It's always tough on readers when for whatever reason a writer has to wrap up an extended novel series. Because the fans have followed it for so long and/or are so emotionally invested in the story, they never want it to end. That's why the inevitable finale always seems a bit like a betrayal on the part of the writer, especially if s/he is still around and capable of writing more.
On the writers' side of the equation, investing years in a novel series is no easy commitment. You have to gather and sustain a series readership. You have to keep writing in a universe that is hopefully built in such a way that it will hold your creative interest and not become dated. At some point your sales plateau, and these days if they aren't stellar-quality, publishers lose interest, often in mid-series. We all know the only thing that's worse than the end of a series is one that is left unfinished because the writer couldn't sell any more books.
Most readers aren't aware of what goes on behind the scenes, so it's natural for them to blame the writer. I wish readers did know how hard we fight for our series. When you're cut off without a contract, you feel as desperate as they do (I speak from multiple unhappy experiences.) But for the writer, writing is also a business. You write what you can sell. You don't shut down just because you can't sell what you love to write. If you want to stay in the biz, you write something else.
Today's popular solution for disrupted series is for the writer to self-publish. It's an acceptable compromise; one I've taken a hard look at myself. The problem with self-publishing in print is that it's expensive, time-consuming, and the results aren't always on par with what a traditional publisher can produce. It hardly ever pays what you can make via traditional publishing, so it's also an income drain. Distribution is severely limited or non-existent. Electronic self-publishing is the other option, but that withholds the novels from any reader who doesn't care to read books from a screen or e-reader (I'm one of them) and also usually imposes geographical restrictions that prevent overseas readers from purchasing the books.
At some point the disrupted-series writer generally looks at the growing stack of bills on their desk, throws up their hands, says, "There's nothing I can do about it" and moves on. One of my favorite writers has done that repeatedly, and left me with two of my most re-read series unfinished. And yes, I'm still pissed off about both, to the point of where I've seriously considered writing new books and finishing the series myself just so that I could have the ending I wanted.
Anyway, the point of this post is not to yell at series readers for their devoted loyalty or whine about how hard it is to sustain an extended novel series in today's "what have you done for us in the last five minutes?" Publishing industry. It is what it is, and until someone comes up with a solution that suits everyone, or series novels are outlawed, we have to live with it. If you're pursuing publication, and you see yourself writing an extended series, this is something you really need to think about carefully and make some contingency plans.
I've considered self-publishing more StarDoc novels. There were five I didn't have the opportunity to write or publish, and while I do consider the series finished with Dream Called Time, those lost books are still waiting to be realized. I also doubt I'll be able to turn my back on the StarDoc crew; they've been a daily part of my life for going on fifteen years. It's a big, wonderful universe, and I've never gotten tired of writing about it.
But I'm also realistic. Science fiction doesn't have much of a market share to begin with, and while (thanks to my readers) I have one of the longest-running series currently being published in the genre, the sales are slow and long-term. Those are two things Publishing hates. To give you a comparison, my first Darkyn novel sold more copies in the first six months after publication than the first StarDoc book sold in six years.
In addition to the usual costs of living, medical insurance, the growing list of stuff that medical insurance doesn't pay for, helping out family, etc., I have one kid going off to college in a couple weeks and another who will be following in a couple years. As much as I'd love to be artistic about it, there is no contest between writing what I like most and earning a decent income. Decent income always wins.
That said, you know with me it's not all about the Almighty Buck. Once the StarDoc series is officially finished in print, then I think I'll be in a better place to seriously consider what more I want to do from there. Right now I just have to get over my own separation anxieties, which I admit, are pretty intense. And I thought I had a handle on it, too.
Now it's your turn: what would you like to see writers of extended series do for their readers? What do you think the best solution to the problems involved with publishing extended novel series for the writer? Let us know in comments (also, if you want to vent at me about StarDoc ending, go ahead. Just keep your shoulder handy so I can sob on it.)