Hiding the Trilogy and Unfinished Books

I just finished reading Elizabeth Knox‘s Dreamhunter (the English edition is called The Rainbow Opera) and I absolutely loved it. Couldn’t put it down. Fabulous worldbuilding, gripping plot, gorgeously realised characters, and, bloody hell, but Knox can write. It’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year, or last year, or pretty much any year.


Yes, I have a but. And it’s a but I suspected I was always going to have about this book, because the lovely Lili Wilkinson of the Centre for Youth Literature who sent me the book from Australia (it’s not available in the US yet) warned me that is has a cliffhanger ending and the sequel isn’t out yet.

No big deal, I thought. But now I’ve read that cliffhanger ending, and now I’m sitting here with no second Dreamhunter book to read and it’s driving me completely insane and filling me with rage at the publishing industry that would do such a horrible thing to me, an innocent reader! I mean not only am I in the midst of the worst narrativus interruptus of all time, but I don’t even know exactly when the sequel is going to come out. Only that it’s called Dreamquake and will be out next year. When exactly? Which bit of next year? The January bit or, shudder, the December bit?

And Dreamhunter is not a whole finished book. It’s cruel to launch it on an unsuspecting public in this form. Nothing on the cover, spine, or back indicates that it’s the first half of a duology. There’s no hint in the cover copy. Nothing in any of the front matter, not even in the back matter. Why?!

Well, okay, I’m being disingenuous. I know why. Because many publishing houses believe that the punters won’t buy book one of a series unless it’s by a known-quantity. Say J. K. Rowling, or Robin Hobb, or George R. R. Martin. While Elizabeth Knox is huge in New Zealand and her adult books have been (justly) acclaimed (go read Vintner’s Luck), Dreamhunter is being marketed as young adult, and in that area she is an unknown. Safest bet, think the publishing people who make these decisions, is to not let on too strongly that it’s just part one, otherwise the punters mightn’t shell out the money for it.

That’s kind of what happened with my book, Magic or Madness. Though the front flap copy does mention that it’s the first book of a trilogy, it’s not mentioned anywhere else. A fair few people have missed it, and been cranky that the book ends without wrapping up all loose ends. Not my fault, if it were down to me it would’ve had a great big 1 on the spine and mention of it’s triloginess on the back cover, but it wasn’t down to me, and thankfully, say the Penguin people, because they reckon that would have really hurt the sales. (And in my defense: there are lots of ways in which Magic or Madness stands alone. Dreamhunter just stops in the middle of the story, nothing resolved at all.)

So, shockingly sometimes the interests of the people reading a book and those of the people who produced the book don’t coincide. This leaves me, the reader, waiting ludicrously long amounts of time for the sequel to books that I foolishly read before their sequels are published. What to do in the meantime? Reread Dreamhunter many, many times. And pray that Knox doesn’t pull a Pullman on me with the sequel.


  1. chris h on #

    Kinda reminds one of a certain evil science fiction cliffhanger of 2003 *shudder* by a certain author who shall remain un-named….

  2. Justine on #

    I can’t think what you’re referring to . . .

  3. claire on #

    all i can do is laugh, loud, at you evil perpetrator and your even more evil husband. for i happen to know when your evilquels are coming out. ha ha! comes around indeed!

  4. Justine on #

    Claire, your accusations against Scott are unjust. (I’ve already defended my book.) Both his YA trilogies are clearly marked as trilogies. There’s no attempt with the Midnighters books or the Uglies ones to hide that they’re part of a series. Therefore caveat emptor. Very few first books of a trilogy wrap up everything.

    With Dreamhunter not only is there no such this-is-the-first-of-two-books warning—the book practically ends mid-sentence. Everything is left up in the air, not even one tiny thing is resolved.

    So there! You keep your laughter to yourself, evil Claire.

  5. Jennifer on #

    Same problem with the “Crystal” duology by Lee and Miller, and “The Family Trade” by Charles Stross. Both cut off right in mid-plot, and then you get to wait a year or more. ARGH.

    (Okay, so the sequel to the second book is out, but not at any of the bookstores here. Grr.)

  6. Justine on #

    I don’t know about the lee and miller, but I’m pretty sure that the Charlie Stross was originally one book and then chopped into two by the publisher, leaving you the reader with only half the book at a time. The reason for this is that big chains won’t order (m)any hardcovers in the US if they cost more than $25.

    It’s what happened to Scott’s The Risen Empire & The Killing of Worlds which were originally one book called Succession.

    Rather than cutting the books into two hardcovers they could just publish them as one trade paperback.

    Anyway, my point is that that was not Charlie Stross’s fault. Don’t blame the author!

  7. Elizabeth Knox on #

    hi Justine

    Thanks for the praise — it really puts lead in my pencil.

    My Australian publishers thinking was this: dreamhunter would appeal to young adult and adult readers, fantasy and literary fiction readers, so a cover that gave no conclusive signals about genre would ensure it reached its widest audience. They explained all this to me. They decided, too, that ‘Book One of Two’ or ‘Book One of the Dreamhunter Duet’ (as it says on the UK edition) would give the game away. We talked about mentioning the One of Two thing on the back or in the blurb, then — well — my first copy turned up with nothing at all on it to indicate it was the first of two books. Needless to say I was a little alarmed.

    But it isn’t the job of authors to make marketing decisions. I know that if I had to be responsible for those decisions I’d go bonkers

    As for the cliff-hanger ending, it has nothing to do with marketing. Dreamhunter and Dreamquake are like one book cut in half. There’s a simple explanation for this. I set out to write the book intending it to be a work for young adults, in several parts. I got to the end of book one, Dreamhunter, and was still completely unsure whether or not I’d managed to produce a YA book rather than something that was neither fish, fowl, nor good red meat. Part way through I had showed it to a fantasy editor at Randomhouse in the us, who assured me that, whatever it was, it wasn’t really fantasy. I gave it to my agent in London, who only knew that she liked it, not whether it was a YA book. I’m a reader of YA books. I know how they should read, and Dreamhunter worried me.

    Anyway, Faber bought it, and an editor there gave me terrific advice about rewrites with the object of turning my dubious what-the-hell ms into a book for teen readers. It was only once I’d finished the rewrites that I had the confidence and experience to go on to finish the story (and to decide that it was two books, not three). The cliff-hanger ending wasn’t a problem for Julia, or to my editors in Australia. My us editor, Frances Foster at FSG, was uneasy about the precipitous tone but thought for a long time that a clear indication that the book was part one of two, and that two would be out only a year later, would take care of that. However, when she started line-editing (and read Katherine England’s review in the Australian magazine, Magpies) her worries came back and, since fsg are publishing a whole year after the UK and NZ/Australia, we had the option of transferring some of the beginning of Dreamquake to the end of FSG’s Dreamhunter – about five thousand words. The us edition does have a clearer sense of ending, and of the direction of the book. But I did need an editor to help me see the necessity for this.

    No writer should ever underestimate the necessity of editors.

  8. Emma on #

    I finished the book yesterday and loved it! My only complaint (apart from having to wait for the next book)is the two different names! I got out both The rainbow opera and Dreamhunter because I thought one was the sequel. Althought the covers are both very pretty. ^^
    I must go read Elizabths other books now…

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