The moment that a series usually comes to an end is usually not the moment that most people agree that it should end. Some series end far too soon, and readers wish there were more books so they could hang out with the characters far longer. But publishers are under increasing pressure to discard dead wood, and so if a series doesn't take off they stop buying books from the author. And in some cases we lose talented authors (like Hillerman) and have to mourn both the writer and their characters' demise.
What about a series that goes on too long? Will Grafton's series end with "z" or should it have ended long ago with "m"? Will Evanovich make it to 100 on her Stephanie Plum books? Will someone continue Robert Parker's many series until Spenser is in a nursing home?
I don't know. But I do know this: as long as publishing houses are paying money, people are buying the books, and Hollywood is knocking on the door, authors will continue to write a series. I could say that I'm too pure to be corrupted, but I can truthfully say that I have not yet been tested. (Note to publishers and Hollywood: I would be happy to have someone try to bribe me--so give it your best shot!). My series, like Chris', is still just two books long. I just hope when I get to my xth book in my series, I know when to call it quits and move on.
But I'm not only a writer--I'm also a reader. And there is definitely a moment when I give up on a series and wish it would go away. Here are just a few reasons:
- Every book in the series has become exactly the same. You pick up the book and the character hasn't changed, the story is almost identical and you know exactly what is going to happen. Clearly many readers find this comforting. I find it rather dull.
- The same villain comes back again. And again. And again. Until you wonder if you've stepped into some alternative universe, and the story is no longer scary--just ridiculous.
- The cast of characters has become so large and complicated that you need pages and pages of explanation to get you up to speed. And characters constantly refer to previous cases that happened in earlier books until your head is spinning.
- The author is just phoning it in so they can collect a check. How do you know? See any of the above.