CSFF Blog Tour: Buyer Beware

I was thinking of doing a post on religion today, but then I decided to gripe about the publisher instead.

When I looked through the Amazon reviews for The Ale Boy’s Feast, I saw comments by people who started the book without realizing it was part of a series. And I felt their pain. I have had my share of trouble on this front. I can’t recount the number of times I’ve stood in an aisle examining a novel, trying to determine if it was (1) part of a series, and (2) if so, which part.

This is important information, and publishers used to be upfront about it. “Volume 2 of a Three-Book Cycle,” declares Dark Force Rising, right beneath the title. “Sequel to Oxygen,” says The Fifth Man, right above the title. Crown of Fire proclaims its status on the front and back covers – prominently.

But these days publishers are getting furtive. The buyer who is beware will look carefully for any sign that a vital number has been omitted from the front cover. Take The Ale Boy’s Feast as an example. It is the complicated last book of a complicated series, and people deserve a fair warning.

And they don’t get one. Sure, some readers might take a hint from the two-page introduction. They might make a deductive leap that Auralia’s Colors is, in fact, a prequel; they might notice that that word, WHITE, has little grey words around it, read them – probably with the help of a magnifying glass – and wonder what “Auralia Thread” is supposed to be. They might even read the author’s bio.

That, as far as I know, is the only part of the book that made it clear it was a continuation. This is a sneaky place to squirrel away such a pertinent fact, because countless people never bother with the author’s biography. After all, there is usually nothing there that is useful in assessing a novel, let alone compelling. (“The author lives in California? I gotta read this book!”)

I concede that if you really examined The Ale Boy’s Feast, you would be able to learn its Number Four status. Doubtless the same is true of other books people have, in ignorance of their number, bought (or read, or rented).

But you know something? We readers don’t want to really examine every novel that interests us. And we don’t think we should have to. We think all you publishers should just let us know. We don’t like getting a book only to be sandbagged by the revelation that it is #2 (3, 4, 5 …) in a series, nor do we like to be made to parody Edgar Allan Poe’s detectives, searching for the missing number, so GIVE US A FRIENDLY TIP-OFF, OK?

I think I know why publishers do this. I think it springs from the same motive that leads them to label borderline-YA books as “good for all ages”: the profit motive. After all, haven’t most of us shelved a book – maybe a good one – because it was a sequel in a series we had not been reading? Naturally publishers don’t want to narrow their market. And I sympathize with the desire for more sales. I really do. But I still want the tip-off.

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