At the Bristol Crimefest last May, Peter James, winner of the 2016 Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger Award, was one of the invited speakers. I’d never heard of him. When I went to his talk, however, the room was standing room only. The sixty-something man thanked us all for coming before explaining some of the influences on his writing. He’d had the good and bad luck to be robbed when a young man living in New York (he’s from the UK) and wound up making friends with the police sergeant who was assigned his case. That man helped James with lots of writing details and voilà! James was on his way to a career of writing, and often what he writes about is crime.
When James discussed his series featuring police detective Roy Grace. I noticed that the audience members became particularly attentive. When he asked for questions, everyone wanted to know more about this Roy Grace fellow and his adventures. When the talk was over, I asked people sitting around me if they’d read James’ work.
“I’ve read everything he’s ever written!” exclaimed the woman next to me.
“I love his Roy Grace series,” said the man next to her. “I’ve read every one of those books. You should read them. They’re great.”
“How many are in the series?”
“Eleven or twelve. But start with the first one.”
Twelve books plus a CWA award?! And I’d never heard of this guy!
But it goes to show how important it can be to write books in a series—books that people want to read starting with the first one.
By now I’ve published a whopping total of three mysteries in the Andy Veracruz series. Well, it seems like a lot to me! But the important thing is that I’m at the point where I can begin to tap into the power of having a series. Okay, I’m no Peter James, but at least I’ve got a short list of titles. As I push my latest novel, I can point out that it’s the third one. When I address book clubs, I can casually mention the setting for the 4th book, which I hope to have out next year.
People always ask if a series should be read in order. That’s a tricky question for me. I feel that my third book is the best written of the three. Will people get to it if they start with the first book and find fault? Of course I’d love for them to buy the whole series. At my last book launch, that’s what happened. I gathered a few new readers, and they bought all three books on the spot. Very exciting!
But at the Tucson Festival of Books, it was Amy Bennett who had the smartest idea. I listened to her several times as she successfully convinced potential readers to buy her first book. But when she ran out of copies, she reversed her strategy. “You can start anywhere,” she assured would-be customers. “If it’s good enough for Star Wars…..” Indeed!
In the meantime I’ve dutifully read Peter James’ first book, which is Blood Simple. And I did like the Roy Grace character. I have the second book in my Amazon queue, but. I’m not sure I have the stamina for twenty-something books by the same author. As I read, I’m trying to gather ideas about craft, and that might best be done by reading a variety of styles. However, one thing is clear: Readers appreciate series. Now that I’ve got one, I’m pushing mine. As an added bonus, I’m more motivated than ever to finish the fourth book—and to make it even better than the ones that came before.
What are your own thoughts on reading and writing a series of mysteries? Which ones do you read yourself? How many volumes do you envision writing for your own characters? What are you doing to keep your protagonists learning and growing along the way?
In the meantime, happy reading!