New lamps for old
But wait… there’s more
Order now and we’ll…
DOUBLE THE OFFER
(If you wait until the author has finally finished writing it, and pay for the second book)
When I was young, optimistic and foolish (I’ve outgrown the first part) I was talking to Mercedes Lackey about the theoretical framework that I’d created to make an Alternate history with religious magic work (The Heirs of Alexandria series: I’m – of the three of us involved in that project – the one who liked to work in logical and plausible fantasy. Not really ‘fantasy’ per se, I suppose). I eagerly expostulated about how ‘NEW’ this idea was, and how readers and critics alike were always after something new. I paraphrase, but she told me something that stuck with me: “Dave, they say they want ‘new’, but they don’t. They want new old.”
In other words readers – in general – want the characters and story type they have come to love, with a new story (that is sort of like the old story, at least in type). Yes, of course there are exceptions. But there is a lot of truth in that too.
In part it is capitalizing on past success, past achievement, meaning you don’t have to do the hard-yards from the start. It’s a bit like various African regimes renaming colonial cities, streets, buildings and airports etc. It’s a lot easier than starting from scratch. It even fools some of the people some of the time, especially those who want to believe.
It can be done reasonably well. It’s hard to eclipse the first book (or movie) although that happens sometimes if the author was just at the start of learning his trade when he wrote it. Of course sometimes that’s spun off into franchises. No one realistically expects the ‘franchise’ to be the same as the original. Occasionally, and rarely, a new author does such a good job that it’s different but better (Sanderson?) Mostly, of course it’s riding coat-tails. Hell, who am I to point fingers? I wrote the Karres books, and I’m no Schmitz.
Of course what many an author (or film-maker, or comics author) has tried is to use the franchise – particularly ones that are getting a bit ‘tired’ like many of Superhero comics were – with a new twist to attract new audiences and hopefully retain most of the old audience.
The trouble with this is it’s a judgement call, and especially inside the various bubbles (New York Publishing, Hollywood, and in the UK the Beeb’s little Guardian-and-Birkenstock club) they’re often so distant and unconnected with audiences outside their bubble that they assume they think like them and will respond like them. Which is why they have flops like the Ghostbusters remake, because they assumed the audience for the movie was just dying for a feminist version, with lots of man-kicking. Dr Who is trying much the same thing with a female Doctor. It could work because that audience is already pretty much restricted to inside their bubble. Still, with a new writer, and female lead after 12 male ones… She’ll have to be a good actress, and he’ll have to be a better writer. I expect we’ll see a long sequence of designated victim minorities cast in the role in future, until the show dies. I doubt we’ll ever see another white hetero male, but maybe that’s just me being cynical.
I expect Jane Bond, 007 will be next.
Funnily enough I’m betting we’re not going to see ‘Tomb raider starring Larry Croft’ or ‘The Handyman’s Tale’ about a dystopian atheist society where men have been stripped of all liberty and rights and relegated to plumbing and other dirty jobs… oh wait… that’s a wet-dream that might sell to certain audiences – so long as it didn’t include the inevitable social collapse from blocked sewer systems because the boss (female, naturally) had no idea how they actually worked in practice.)
Anyway, the market will deal with these as the audiences see fit, probably to my amusement because I’m a bad man. Ask any puppy-kicker. My issue for today was rather more about dealing with the desire for ‘more’ as a writer, and not getting dealt with by the market myself. Because Lackey was right, at least about this – audiences that you’ve established want more ‘new’ stories in a ‘world’ or setting they enjoyed, and characters they want to see more of.
There are of course several problems:
1) You’re catering for the audience you established for your first book. New readers really don’t like starting with book two.
2) You’re walking on the heels of a book they loved – and inevitably that’s hard to live up to (because it doesn’t have that new magic, and also it does, often, follow directions that you thought were a good idea… and your readers don’t.)
3) You’re trying to get new readers anyway. You have to: aside from anything else, readers drift away or move on or die. Even the most addictive of stories won’t have a 100% come back for seconds. And like Hollywood, New York Publishing etc. – you’re chasing them at the possible expense of your old audience.
There is actually a fairly brutal and blunt answer to all of this – quite simply you’re selling an existing franchise’s goods to an existing audience. They are your priority. They will – if they love this book, recruit new readers to the prior one (especially if you’ve made it cheap or free). However – they have very high and very, very distinct expectations. Disappoint them… and they’ll never buy one of your books again. What is worse is that one angry or disappointed reader is I would estimate ten times as likely to badmouth you, as one satisfied customer is. Complaints are easy, praise is hard. A good reputation is built slowly and with difficulty. You can trash it in an instant.
You need to work out just who that loyal audience is. You need to learn what they want and like. You need to keep them that way. They will forgive you (perhaps not follow that series) if you write to catch that ‘new’ audience in a new ‘world’ with new characters, far more than if you mess with their established ‘loves’. Some readers – new, drawn to a new series, will explore the old one, and become loyal to that. Some old series readers will like the new. That way you get the best of both old and new. But –as so many authors have shown – chasing new at the expense of the old is a great way of ending up with nothing at all.