When It’s Time to End a Series

The first thing to say is my Kate Hamilton mystery series is not ending.

In fact, I’m working on a fifth book and also a possible novella. But one day the series will end—when I lose interest or run out of ideas, when the publisher decides it’s time, or when (like P.D. James and M. C. Beaton) I die.

I’ve been thinking about this question lately for two reasons. First, I’ve been developing a possible new historical mystery series, which has been fun. Second, two wonderful series written by writer friends have recently and unexpectedly ended. The first was a cozy mystery series, beautifully written, the winner of several national awards. The second was a police procedural with a strong fan base, published by one of the Big Five publishers. Why, when the books were doing so well?

Publishers have reasons for ending a series. Maybe sales have fallen off slightly or market trends seem headed in the wrong direction. Or maybe, given the capacity of the publishing house, the decision is made to prioritize other books that will potentially make more money. Publishing is a business after all. Writers are usually in the dark until the decision has been made.

Sometimes, though, a writer makes the decision to end a series herself. One of my favorite mystery authors, Caroline Graham, ended her Midsomer Mystery series at six books because (in her words) she wanted to focus on writing plays and screenplays—her prerogative, of course, although I haven’t quite forgiven her. Luckily, the series was picked up by British television, with twenty-two seasons and counting.

Have you ever asked yourself, “Whatever happened to….?” Obviously, for readers and writers, the decision to end a series can be emotional. I asked the writer of the canceled police procedural how he was dealing with it. He said he was doing fine—working on a standalone. The hardest part was sharing the news with his fans who kept asking, “When is the next book coming out?”

So what does a writer do? Do you announce the end of a series or just let readers catch on when a year goes by without another book—then two and three?

I don’t have the answer, but the end of a series is a turning point. The ability to shift, to write something else, means you aren’t just someone who writes books. You are a writer.

Do you have a favorite series that ended? How did you find out?

Have you ended a series yourself? How did you handle the transition?

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4 comments

  1. Long long ago a series by Kate Ross about singer turned detective Julien Kestrel. I loved this series and was so disappointed when there weren’t more. This is pre internet and it was much later that I realized the author had died of cancer. Of course my disappointment paled next to the actual reason.

    1. A series I don’t know! Readers usually don’t know a series can end because the author didn’t get another contract. That’s when we have to pivot!

  2. It’s rare, in my experience, that an author ends a series. It’s usually the publisher. In the years I’ve been in the mystery community, I’ve watched friends get dropped by their publisher. And it’s always a gut wrenching experience. Some authors feel ashamed, some angry, and for some, it’s as if the characters they love have died so they avoid talking
    about it. The resilient authors, pivot, as Connie says, and go on to write other books.

    I have readers who love my characters as much as I do and I hope I would have the strength to tell them when the series is over.

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