I've recently begun reading the blog by agent Nathan Bransford. You can find it here. He said something that caught my attention on Monday:
So now I'm reading the urban fantasy novel A KISS OF SHADOWS by Laurell K. Hamilton, the first in her Meredith Gentry series, and guess what -- another New York Times bestseller with incredible writing!! Not only does Hamilton craft an awesome alternate world, she is a seriously gifted writer. She is one of the best writers I've ever seen at describing people, her pacing is amazing, I can't stop turning the pages. This isn't a "guilty pleasure" read, this is just good writing.
It reminded me of something. Back in 1995, I picked up a book by Laurell K. Hamilton titled Guilty Pleasures. I was fascinated by the alternate reality she had created for her Anita Blake character. Her writing was imaginative and filled with vitality. I went looking for more books by her and discovered two novels: another Blake novel, The Laughing Corpse, and something called The Nightseer.
The Laughing Corpse was as good as Guilty Pleasures had been, but Nightseer was godawful. I didn't get beyond the first ten pages. I checked the copyright dates on both books and realized that the Anita Blake books were written AFTER Nightseer.
I no longer read the Anita Blake novels. LKH lost me four books back when she began substituting sex scenes for plot. I'm an erotic romance writer, but I still require a plot in order to enjoy a book.
I'm not sure why LKH started the Merry Gentry series, but it is as fresh as the original Blake stories were. I continue to look forward to buying the Gentry books.
I say all this because it demonstrates a couple of things I have come to believe about writing:
First, even if your early efforts are dreck--not worth reading--if you remain dedicated to your craft, you can improve.
Second, simply because a series is profitable, doesn't mean it should be continued. The last Anita Blake book I really enjoyed was the ninth in the series, Obsidian Butterfly , released in 2000. The four books since have made me wince.
Interestingly enough, 2000 was the same year LKH released Kiss of Shadows, the first of the new series starring Merry Gentry. Perhaps she poured all that imagination and vitality into the new series and didn't have anything left for Anita Blake.
I find it fascinating that the two lessons I describe above apply to opposite ends of the writing continuum. The first lesson applies to newbies while the second applies to successful writers with a long-time series.
I guess learning never ends.