A question I have for both readers and authors, and one that most likely will have two very different answers: How much emphasis should readers put on previous outings? Recently, I came across a new title from an author whose previous works were in my top ten. However, the latest seemed to have been written by a completely different person, while the characters and setting were the same, gone were the intense, emotional underpinnings that made the first two outings brilliant.

So, my question is still this: should an author be judged by the entirety of his/her work, with the new title being compared to the previous, or should each individual outing be a separate entity to be looked at anew? I just want to be fair…

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There's no one, simple answer. There are a number of variables to consider. One is whether what you'd read before was part of a series and the latest book was also part of that series, or part of a different series or standalone. There are people who love Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series who just can't get the Brant series, and vice versa. Part of the reading experience is formed by the reader themselves, and I think we all have to be willing to say that there are times a book doesn't resonate with us the same way because it's not about a topic as close to our hearts, for example.

I know authors who say you're only as good as your latest book, and while I think there's some truth in that, for me as a reader I'm probably going to lean in the direction of taking a person's body of work as a whole. I'd have to be disappointed by a favourite author more than once or twice to come to the point where I considered skipping their new release. However, the same doesn't apply to authors who've failed to engage me from my first attempt to read them. I might give them a second chance, depending on the reasons why I had problems with their work, but it's also possible I might never pick up something by them again.
I'm pretty forgiving once an author has drawn me in, but nothing lasts forever. I used to read everything Robert B. parker wrote, and hung with him after increasing dissatisfaction with his books. Finally I just gave up on him. I'll go back and read an older book once in a while, but he's pretty much mailing in the Spenser books now.

I'm much stricter with authors who have yet to prove themselves. They get one book, maybe two. Sometimes even if I liked the first book, if the second gives me the idea he's a one-trick pony, I'm done. It's hard to get me back after that; there are too many other writers out there. I can forgive an authro who tries something different and doesn't pull it off (in my opinion); repetition is much harder to overlook.
I think we all build up a certain level of expectations for authors we've discovered. So when we buy the next book we have our plate half full, if you will, of what we expect to find.

But ultimately, the book itself. . . not the series . . . should be the deciding factor. You know writing is like baseball. Usually the player who hits the most home runs is also the player who strikes out the most. Same is true in writing. You can't hit a home run every time at the plate.
An outing?

An author cannot be in top form with every novel. Some novels are just lucky concatenations (always wanted to use that) of plot idea, place in the series, and inspired characters. The next may not be so lucky. What troubles me with a series author is a degree of lazyness or lack of interest that sets in when the series has dulled for him or her, but the publisher is pushing and the deadline looms. Occasionally, I think, a bestselling author also may decide that anything he or she writes must be brilliant/interesting because people have voted past works superior.

I usually am forgiving for a while, then drop the author.

Re Ken Bruen: I'm one of those fans of the Jack Taylor series who was hugely disappointed with Brant or the hardboiled novels. As I'm not a hardboiled reader, you can ignore my reaction to those. But I am an avid reader of police procedurals and found the Brant novels sloppy.
Sometimes an author's work is affected by struggles in his personal life, so one book won't quite measure up. Sometimes a writer might be shooting for some vague objectives in a particular book that don't quite gel. If you mostly like an author's work, I wouldn't write him off on the basis of one book. It's even possible that others will hold that questionable book in higher regard than you do, because they weight the different aspects of that book differently than you do.

However, there are authors out there -- top names -- who no longer write their own books. After a few such books, the ghosts' name/s begin showing up on the cover, but they don't always appear from the start. Perhaps the reason why it seems as if a particular book was written by a completely different person -- is because it was. I refuse to read those ghost-written books.

Kris
That's a hard one. I'm just thinking of how I act in these circumstances. I do treat each book as a stand-alone work but I do take into account the previous works as a measure. As example, Patricia Cornwell's first few books were enjoyable but then her books started to go downhill. Eventually I could bear them no longer and stopped reading her. With Michael Connolly, he has such a strong body of work, I can forgive him 'The Brass Verdict' which I don't think was up to scratch. I'm about to start 'The Scarecrow' so who knows. It's funny with series - I love Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series but can't get into the Hit Man stuff. I still think he's a good writer despite this. Ultimately if a writer has been producing string work, one or two dud books can be forgiven but any more would probably be cause for concern. Although this hasn't stopped Jackie Collins....:)

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