You may not have heard of the expression “continuation novel.” What it refers to is when one novelist writes as another to expand or continue a literary franchise. According to Rhys Griffiths we’re currently living through a golden age of such fiction, and the reasons why are worth considering. The concept has been around since ancient days, but its current popularity tells us a lot about the contemporary publishing scene.
The changing nature of intellectual property rights has much to do with the answer of course: they were less clear in the past, and more short-lived making forgery and plagiarism viable options. The literary brand, today, is a managed and controlled phenomenon. A dead author’s reach on social media (managed by their estate or publisher) can be vast. The person or people who control Socrates’ Facebook page have access to nearly 1.5 million people.
Aside from copyright, however, two interesting factors might be considered when explaining the present rise of the continuation novel, one recent and one not. Post-war publishing saw the paperback revolution, a change that according to Encyclopaedia Britannica ‘set book publishing upon a bolder and more adventurous course, turning it from a minor industry into one of sufficient growth and profitability to attract professional investors’. Arguably the eBook ‘revolution’ is a comparable growth area for the industry, ushering in a period of new potential profitability and markets. ‘Publishing’, says Jonny Geller, ‘is all about finding shorthand ways of capturing the reader by reducing intricate and complex narratives to bite size signifiers’. Few literary forms fit that bill like the continuation novel.