Reading about Patricia Cornwall's latest self-induced blog drama and Laurell K Hamilton's bizarre "any author who kills off his or her characters must hate them, which makes me better than them because I love my characters and they will never die" blog entry (here) have me thinking that perhaps any and every author should stop with a series once the series have reached, oh, let's say ten books.
Are there any long-running series that manage to sustain their initial momentum? Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series surely didn't. I haven't read Patricia Cornwell's stuff (don't like mysteries and thrillers, sorry) but it seems that many of her fans believe that her series have gone downhill. There are already some rumbles about the Harry Potter books and I believe should the author continues with that series, the complains will surely mount up a boiling point eventually.
Part of a problem with a long-running series is that fans tend to get overinvested in the characters. They start shipping characters. They begin developing ideas of how the stories should go. And we all know what happens when fans feel betrayed when an author does not do what they believe should be done.
But on the flip (bright) side, sometimes fan overinvestment is what keeps a series selling long after the series have gone downhill where quality is concerned. The old Laurell K Hamilton fandom is pretty much gone but the author has gained new fans who prefer the current sex marathon stuff that Anita Blake and Merry Gentry get into. Same with Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series where there are fans who are invested in the relationships of the main characters that they are in for the soap opera aspects of the story rather than the humor and what little mystery there are in the series.
The only problem I can see here is that the author finds himself or herself backed in a corner, eventually, forced to keep writing what the fans want until she or he start to loathe the characters. Or worse, the publisher refuses to buy anything but that series because it is making everyone so much money so the author is forced to keep writing despite the creativity well has dried up where the series is concerned. As much as it is easy to bag on Tom Clancy for letting people use his name for ghostwritten series, I personally believe that is probably a better alternative to sate the publishers' commercial interests without causing the author to get burned out beyond reason. Provided, of course, fans know what they are getting with these ghostwritten series.
Then there is the problem of the author going crazy along the way and start acting as if he or she is infallible. As the series become a bestselling success, the author insists that the books are not to be edited to preserve some kind of imaginary artistic integrity and starts calling anyone who thinks the books are even a little flawed as "haters" or "jealous people". Some authors start acting as if she and her characters are best friends, or worse, start living out her neuroses and sex fantasies through them when she is not using them as a soapbox for her views on politics.
The way I see it, all these problems can be avoided if authors are allowed a limit of ten books per series. Even if the fans insist for more, the series has to end no matter what. Everyone will be happier for it, mark my words.