There's been commentary circulating on Twitter for some months now about how important it is to authors that readers buy the early books in an incomplete series. Things to the effect of 'If you refuse to buy book 2 before book 3 is out, the publisher will cancel the contract and book 3 will never come out and it will be ALL YOUR FAULT'.
Every time I see this, I think of Neil Gaiman's famous blog post about George R. R. Martin, the one where he discusses how entitled it is for readers to expect authors to dedicate every working moment to producing the next book of an incomplete series.
I do not dispute either point. Publishers do cancel series when the early books don't sell well, regardless of whether or not the series is complete. It is futile at best and counterproductive at worst to browbeat an author because they are not Writing Fast Enough.
But I would like to submit it is also futile to browbeat readers who do not like the format in which you package your product. Envision the conversation like this:
Seller: Buy my chocolate!
Consumer: Oh, sorry, I don't like chocolate. More a vanilla person.
S: Well, in a few years I plan to stock vanilla!
C: Yay! I will buy your vanilla once you start selling it.
S: NO YOU HAVE TO BUY MY CHOCOLATE NOW OR I'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO MAKE VANILLA WHY DO YOU HATE VANILLA DON'T YOU KNOW THAT YOU PERSONALLY ARE DESTROYING THE VANILLA INDUSTRY ;__:
C: [... quietly leaves to buy vanilla from someone else]
Does this really seem like an effective strategy?
Yes, I am aware that it's easier for authors of epics to support themselves if they can sell their epics one book at a time and live on the proceeds from the last book while they write the next. However, "it is easier if" <> "the thousand-page epic will go away if this mode of publishing stops". J.R.R. Tolkien had finished all of The Lord of the Rings before any of it was published. Conversely, Charles Dickens wrote and published most of his novel as serials before they were published as single books. The fact that we currently have "unfinished epic" as a healthy publishing category while "unfinished novel" is only just starting to make a comeback has not stopped the latter from being written.
A market only works because it benefits both buyer and seller. There are lots of readers who don't have a problem with reading books in an unfinished series. If you are publishing Book [X] of [Y], those readers are your target market. The readers who only want to read complete stories are not. Complaining about the latter group because they aren't supporting you RIGHT NOW doesn't change that RIGHT NOW you're not actually selling something they want.
You have several markteing options here! You can:
(a) Sell standalone books
(b) Sell books in a series as each one is finished and rely on the support of people who like that format
(c) Release the series all at once at completion for readers who like binging
(d) Try to lure in the people who like completion as well as those who like series by having a quick publishing schedule
(e) Talk about how great incomplete series are! Seriously, books that end in cliffhangers are arguably the most successful book marketing strategy. Obviously many readers love them. If you want to convert the folks who don't, tell them why they should. Talk about how you savor the time between installments as a chance to fantasize about possible resolutions, or a way to connect with other readers and discuss the characters' current predicaments, or a way to get your fix in unintimidating bite-sized chunks, or whatever else it is that makes you love this style of storytelling.
(f) Whinge at potential readers about how the publisher is holding Book X+1 hostage unless they buy Book X RIGHT NOW.
Y'all can probably tell which strategy I would not recommend. -_-