use a different example than Martin, I read the Wheel of Time series as a teen. Loved the first book. Burned through book Two. Had to wait for Book Three. Then waited even longer for Book Four. Then waited forever for Book Five. Then I gave up on the series.

    The problem was that while I waited and waited and waited, I was growing up. I started the series as a teen, loving the epic fantasy but vaguely uncomfortable with the flatness and unnecessary bitchery of the female characters. By the time the series reached book Five I had almost finished college and could recognize and articulate the misogyny and the poor writing techniques that were making the series increasingly irksome. I was swamped with work. The first lovely thrill of a new world had worn off and the writing wasn’t strong enough to sustain interest without the novelty factor. I had found other writers I also loved who had books out or who produced them soon enough that I didn’t need to reread the first four books to have a clue what was going on. In the end, I ended my love affair with Jordan’s work for the same reasons most romances end – “it’s not you it’s me. I’ve changed and you haven’t. You never write, you never call; I feel like I’m alone in this relationship. I’m just not getting what I need from you. I’m seeing other people.”

  • I’m with you, Misty, and that has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve just released for the first book of a series 🙂 And Ed’s right: timing is crucial. If people don’t buy the first book in my (or anyone else’s) series, that’s bad news for print run and distribution down the line. It’s not unheard of for publishers to cancel the later books in a series if the first one underperforms…

    Oh, and Sarah gets bonus points for quoting Viola without drawing attention to it 🙂

  • I’ll buy. I’ll read. I’ll wait. I’ll re-read if need be. I don’t bitch and grumble (except occasionally, and under my breath) when a writer is a bit slow getting the next book done. I get it. I didn’t mean to take a ten year hiatus from writing – it just happened. Life happens. And writers have lives. Does the wait bother me? Of course it does, but at the same time, like Misty, I also enjoy it. And in the meantime there are thousands of other books to read and, just maybe, one or two to write.

  • David, I love your friend’s idea! It’s a little like Laura having her father’s collection at hand. I remember when I discovered Zelazny’s Amber series. They’d all been published years before I found them, so it was exciting to get to read them all in line. Then again, when a friend lent me the first four books in Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, I had to stop by the end of the second book and take a break. It was all just too dark to keep going without a change. (Yeah, that’s me saying something was too dark – who’d have thought?)

  • Vyton

    Misty, really interesting. I’ve never heard of anyone waiting until the series is complete before reading the first book. Then, I lead a very sheltered life — but not that sheltered. A friend introduced me to the WoT series and then gloated about having *hooked* another one. But we both re-read the series after about the fifth one just to get refreshed. But I can’t imagine reading that complete series start to finish.

  • I wish there was an easy one-stop website where every time I like the first book in a series I could click a button and I would receive an alert when the next books in the series release. It would make keeping track so much easier.

  • Normally, I don’t start reading a series until I know it’s going to be finished and the books are out soon. For me it’s not that I don’t like the wait, it’s that my memory can only hold so much before the characters and plot threads start unraveling.

    That said, if I like the author or want to support them, I’ll buy their books as they are released. My TBR shelves are bulging with books I want to read, including series as yet unfinished, and friends’ books that I’ve bought that I may not read.

    I’ve recently broken my rule though and started reading GRRM with the understanding that I’ll finish A Dance with Dragons and he’ll not have the next book out.

    Sometimes books are worth the wait.

  • […] I read a weekly blog by Misty Massey at Magical Words called Waiting.  In it, she was talking about how a reader was acting as if it was the worse crime on earth to […]