Monday, July 1, 2013

Brief Interludes – On Short Stories, In-Between Sequels, Prequels and Add Ons.

It’s no secret that the rise of the e-reader has revolutionised publishing and the way we consume stories as we know it. For one thing, you can now download fan-fiction and read it on the go (real fan-fiction, none of this P2P rubbish)! The market has diversified, self-publishing and indie houses are storming the castle and now it’s easy enough for practically anyone to get their books out there. With this new freedom comes the difficulty of making your work stand out amidst a saturated market, and the big six publishers are struggling to keep up (is it big six or are we down to five or four now? I can’t remember anymore).

One interesting addition to this new market has been the rise of extra content for readers. Nowadays, it’s pretty commonplace for an author or publisher to offer a deleted scene, extra chapter or completely new story set in the novel’s universe to hungry readers desperate for more. Cassandra Clare has hopped onto this bandwagon, as is her style, and is co-writing a series of short stories with Maureen Johnson and Sarah Rees-Brennan centred on one of her most popular characters. Name a YA author workingtoday and the chances are they’ve released novellas, prequels, midquels andlots of special content for their big series

On the one hand, I can understand the benefits of this kind of literary diversification. If you’re an author, you now have a chance to expand their worlds beyond the limits put on them by editors and publishers. It gives them the opportunity to show readers a little more of their world, a little more of supporting characters and the situations readers have always wanted to know more about but weren’t always necessary to the central narrative. There’s also the benefit of creating a hook for potential readers. Paying £7 or the US equivalent for 300+ pages is a risk for many a reader, especially the more cash strapped amongst us. Offering a sneak peak of the novel at a low price or for free is always a good option.

My issue with these kinds of add-ons is rooted in terms of their necessity to the narrative. I personally like my series to be relatively self-contained. If I’m dedicating my time, energy and money to, say, Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series, I don’t want to have to invest in all the short stories to fully understand what’s going on. If I go from book two to book three, I don’t think it should be necessary for me to read any midquel to be fully aware of the plot. To me, these kind of add-ons should enhance the reading experience, but not be necessary.

The number of teenagers with e-readers is still relatively low compared to adults. A 2013 Pew Research Centre report put the number ofteenage girls with an e-reader or tablet in USA at 27%, with that numberfalling to 20% for boys. The research also includes further breakdown of the numbers in terms of ethnicity, urbanity and family income, all of which play a huge part in issues like this. Most teenagers are still going to libraries (the ones that are still open) or buying hard copies of books, and these add-ons aren’t always available in such forms. Some authors are having their short stories put into collections for purchase, such as Julie Kagawa, but it remains an option not always open to the key demographic.   

To give an example that I know doesn’t entirely work but makes sense in my head, I direct your attention to the Hannibal Lecter series, something I’ve been a touch obsessed with since I was about 14. I’ve read all the books (including that god-awful prequel which I even own in paperback), seen all the movies and spent the past three months screaming like a child with fangirl joy over the TV show (seriously, watch it, it’s a life ruiner of amazing). If you watch the TV show, which is set before the first book “Red Dragon”, and you have never had any previous exposure to the Lecter mythos, you can still appreciate the show and gain a full understanding of the characters and world within its own narrative. However, if you have some knowledge of the books and movies, the viewing experience is enhanced. You get certain references, some of the characters are more fleshed out, and you don’t for one minute think Hannibal Lecter is an anti-hero (sorry, Tumblr). For me, this is the same conundrum as with the e-book add-on content for YA, but with less cannibalism.

Personally, I see the attraction of this kind of special content but I never find it to be particularly necessary to my enjoyment of a book, and if it is indeed key to said enjoyment then why not include it in the book itself? I’m very much a quality over quantity reader, but there’s definitely a gap in the market for this so go for it, authors!

Are there are prequels, add-ons and special content stories from YA authors that you’d recommend? How do you feel about this trend? Would you like to talk about Hannibal with me? Please comment and share your thoughts!

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