I know I’ve talked about cash cows and cash cow series before, but rather than focusing on the annoying aspects of why is an author doing this to me. Or I never planned on investigating my time in a series that twenty some odd books long. I thought I’d talk about what makes a decent spinoff and give some examples of spinoffs that actually worked versus, well, the various bombs.
1) Have some familiarity but not too much familiarity:
I find the best spinoffs are those that balance the familiarity factor. The thing with spinoffs is you’re trying to entertain two audiences. Your fan base of the previous series and the second is new readers. Successful spinoffs should try to cater to both.
Since I am currently binge reading-and loving-The Bloodlines series by Richelle Mead, I think I am at liberty to say that this series does factor number one quite nicely. While there are definite nods to the original series and it’s a little easier to understand Mead’s vampire world, it’s not necessary to read Vampire Academy before reading Bloodlines.
Helpful? Oh, yes. It does provide insight to both of the leads, but it isn’t necessary. There’s enough rehash of world building and a quick history of past interactions where one doesn’t feel like they’re missing details, but if they hadn’t read the original series, they might be more interested in reading them.
On the other hand, you have a spinoff like Wolf Pact by Melissa de la Cruz-the Bliss Llewellyn standalone that took place in the Bluebloods world. There was a double edge to this standalone only ebook- that at first was supposed to be a series but somehow ended up being one book-was that if you didn’t understand Blue Bloods you weren’t going to get Wolf Pact and if you didn’t read Wolf Pact you weren’t going to get the last book in the Blue Bloods series. Which really wasn’t that fun for readers who lacked an e-reader (believe it or not, it does happen) or didn’t know you could order a hard copy from the UK via the Book Depository (oh yes, evil publishers I outwitted you on that :P).
2) It’s probably best if the original series has ended already:
Having two series going on at the same time could work…but more often than not I think it gets the reader confused and annoyed when it takes double time for the original series to be complete because the spinoff is already in the works.
It’s true that the spinoff will give press to the original book, but…well, it could be to it’s detriment as well.
Cassandra Clare and Melissa de la Cruz both published spinoffs while their original series was still going on. And while the spinoffs were of various qualities-I actually liked Clare’s Victorian set spinoff versus hating de la Cruz’s various Blue Bloods spinoffs-both had the same effect of derailing the momentum of their original books. And leaving the distaste of commercialization on their reader’s tongues.
Some authors have tried to remedy this by interrupting a series (putting it on pause to speak) by introducing a new series or spinoff and having the characters come together in the original series at a certain point. Notably, Kelley Armstrong and Melissa Marr have done this, as well as Cynthia Leitich Smith. Did I finish those respected series?
Um, no. Because it wasn’t the new characters I wanted to read about. I was invested in the original characters and trying to pause their stories for me to buy and get sucked into another unknown character’s story really didn’t work for me.
Plus, it seems a bit presumptuous of said author to think I’d like to read a spinoff especially when they’ve released only a couple of books of the original series.
3) Don’t try to make this spinoff the hipper, younger, version of your original book. Niche it in a way that doesn’t ring to 90’s cliche:
Younger and hipper.
Way to insult your original fans.
But it does happen. Not outright as this, but they try to cater to a different audience. I think this can work and at the same time hinder the success of the spinoff. Really, it all depends on marketing.
For example, as much as I liked Meg Cabot’s Princess Diaries series, it’s probably unlikely I’ll read her middle grade spinoff. This is due to several factors. In part because I just don’t do middle grade (I try to forget about those awkward years) and in part because I’d feel weird holding a book with that cover out in public. Of course, I might ebook it, but still I just can’t imagine The Princess Diaries series. A series that was so candid in a lot of adult topics being targeted towards middle graders.
I also have to wonder how many original readers are going to go buy the middle grade books. Some of them, I’m sure. But I do think there is going to be some people (like me) who opt out. And that’s fine. The book’s probably going to be great, but it is eliminating a portion of its older audience in order to target a brand new age group.
