Friday, November 7, 2008

To be continued...

Every now and then, there is talk amongst readers about whether they prefer series books or stand-alones. I think it's pretty much a non-issue as far as we readers are concerned, just a matter of curiosity. Throughout the years, I have heard some odd opinions about things readers do and don't like (a preference for whether a book is written in 1st or 3rd person - doesn't bother me and baffles the hell out of me when it bothers others, but... ) but this hasn't really been one of them. 

So why is it the topic of my discussion today, then? Well, because there are a few things about the series/non series issue that I wanted to point out. Just little interesting tidbits and a "new" trend that's resulting.

First off, did you know that, at least in the mystery genre, series books seem to sell better? It seems that publishers and readers want more in regards to getting to know characters and continuing their adventures alongside them. I mean, it's great either way. Can you imagine Janet E. Stephanie Plum appearing in just one book? No! She's too vibrant a character and she's surrounded by too many others that we want to know about. 

But what's happening as a result is that some authors are being "asked" (maybe leaned on a bit more than that word would imply) to turn stand alones into series. The way some are getting around this, and the new trend that's been popping up, is linking characters. The books aren't true series, but a peripheral character in one book may become the main character in the next. 

I recently finished reading Bill Cameron's latest, Chasing Smoke. In Smoke, a detective called Skin Kadash is on leave from the pd while he undergoes cancer treatments and is called in to help on his former partner's current case. 

Cameron was part of 2007's Killer Year. His debut, Lost Dog, was released as part of the Killer Year group and was nominated for a Rocky (best mystery set in the LCC region) and a Spotted Owl (Friends of Mystery) award. Although I snatched up a copy of Lost Dog at LCC this year, it's been waiting patiently in my massive TBR pile! Anyway, Bill guest-posted over at Laura Benedict's blog last month and talked about his new release. He also mentioned that Skin was a side character in Lost Dog

Other authors who do this are, of course, Lisa Gardner and Iris Johansen. They tend to bring back main characters more than once, but if you've noticed, each seemingly stand alone usually has some connection to a core set of characters. Bill calls them related stand alones. 

I love this idea. One of my issues with series (if you can call it an issue) is starting in the middle. Or, more specifically, when you come across an author you've never heard of and you either don't know it's a series or you can't find the first one to start with. Many authors write in such a way that you can start pretty much anywhere and not feel completely lost. When I was 17, I started reading Faye Kellerman. Not knowing which to start with at that point, though, I began with book 3, Milk and Honey. Fortunately, I was intrigued without feeling like I was missing out on something and was able to continue the series in this hodge-podge manner (book 1 was actually out of print at the time). 

I wish more bookstores would take this into consideration when stocking titles, but unfortunately the big boxes don't. If a series is very established, you're less likely to find all of the books in stock. If there are just a few books out, you can probably still find book 1. Case in point, my sister has been reading the Dirk and Steele books by Marjorie Liu (she says I'll have to borrow them AFTER she's done even though I'm the one buying them). I had the latest for her and have been working backwards trying to get her the whole series. After trips to multiple stores and finally special ordering some, I've succeeded. Good luck finding them all on one trip to the same store, though! 

And, with reprints and new covers, it's not always so easy to decipher the print order anymore. A book could have come out in 1990 and show 2006 on the loc page thanks to a recent reprint by a new publisher. 

My recommendation. Try it all anyway! But I love Bill's idea. I think it leaves more room for new readers to discover him. Not to say that I want my Janet E. or Sue Grafton's to change - although you can probably find all of their books in the store and figure out what order they're in : )

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