Way back in the dark ages, when I was 10 years old, I discovered an amazing book: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. Someone gave it to my sister for her birthday or Christmas. It was her copy I devoured in a sitting or two. The world of Narnia mesmerized me- -talking animals, a land suspended in permanent winter through the powers of an ice-hearted witch! And, how fortunate, it was volume one of a seven book series!
This led me to the metaphorical harder drugs of volumes two through seven. I saved up $6.95 plus tax to order them one at a time through a local art gallery (Port Townsend didn’t have a book store back then). Taking possession of each book was a celebration. I commandeered volume one from my sister and jealously guarded all seven until, sometime in my thirties, I gave them to my niece when she was old enough to read and enjoy them.
I can’t believe you gave them away!
Eventually, I couldn’t believe it, either, Lily. Sometime in my fifties I bought the complete Chronicles of Narnia all at once, in paperback:
I agree, 9, and I enjoyed re-reading them. I even read them out loud to the pets!
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was released October 16, 1950. According to Wikipedia “It is the first published and best known of seven novels in The Chronicles of Narnia. Among all the author’s books, it is also the most widely held in libraries.”
This “first volume” phenomenon is true of another popular series:
The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. And guess what? Volume one of seven, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is the best seller of the series! The setting is irresistible: an English boarding school for wizards. I started reading the Harry Potter books when the first four were out. Then I had to wait for my book five “fix”: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, published June 21, 2003.
Two wildly popular series with seven books each, published a half-century apart, many of the books made into movies and yet the first book in each series remains the best seller. Which brings me to:
Hey! Those are ours!
They are indeed, 9, and our book signing event last weekend is what inspired me to look deeper into sales information about the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.
The event, which received excellent coverage in the local newspapers, highlighted the release of book four in my series, Crisis in Big-G City. I had many excellent conversations with book store patrons (many with writing projects of their own), gave away lots of bookmarks and got a few new names for my email list. But when it came to sales- –
Don’t tell me, let me guess.
Five copies of book one, Small-g City.
Past signings at Book and Game have resulted in as few as two sales and as many as a dozen. According to their FAQ sheet, this is within the normal sales range for their book signing events. But in the past the only time my sales were exclusively of book one was when book one was the only one in publication.
Stumped, I asked the store owner about this. She said they consistently have more sales of book one in a series than the later volumes, even when it’s a series by someone very well-known, like Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson and the Olympians series).
I think so, too, Lily, and I’ve been trying to figure it out. My sister’s copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a gift. She was an avid reader as a kid and doubtless plowed through it in one sitting but maybe it wasn’t her favorite kind of story so she wasn’t intrigued by “what happens next”? At my book signing event one of the sales was intended as a gift. It’s possible the recipient won’t be as excited about the story as the giver imagined and will not pursue the rest of the series.
So there’s that.
Secondly, when people are interested in reading my books but they have only just heard of the series they will naturally want to start at the beginning. I’m thrilled that the Big-G City series is picking up new readers, and hope they are curious enough about what comes next to pick up book two. . .and three. . .and four.
Additional possibilities: maybe people are resistant to starting a series because it feels like a commitment? Maybe they don’t want to buy the first book without taking it for a test drive? Maybe they are highly interested but prefer eBooks to print?
Some of this can be solved by today’s digital technology. My website has a “Books” page with not only cover art and back cover “blurb” for each volume, but also a link to the digital retailer that starts with “A.” There, you can read the first several pages of the books for free before you decide to purchase them!* This is true of most, possibly all, books “A” offers for sale. And guess what? My series is available in eBook format at “A” and other outlets. Details here:
As to the fear of making a commitment: reading a series is a journey. The reward is developing a deeper understanding of the characters and their world by following the plots, subplots and story arcs that thread through the collection. What happens to the Pevensie kids after they return from their first Narnia adventure? Why is Harry Potter so hated by the forces of evil? Will David Bernstein ever find traces of his unnamed father or his two thousand year past, repressed by the continual application of a forgetfulness charm?
I can answer questions one and three.
But I know you won’t, Lily, because you want people to feel the joy of discovery on their own.
Series. Journey. Discovery. Joy.
*Personal bias: If at all possible I buy print books from my local brick and mortar stores, at a book signing event, or direct from an independent small press!
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