Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Muddled, Mushy, Marvelous Middle

Here I am at book #3 in my Vietnam veterans mystery series. Soldier on the Porch hits the ground running tomorrow. At least it hits the library mailing lists. My publisher, Five Star, vends primarily to libraries, so they devote the first three to four weeks after the release date to mailing copies to libraries that have already ordered the book.

But I already have had the Advanced Reading Copies—the ARCs—in my hot little hand, so it seems like a real book to me. How it feels to be in the middle of a series?

Muddled, for a start. Not the writing itself; there I see an improvement in each book. It’s the muddle-headedness of publishing and marketing in general. About five years ago, another writer commented that those of us who would publishing between 2000 and 2025 would be the vanguard for a new way of thinking about books; that we might be the last generation of writers who distributed and marketed books in the traditional way.

As it’s played out so far, authors are far outstripping publishing and distribution in leaving the old ways behind. Web sites are passe (but you still need one), blogs are overloaded (but you still need one), and authors have moved into podcasts and video book trailers as a matter of course. Unfortunately, distributions systems are still stuck in the early 20th century. We can get the word out about our books, but we can’t get the books themselves out. The old systems are crashing and the new systems are not in place to replace them.

Next I feel mushy. Contrary to common belief, selling your first book isn’t the key point in a writer’s career. It’s selling the fourth book, and so far, book #4 in my series has not sold. In mysteries, the series has been the absolute king for years. Cracks are appearing. Many writers—including me—are intentionally limiting their series. For example, I knew going into it, that it would be five books in total. One very successful writer recently said in an essay on publishing that well-established mystery writers are beginning to go for stand-alones because one book is all they can expect to place with any publisher.

Even though #4 hasn’t sold, I decided to write it anyway. I need to finish this series and have it on the shelf. And, I have a stand-alone in the planning stage, just to cover all my bets.

Finally, I feel marvelous. I’m really, really doing this. Maybe not as well as I’d hoped, but as well as I can, and I’m having a great time. I’ve made tons of acquaintances in the mystery community. I’m a part of critique groups. I know far more about the business end than I want to, or than anyone sane person should have to contend with, but basically, being in the middle is a great place to be.
Writing quote for the week (and blatant self-promotion to boot):

First, the book Soldier on the Porch by Sharon Wildwind was great!! I got nothing done around the house because I didn't want to put the book down. This is the third in the Elizabeth Pepperhawk (Pepper) series. Pepper was a nurse in Vietnam (and so was Sharon) and the series is set after she returns to civilian life. You can check out the books and more about Sharon at www.wildwindauthor.com. For those of us who were adults during the Vietnam War, the books bring back a lot of memories -- and remind us that once the war is over, there is more work to be done in bringing those who were part of the fighting back into families and friendships with the understanding that we can never know what they went through. I would assume that many of the returnees from Iraq will have the same issues. Hopefully books like this can help us understand just a little. But please don't get the idea that this is a book only filled with angst -- it's not. There are flashes of humor and the mystery is excellent. I thought I had the thing figured out -- no way. There are two prior books in the series
Some Welcome Home and First Murder in Advent.

~Deborah Andolino, Aliens & Alibis Books, Columbia, SC


Sandra Parshall said...

As a reader, I've been enjoying stand-alones more than series in recent years. Many series feel tired, as if the characters were long ago pushed to the limit. I like suspense novels, thrillers with a very personal focus (as opposed to end-of-the-world stories, which bore me to tears), and it's hard to do that kind of story over and over with the same characters. Two or three books might be possible, but 15? No. Anyway, I'm glad more writers are putting a limit on their series. If they know they're writing toward a definite end, maybe the writing will be sharper than it would be if they were thinking of writing the same series until they drop dead.

L.L. Bartlett said...

I hope I make it to the "marvelous middle." I've already written the next two books in my series, but it'll be 3-5 years before they see print (IF they see print).

I see 5, possibly 6 books in this series, but then I think I will have tapped all the characters have to give. Or at least all I have to say about them. But even though I have started the 5th and outlined the 6th, I probably won't finish them. It's all about sales. If the sales aren't there, my publisher (same as yours) won't pick up the others. This next book is the test.