Monday, April 09, 2012

Nook First - Week 2, and Writing Series

What I'm reading: Stay Close, by Harlan Coben; Dutch Me Deadly, by Maddy Hunter (bike); Contest entry 1 of 4.

First, a brief summary of my second week at Barnes & Noble. The program puts your book on the home pages for two weeks of the 30 days you've committed to the exclusive, so the first two weeks are where I expected to see the greatest sales. I wasn't disappointed. (If you haven't read my summary of Week 1, click here.)

(clicking should enlarge the image)

For Week 2, I had two books on the Top 100 in the Nook Store. All my books moved well up in the rankings, four of them under 500. (Note: my best-selling Amazon titles are in the 3000 – 5000 range, and I've always been happy with that.) I sold over 5000 books that week.

Week 3 is almost over as I write this, and, as expected, my sales have dropped. However, let's put things in perspective. Prior to Nook First, I was thrilled to sell 10 or 20 books a day at Barnes & Noble. In Week 3, my sales are still in the hundreds. So, just because it's not as spectacular as it was, I'm still seeing more sales per day at B&N than I am at Amazon. Who'd have thought I'd ever say, "Oh, darn. I only sold 300 books today." Or, "Oh, darn. I need a tax accountant."

As for writing, I'm gearing up for my next Mapleton Mystery. This is the first time I've committed to an actual "series". Yes, I have my Pine Hills Police "series" and my Blackthorne, Inc. "series." But in reality most of those are spin-offs and connected books. HIDDEN FIRE is a true sequel to FINDING SARAH, but although the rest do feature a recurring cast of characters, they're merely set in the same general universe.

With a mystery series, you follow the same characters as protagonists, and, for the most part, books should be read in order. But what about revealing too much to the readers?

I recently won a book by C.J. Box, who writes, among other stand-alone novels, a series featuring Joe Pickett, a game warden. The book I won was somewhere around number 10 in the series. I enjoyed it, and am going back and starting with Book 1 (I'm up to #5 now). However, knowing what's happened in the "future" does take away some of the tension Box sets up. If a character disappears in Book 2, but I already know he's alive and well from reading Book 10, then I'm not as fully engaged as I would be if I were reading in order.

In a more extreme example, I read a second book by a best-selling author who recapped so much of Book 1 that I had absolutely no desire to go back and read the first. And in another book, also a series, the protagonist has recapped the killer as well as who the red herrings were in the first chapters. All the 'mystery' is gone, so why would I read the first book?

On the flip side, I recently re-read Michael Connelly's first Harry Bosch book. In that book, he talks about a case that's happened in the past. Enough so, that I had to verify that I hadn't missed a book. He's setting things up so he can write about that case, and he's careful not to reveal much more than Bosch solved the case, and it was high profile.

So, for my next Mapleton Mystery, I'm going to have to decide how much to reveal. I know not everyone reads in order. For example, I would definitely avoid telling readers who the killer was in Book 1, although that crime is going to have to be mentioned in some roundabout way, since it was the first homicide in the town's collective memory. Solving it becomes part of what shapes Gordon's character. But let's say I introduce a character who has taken over the job the killer held. Do I mention why the new character is here? Or do I not even bring the "new" character into the book? (You'll probably notice that I'm pointedly avoiding mentioning who the killer was, or what job he/she held, for those of you who might still want to read the book.)

I think it's important in a mystery series, perhaps more than in other series, since knowing who is or who isn't the villain can spoil the read if you're backtracking.

How do you feel about reading series? How much do you like to know about what happened before? Or do you even care?

Tomorrow, my guest is Karla Brandenburg. Her topic: Writing as Therapy. For those of us who write because we have to, this is an enlightening post.

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Essay Writing Service said...

This is really great excitement for any writers to see such tremendous growth of the sales. I can imagine the quality of writing in these books. Nice informative post.

Jemi Fraser said...

Writing a series is definitely a challenge. I tend to read books out of order a lot of the time. I like when the author sprinkles in bits of the past without ruining the other story for me. Easy to say - hard to do! :)

Terry Odell said...

Jemi - yes, finding that balance is a tough task.

Kelly McClymer said...

Great news on the promo, Terry.

I love series that follow a character (Robert Parker's Spenser, Anne Perry's Monk, Carol O'Connell's Mallory just to new a few). I especially like when they develop through the series -- but as Jemi says, not so much that I can't read a story out of order without getting a big spoiler).

