POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 11, 2014
"Annihilation," the chilling first novel of a trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer that was released last week, tells the story of a scientific expedition to a mysterious place called Area X that has been cut off from the rest of the world.
Fans who want to know what happens in the second book won't be on tenterhooks for long.
That book, "Authority," will come out in May, only months after the first installment. On its heels is the third novel, "Acceptance," to be published in early September.
While the television industry has begun catering to impatient audiences by releasing entire series at once, the book business is upending its traditional timetable by encouraging a kind of binge reading, releasing new works by a single author at an accelerated pace.
The practice of spacing an author's books at least one year apart is gradually being discarded as publishers appeal to the same "must-know-now" impulse that drives binge viewing of shows like "House of Cards" and "Breaking Bad."
"Consumers want to be able to binge-read or binge-watch," Christine Ball, the associate publisher of Dutton, said in an interview. "We wanted to give the consumers what they wanted in this case."
Sean McDonald, the editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux who acquired the trilogy by VanderMeer, said that when he read the first manuscript, he realized it presented a narrative filled with unanswered questions.
McDonald quickly came up with an idea that was believed to be a first at Farrar, Straus: publishing all three books on what he called a "rapid fire" schedule, partly to avoid antagonizing readers.
"You can end up with angry and perplexed fans," he said. "I think people are more aware of series storytelling and there is this sense of impatience, or maybe a fear of frustration. We wanted to make sure people knew that there were answers to these questions."
Series publishing has boomed in the book business in recent years, as publishers have searched for story lines that can keep readers hooked for several books rather than just one. Usually, these are genre books, page-turners in the sci-fi, romance and thriller categories. A successful series also has the potential to catch Hollywood's attention and translate into a lucrative screen property, as "Harry Potter," "The Hunger Games" and the George R.R. Martin "Song of Ice and Fire" novels have done.
But it may have been the blockbuster "Fifty Shades of Grey," the erotica trilogy by E.L. James, that showed the merits of publishing all the books quickly, before readers can catch their breath. The series, which began as fan fiction, was first printed by a small press in Australia. Vintage Books, part of Random House, acquired it in March 2012, and released the books in paperback in the space of less than a month. They became a word-of-mouth sensation and have sold more than 90 million copies to date worldwide — Random House's fastest-selling series ever.
"I think the bottom line is that people are impatient," said Susan Wasson, a longtime bookseller at an independent shop, Bookworks, in Albuquerque, N.M. "With the speed that life is going these days, people don't want to wait longer for a sequel. I know I feel that way. When I like a book, I don't want to wait a year for the sequel."
Publishers are responding to that sentiment. On Thursday, Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, released a hardcover debut novel, "Archetype," a futuristic action thriller. Its sequel, "Prototype," is scheduled for release only five months later.
"Letting Go," the first book in an erotic trilogy by Maya Banks, a best-selling romance author, was released by Berkley Books last week; the last installment will be published in August, with three months between each title.
At St. Martin's Press, editors took what they called "a TV approach" with the publishing schedule of an upcoming series by Megan Hart, a writer of erotic fiction. Hart's series is scheduled in five installments, published in e-book format every two weeks.
Jennifer Weis, an executive editor at St. Martin's, said the publisher hasn't even scheduled print versions of the series yet.
"It's so much easier to buy books online," Weis said. "The temptation is right at your fingertips because you don't have to go to the bookstore. We have to play to that."
Some publishers who have embraced a faster publishing schedule acknowledge that it can be risky. Cindy Hwang, executive editor at Berkley, said that while the approach has worked for some of their authors, like Nora Roberts, the best-selling romance writer, "There's always the fear that you're saturating the market, that the reader demand isn't as great as what you've foreseen."
Spacing books on a more traditional schedule can give publishers more time to finesse plans for sales, marketing and publicity. It also gives late-arriving readers time to catch up.
"I know in the past that the one-year mark seems to increase a lot of hype and buzz, and it gives it time for a title to build," said Krys Tourtois, of Schuler Books and Music in Michigan. "You think about what happened with 'Harry Potter' — the timing helped make a phenomenon."
That has worked with the "Song of Ice and Fire" series, the fantasy novels that have been adapted into the wildly popular "Game of Thrones" series on HBO.
Martin's books, which are dense, complex and exceedingly long — some are more than 1,000 pages — have been released at a languid pace, with anywhere from one to six years between novels. Martin's faithful fans are wild with anticipation, and some are afraid of not seeing a final payoff. Although his publisher says he is writing, Martin, who is 65, has yet to complete the sixth and seventh books in his series, leaving some readers wary of reading even the first.
Sarah Holt, of Left Bank Books in St. Louis, said she was one of the holdouts.
"I'll admit it," she said. "I will not pick up that series without knowing that he's going to finish it."
Julie Bosman, New York Times