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To Series or Not to Series?


When I started sending around my first mystery-thriller at the end of 2011 to a few friends and relatives in preparation for public release, I had no intention of continuing any of the characters in a second or third book.  To be completely honest, I was modeling my work very much after early John Grisham and, as far as I know, he creates new characters for each book.  At least that was the case for his earlier ones (The Firm, Pelican Brief, etc.).

So, I was immediately thrown into a conundrum when the first readers (other than my wife who had read chapters as I wrote), assumed that subsequent books would be based on the same main character.  Once that book, Project Moses, hit Amazon and started to get readers, this became a familiar pattern.  Readers assumed, in fact, that I had written in certain aspects of the plot so that the protagonist, a San Francisco newspaper reporter named Enzo Lee, would be free to live, love and solve mysteries again.  Also, people fell in love with a secondary character, an African-American lesbian detective, and made it clear they hoped to see more of her. 

I was pleased in some ways.  Obviously, many readers felt attached enough to Enzo and the detective, Bobbie Connors, to want to read more about them and future adventures.  Chief among my worries when I started writing was that I wouldn’t be able to draw convincing characters.  I tend to be very analytical so I thought my main strength would be architecting plots that held together, seemed credible and didn’t leave loose ends.  Most of my rewriting focused on refining the characters, making them believable to me so they were acting and interacting in ways that didn’t seem false or contrived.  I would write elaborate back stories and then delete them, convinced they had too much detail.  But, often I would return a third time and drop in a detail or suggestion of the more elaborate back story. For instance, a key part of Enzo’s past – what happened to him earlier in his journalism career that almost cost him his job and drove him back to reinvent himself in San Francisco – went unexplained until the middle of the second book, Divine Fury.

And, of course, there were the marketing aspects.  One of the first concepts I learned in the crash course on self publishing that I began when Project Moses went live in January 2012 was the supposed power of multiple books, particularly in a series.  The conventional wisdom is that if you can get people hooked on one of your books, particularly if it’s part of series implying even more consistency, readers will likely buy the rest, giving you a powerful multiplier effect.  I guess the same wisdom would say that this effect is most powerful when it comes to true sequels (say, Hunger Games or Harry Potter), with the next level being an ongoing main character (like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books).    

So I decided not to buck what seemed to be both the popular choice (per Amazon reviews) and the business choice.  I stuck with Enzo.  I’m working on my third book now, and it is another Enzo Lee mystery thriller.  However, I’m thinking very much about taking a break from Enzo after this one.

As I plan my books, I find myself operating at two somewhat contradictory levels because of the series approach.  At one level, I’m thinking about Enzo’s life, career and relationship. Permanent relationship?  Kids? Discoveries about his family’s past that are troubling?  At the other level, I’m thinking somewhat abstractly about possible conspiracies or suspenseful themes. A political thriller? A science-driven plot?  Massive corruption on Wall Street?  I think of Michael Crichton’s work in this vein – very much concept driven.  (Jurassic Park.  Andromeda Strain.  Disclosure. The Rising Sun.)  The first path (character development) gives me a more Enzo-centric story.  The second may require almost stuffing Enzo into the plot, but gives me a bigger overall story in a sense.  Personally, I enjoy a good local crime story but the ones that stand out for me have bigger actors and forces involved. 

If nothing else, I certainly understand now why some writers who do focus on a particular main character sometimes make a switch.  Connelly comes to mind as he sometimes takes a break from Harry Bosch and has attorney Mickey Haller as his main character. 

We all need vacations.

Robert B. Lowe is a Pulitzer-prize winning author whose fiction is based in San Francisco, his adopted home. The author’s latest Enzo Lee mystery thriller is Divine Fury. 

His past experiences – a 12-year career in investigative journalism and a Harvard Law School degree – enable him to write gripping mystery thrillers in both the legal and journalistic fields. Lowe draws his inspiration from John Grisham, Dick Francis and Lee Child and adds his own San Francisco twist. Readers will enjoy his references to the city’s landmarks such as Chinatown, North Beach and Pacific Heights  and the Bay area’s foodie culture.


Robert will be awarding a $25 Amazon Gift Card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour so I e
ncourage you to follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here: http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2013/01/virtual-book-tour-divine-fury-by-robert.html





            

12 comments:

  1. As a writer who got a start with one that has become a series, I am now in a dilemma because the smasall Indie publisher declined the fourth book. Despite my own sales reaching into the hundreds for each, the publisher states their sales are dismal. Now I'm stuck trying to find another publisher for the entire series...

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    Replies
    1. Hi Val. As someone who has gone all indie, I'll be happy to share my experiences with you. I don't know that either route - complete indie or small publisher - is a sure road to riches, but you can get a lot of readers, reviews and positive reinforcement on your own with a little effort. You can reach me through my website www.robertblowe.com Thanks for the visit and good luck.

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  2. I must say that when I have a vested interest in a character I do like to see them pop up again.

    marypres(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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  3. I like a series since I get to see my favorite characters again and I think thriller and mysteries are ideal for series.

    moonsurfer123 AT gmail DOTcom

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  4. Personaly I like a series more, because the story and the characters have more time and space to grow.

    lyra.lucky7 at gmail dot com

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  5. Thanks for having me on the blog and thanks for the comments. The reaction above, I guess, proves my point that many readers, particularly in the mystery genre, invest in the key characters and form an attachment. I certainly appreciate that.

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  6. What was your favorite part in writing this book?

    shadowrunner1987ATgmailDOTcom

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  7. Hi Ami. Thanks for visiting. In Divine Fury I have a troubled war vet who makes an extended and violent trek from his home in Montana to San Francisco with a deadly purpose. Those parts were pretty fun to write. They were separate so I didn't have to worry a lot about integration and capturing the edgy, barely hinged quality was a nice challenge.

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  8. This sounds like a great story. I loved Project Moses, and was hoping for a series.

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  9. I agree that I love seeing characters coming back for a round two. You spend all this time growing to like them in book one, it's natural to want a follow up!

    andralynn7 AT gmail DOT com

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  10. Wonderful thoughts! I like the sounds of this one! Thanks for the chance to win!

    Kate

    hense1kk AT cmich DOT edu

    ReplyDelete

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