Kelly McClymer said...

that should be *name* a few...should have had more coffee this a.m.

Maryann Miller said...

Huge congrats on the success. I, too, really enjoy series books and love to see the characters grow and change throughout the series. It is so disappointing when an author gives too much information about and reference to the first or previous books.

Katharine Eliska Kimbriel said...

Very happy for you for your sales, Terry!

I do know a mystery writer whose editor insisted that she spell out what happened in the first book. Nothing she could have done about it except kill her career right out of the box. So we can't automatically blame the writer!

Anonymous said...

Before I started writing I read a lot more than I have time for now. I especially liked series by Robert Parker, especially the Spenser, and he introduced past so smoothly that he never spoiled it if I'd missed reading a previous book. I envy those who can write series, especially mystery, and I really liked your books, Terry. Keep them coming.

Peg Brantley said...

Jemi nailed it regarding plot. But there's also that character thing that could loom if you're not careful.

I picked up a book in the middle of a successful series I hadn't read before. And I could not find a way to like the protagonist. Clearly readers who knew her from previous books felt differently, but for me it became a DNF. So there's yet another balance a writer needs to be aware of. Her character had been so developed over so many previous books that she didn't bother with it for this one, but maybe had she done that her regular readers would have been bored.

patricia driscoll said...

great post Terry. What a great success story. And, I'm in the middle of book two in my new series, so your info was helpful.
Nice meeting youat LCC.

Karen C said...

I'm so glad that your experience with Nook First has exceeded your expectations and that your books are selling so well!

I really enjoy reading series and I prefer to read in order. I may start the series late so I like it when the author is able to achieve that balance.

Terry Odell said...

Kelly, Maryann - I'm a series fan as well. Character development and growth over time is one of the reasons I keep coming back. Spoilers are something else, I agree.

Katharine - yes, editors and publishers do have a say. Doesn't make the problem go away, but authors often don't have the last word.

Velda - keeping a long-running series 'fresh' is a challenge, and Parker definitely had the knack.

Peg - I agree. I got some books at a recent conference, and they weren't 'book ones', so I'm dealing with trying to get a handle on things. It's a tough sell for me.

Patricia - nice meeting you as well. I'm about 1 scene into book 2, trying to remember my own advice.

Terry Odell said...

Karen, I'm definitely a 'read in order' person, and getting these 'not first' books recently has made it clear why I feel that way.

Kathy said...

Terry I am happy to hear how well your sales ahve done on Nook. This is really good news. Hope your sales sty strong and your book does well. I have 8 books to read for the published side of of teh Daphne and 5 unpublished side. So I think I will be busy along with my own writing for a while. Maybe by the time I come up for air I can grab a couple of your books.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy, you're much more dedicated than I am. I'm judging as well, but only 4 published books (that's what they sent) and no unpublished manuscripts.

Kate Thorn said...

I prefer not to have very much info
"given" to me--and if I like a book--and do not realize that it is a series, I will go back and read them in order. I do not appreciate given the whole story of book 1 in Book 2. My series is about 8 books--too much info to catch the readers up. And very boring for those that are reading in order.

Kate Thorn

Terry Odell said...

Kate, sometimes reading series back to back to 'catch up' gets a reader caught up in the "more of the same" syndrome. When books used to come out once a year, there was time to forget details, and reminders helped. (There have been long series where I've wished for footnotes when a previous event is mentioned, telling me which book to go back and re-read!). But revealing critical points that will spoil reads isn't what I want.

Kathy said...

Terry, Somehow I missed this post. I love reading series. If I happen to grab one in the middle I tend to try to go back and get the other books to bring myself up to date on the books. I enjoy seeing the character growth across a series. How hard is it for you to write them? What makes you decide to write one? How do you decide where to go with them?

Kathy said...

I didn't miss the post just forgot to ask my questions I think. If you get a chance you can answer if not that's okay too.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy -
For series, for me, it's about the characters. If I like them enough to want to feature them over more than one book, I consider a series. I'd always thought I'd write a mystery series, but since I was writing romantic suspense, and series aren't common in romance, it just took a while to get around to giving it a go.

Kathy said...

So your charcters decide what makes the series? That sounds interesting. I had considered my historical (western) might make a good series. But my thought was that the heroine's best friend and the hero's best friend would make the second book. I never finished the first book. It was my third attempt at writing I think. I had done a Lord of the Rings fan fiction, then started a paranormal and then the western.

Terry Odell said...

Kathy, my characters always write my books. :-)