The mystery of the missing middle book …

I just got my royalty statements from HarperCollins Oz this week, and while chatting with another HC Voyager author on the same day, we both remarked that the third book of our trilogies had sold a whole lot better than the middle one. Huh?

So what we both want to know is:
Why on earth do so many of you skip the middle volume?
Is it that the middle book so often sucks, you decide to skip it on principle?
Is it that publishers have got it wrong – you don’t want trilogies, you want duologies instead?
Everyone gets the middle one from the library?
You buy one between you and pass it around?
Two is an unlucky number?

I really am intrigued. Especially as I thought that the middle book of mine, Gilfeather, was actually the best of the three. And I would have thought that it would be very difficult to understand book 3 without having read it.

So, can anyone tell me: what is it about middle books?


The mystery of the missing middle book … — 11 Comments

  1. I think you can safely assume that as many people read number two as three. Therefore it comes down to how they read it (loaners, libraries, second hand copies) The only alternative is something unexplained in the royalty statement. For example, did they deduct returns of book one from sales of book two? According to Ian Irvine’s the truth about publishing article “returns in Australia average around 35% of initial orders”
    If you have an agent, that’s probably the best place to ask. Otherwise make it a Miss Snark ‘I ain’t no nitwit’ question πŸ˜‰

  2. The Tainted (bk 3) was published in October 2004, so I was making the assumption that most of the ititial returns had already occurred before the period of the statement. I could be wrong, I suppose! Each book is separately accounted (something you should always push for in a contract btw.)

    35%? Wow! You wonder how publishers stay afloat if they have to overproduce to that level. The whole business is crazy…

  3. Actually it’s Gilfeather that got me to go buy The Aware. The US art with the giant seahorse looked so cheesy and awful to me I skipped it until Gilfeather caught my eye and I had to get my little local bookshop to order The Aware for me.

  4. I find it odd… I do sometimes buy book 2 or 3 without reading the preceding ones *if* it’s a new author who I’ve heard good things about and I don’t feel like going back to book one… I started your trilogy with book 2…

    So perhaps in that regard it’s a good thing… a sign of positive word-of-mouth circulating after Book 2…

    Ben Payne

  5. I’m afraid I have no idea. I can say I bought all 3 and enjoyed them. *g*

    I’m embarking on my first trilogy now. I shall let you know if I follow the trend …


  6. Lol…you now what this reminds me of? Authors taking enormous care to write a coherent book seeded with foreshadowing that builds to a climax – only to have readers start by reading the end and spoiling the surprise!

    Then there are the marketing people putting enormous thought into covers, and blurbs – and buyers take one look and say, Yuk!

    This has to be the craziest business on earth. And the most unpredictable. We never, never know what will sell and what won’t. In the end, as an author, you just have to enjoy the craziness and go with the flow. At least it’s never dull!

  7. I’m going to say something that has absolutely no reflection on the publishing industry… But more the sales industry (stores, etc.)

    I remember distinctly trying to find a second book in a series. I found books one, three, four, five, six, seven, etc. (Think Wheel of Time)…

    But for the life of me, I couldn’t find book 2. Now… I don’t do a lot of internet shopping, so I did not check the internet. Instead I checked the library… a friend… bums down the road.

    I finally found a copy.

    I can say that if the book had been on the shelf… If all three (or more) had been on the shelf at ONE TIME, I would have purchased them ALL.

    But I couldn’t find the second book in the series in the store and that was an awful feeling. Thank goodness a friend had it – otherwise I wouldn’t have bought the rest of the series.

    Glenda – have a splendid day.

    Lady M

  8. I probly add to those stats. I have certain rules about buying books – see below. my excuse for my cheapness is being a student.

    I only buy new from a bookshop if I know the book will be brilliant and well worth the money. But occasionally I’m desperate for something to read and break this rule buying things that look good. However when I do this I only buy the first book so not to waste my money if it’s not upto much πŸ™‚

    I’ll generally try and get the next books (unless it’s brilliant – that is, if I even want to read the entire thing) off ebay (or maybe amazon). I also use ebay to try out new authors, so if I find something brilliant there and the third book is still being/to be sold in bookshops/amazon I’ll probly buy it and any following books from there πŸ™‚


  9. If i had to hazard a guess… i would say that more people start series than finish them. Sales on the first book would be high if ‘normal’ people bought the first book in the trilogy and then a) decided they didn’t like it B)Lost the copy and never bothered to finish it by buying another or borrowing one etc. C) Didn’t have time to finish the series D) or any other excuses anyone would ever have to stop reading a book
    It seems most logical to me that this would be the case…

    However, this does not explain why sales for the third book increase. Other than the weird people who start in the middle of the series, I can’t think of a reason that the sales would start at a point for the first book, drop for the second and bump up again for the third… it doesn’t make any sense

    So other than my first hypothesis i can’t contribute any more than i already have πŸ™‚

  10. I have noticed that brick and mortar bookstores often have only a smattering of in-print books from a given author in stock, and most often books in the middle of a series are the ones that are missing. So readers who are less obsessive than I am may simply miss them. I am a compulsive reader who will actively hunt down those missing volumes, even if I have to go online to buy them. I'm always thrilled to discover a new fantasy author whose style resonates with my tastes and when I do I want to track down all their books. It's a pity the industry makes it hard to do this sometimes.

  11. I think possibly one problem with this is the big chain bookstores (either at corporate level or at store level) aren't always run by readers or even people who really understand what readers want.

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