It’s not only spinoffs that are being targeted towards younger age groups that have me raising an eyebrow, but older age groups as well. A recent trend seems to be adding an adult book on to these series. Such adult contributions included sequel to Sweet Valley High where a very annoying couple is broken up in a fan fic-ish type way. Meg Cabot is also planning on doing adult sequels to her Princess Diaries and Mediator series. Jennifer L Armentrout is doing a new adult spinoff to her Covenant series and has had an adult spinoff released of her Lux series. And last but least there’s Vampires in Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz.
With adult spinoffs-which are more or less sequels for the most part (with some exceptions) there’s almost a feeling of just who are these people.
It seems like the missing years-between conclusion of the original series and the development of adult behavior have left these characters to be completely different people. Also, to age them up they often end up acting and having careers that are a lot more older than they actually are. Once again, like with books derived towards younger audiences, the author risks losing some of their original fan base by having books set in a different age genre.
Okay, true a lot of fans have grown up but a lot of adult fans still read YA and don’t even want to bother with adult books for the most part. And while these adult books are often pitched as the books where so and so finally do it or where you can see their gorgeous baby (honestly, I don’t get why every character has to have a baby) it often comes out feeling like wish fulfillment fan fic. Of course, there are some adult spinoffs I enjoyed like Obsession (Jennifer L Armentrout’s adult spinoff of the Lux series), but this is because it’s not trying to be an outright sequel or set up to another series. It truly can be read alone and despite some rather cringe worthy sex scenes, it’s actually a decent book.
4) Don’t turn your spinoff into a right out sequel:
I love sequels, but if I was going to read a sequel I’d read it as a continuation of the original series not as a new proposed spinoff novel. Case in point, Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz.
I really do feel bad.
I keep mentioning a lot of Melissa’s spinoffs. But she does have a lot. And some or more successful than others-the Witches of East End series, despite it’s sort of hit and miss, is actually a decent spinoff in form because it isn’t a right out sequel. For the most part with that series, you don’t have to know Blue Bloods and when you read Blue Bloods (save for a very stupid character in the very last book of the original series, you don’t have to read it to understand Blue Bloods). The thing withVampires of Manhattan is that it really is a literal sequel rather than a spinoff. If you don’t know these characters or their histories, you’re not going to be able to understand Vampires of Manhattan. And while it is true there’s about seventy pages of exposition to try to catch you up, it’s not the same as reading those seven previous books. You’re not going to feel invested in their stories.
While new readers get the dissatisfaction of not knowing the characters or the world the spinoff is based in, old readers also will feel a bit disenfranchised with how the author dumbs down the series to try to entice new readers.
Case in point, the character Aria in Vampires of Manhattan. She’s a completely new character. Which would be good if she had a personality that was her own. Except she doesn’t. She’s completely a mashup of past Blue Bloods characters. And her only purpose seems to be to tell the readers about the investigation aspects of the novel.
5) Know when to stop.
Know when to stop. Eventually your universe is going to have to end and it’s always good to do it on a high rather than a low. Even the most ardent of fans are going to want it to stop after awhile.
Or at least take a breather. Meg Cabot took years before announcing the fact she was giving her famous Princess Diaries series a middle grade spinoff.
However, Cassandra Clare is announcing book series left an right that will be part of her omnibus Shadowhunter universe. While some fans might like the fact she’s announcing all these books, I wonder if she’s doing herself a disservice. By announcing all these sequels all at once, it’s almost became a joke to me wheneverI see something new of hers added on GoodReads. And really out of the various multiple books she’s discussed in the past month. For the life of me, I can’t remember all their names.
Spinoffs can be a great way to grow and keep a fan base and further a developed universe. At the same time they often smell of cash cow.
However, as long as there’s a successful series there’s always going to be a spinoff. Some will be better off than others. Various factors will decide whether they are decent or not. And sometimes there will be an outlier where the factors aren’t relative.
I think in the end, there’s always going to be a risk in taking a chance on a spinoff or not. And while sometimes you might end up smiling at the new twists and turns that are added to the universe, other times you’ll be wailing cash cow.