ADMIN: Please welcome guest blogger Roxanne St. Claire of the popular Bullet Catchers romantic suspense series (among many other books). She’s willing to answer questions and chat with MSW friends, so don’t be shy!
Hey suspense fans, how cool to be guest blogging at one of my very favorite places to procrastinate! Thanks to Allison, Karin (my future anthology mates) and the whole MSW gang for the invitation to play in the cyber sandbox.
I’m currently in writer’s limbo, a place that rarely lasts more than two or three days for me: between books. I do not like it, Sam I Am. I function best when I am ankle, knee or (best of all) chin deep in a manuscript, living on the hairy edge of a deadline, falling wretchedly in love, taking down a baddie, planning my next twisted twist. But this month finds me in the trenches (known as signings, appearances and speeches) to promote my latest release, THRILL ME TO DEATH. I am trying to make the most of it, and using my time with so many readers to do a little unscientific market research about what they read, and why. What I’ve learned is probably not news to anyone reading this, but it is so universal that it strikes me as something that bears blogging.
Here is the mother of all understatements: readers like connected books. No, that’s not true. Readers LOVE connected books. Frankly, this connection with connection is so extensive, pervasive and attractive to readers that very often they won’t consider books that aren’t connected, much in the same way they won’t consider certain genres, time periods or settings. Maybe that’s a great big “duh” to you, but I confess it took me a while to see this particular light, blinding as it might be. My first three books, all romantic suspense single titles, were blissfully unconnected to one another. Nary a character from one showed up in another. My interest in the world I’d created and the people that populated it ended on the last page. Those books sold just fine, did very well in contests, and started a nice career chugging along for me. But it wasn’t until I climbed aboard the connected book bandwagon that my career did more than chug, and I know that forward motion is no coincidence.
Readers, I’ve learned in my recent travels to bookstores and libraries, demand connected books. They are, in truth, way past disappointed when they pick up one of my backlist and use it to point to a stack of another title and say, “Are these a series?” Fortunately, I can slide forward two other piles, with similar titles, similar covers and one big world I’ve been building. These books, I assure them, are connected, and more are on the way. This gives me an opportunity to blurb my Bullet Catchers, “bodyguards to die for” or whatever marketing phrase flows to my tongue. The audience brightens. And they buy. (In multiples.)
I admit I wasn’t a fan of connectivity when I was “just a reader” — for a good twenty years, I should say. Maybe there weren’t that many connected series around then, but when an author would reference a character who was obviously from a previous book (now happily married, conflict free and, usually, expecting) I would cringe at what felt, to me, like arrogance. Was the author so cocky that she assumes I’d read everything she’d written? Plus, it gave me that feeling you get when you arrive at the movies fifteen minutes late: I’ve missed something critical — do I even want to be here? I don’t know why it took me so long to get with the program — I was a fan of nighttime soaps back in the glory days of Knot’s Landing and Dallas, and admit to being a 24 and Lost addict today. Why wouldn’t that spill over into books?
I dipped my toes into the connected book water with my first three category books (the much-loved and oft-used brothers connection) and then, when researching the premise for my fourth romantic suspense that I had decided would feature a bodyguard, I came across the term “Bullet Catcher” and the equivalent of writer’s lightning struck. My world was born, my team was formed, my series took shape faster than I could start a character list. And, lo and behold, brother, I am a believer! Readers adore connected books.
Not that everything comes down to marketing (says the former PR pro). I am really enjoying the process of world building and the challenge that comes with layering a story arc across multiple books and creating characters who will be promoted from secondary to lead in future books. I love the “extension” of my stories, and now look for ways to layer the connectivity, whether it’s a mini-trilogy within the series or laying the foundation for a relationship between secondary characters that grows and changes from book to book. I have definitely caught the connectivity fever.
However, I do believe this phenomenon has changed the playing field for genre and commercial fiction writers. It has an impact on the kinds of stories that are told, the speed with which they are published, and the eventual success (or not) for writers who may not be hardwired to think in terms of connected series (or may not be able to produce them fast enough to feed a hungry market). I hope it doesn’t impact creativity. I have lots of story ideas that have nothing to do with bodyguards. Some aren’t even romantic suspense. There may not be brothers, sisters, co-workers or story lines involved that merit their own books. Will I get to tell them? I hope so. I hope no stand-alone stories remain untold by any writer because of the market demand for connectivity. Just as I hope no secondary characters are created for the sole purpose of having their own book someday.
I won’t ask why readers like connected stories — they’ve told me. They like to revisit old friends, they like familiarity, they are invested in the characters and their stories. But I would like to know if you all believe this trend (if it can be called that) is forever. Is it good for readers and writers? Is there anyone out there who doesn’t like connected books? Could we overdose on them? Do some work better than others, and why? I’d love to hear comments from writers and readers on the pros and pitfalls of connected books.
Thank you, again, for inviting me to stop by. I’ll check comments and will be happy to answer any questions about connectivity in particular or the writer’s life in general. For a little while, anyway. Then I’ll be leaving writer’s limbo and heading into deadline paradise. I can’t be late…I’ve got a connection to make.