The face of a book

The face of THE ART OF DETECTION was revealed to me, as in a dream’e2’80’a6 Actually, UPS brought it on Saturday in one of those brown envelopes that explode grey fuzz all over everything when you pull the tab.

I’e2’80’99ll post it here and on the web site when they finish ‘e2’80’9ctweaking’e2’80’9d it and sent me the jpeg file in a few weeks (my poor editor is off to Europe in the meantime, please include her in your prayers’e2’80’94yes I know the Frankfurt book fair is hardly on a par with New Orleans for disasters, but for a woman who doesn’e2’80’99t get a thrill out of travel’e2’80’a6)

So now I know what the world will see next June. And although books judged by covers and all that, in truth, books inevitably are judged by their covers. An appealing cover makes a person want to hold it, just as a cute child makes people put their hands out to pat. And the more people pick up a book, the more people will end up carrying that book to the register and plunking down hard-earned cash for it.

THE ART OF DETECTION is, interestingly enough, not being sold as ‘e2’80’9cA Kate Martinelli novel.’e2’80’9d The Martinelli name doesn’e2’80’99t appear on the cover, nor is there a SFPD badge or a pair of handcuffs. It’e2’80’99s billed, in the lower right corner, as ‘e2’80’9cA novel of suspense’e2’80’9d, period.

And actually, it makes sense, particularly now that I study the cover art. There’e2’80’99s been a stretch of years since the events of NIGHT WORK, the past Martinelli story, and the world has changed enormously. It’e2’80’99s a series novel only in the sense that its characters have the same names and histories they had in the earlier books. Presenting it as, in effect, a stand-alone Martinelli may be in part a marketing ploy, but more than that, it reflects what the book is.

Which brings me to muse about the fluctuations of the publishing world when it comes to the series novel.

When I sold my first book, in 1992, I saw it as a novel, period, even though it dealt with cops and murders. Quite rightly, Ruth Cavin at St Martin’e2’80’99s Press categorized it as a mystery, and then asked me for more in the series. In the early Nineties, the series was all, and stand-alones worked mostly when they could be lumped as a series, such as Dick Francis’e2’80’99s horse books.

Within a few years, the limitations of the series began to appear. The dangers of repetition loom large, when the writer is locked into one set of characters and settings, and boredom threatens. There is also the problem of catching new readers, because even if the book is a satisfying independent read, most people seeing a shiny new hardback billed as ‘e2’80’9cnumber ten in the Joe Bloggs P.I. series’e2’80’9d are going to be a bit put off by the thought of nine nagging novels in the wings.

So by the end of the century, publishers were beginning to put the series novel in second place, concentrating on the stand-alone Big Book, to be sold with all the bells and whistles they could summon. Series novels were given smaller advances, less promotion, less attention generally. They still sold, and publishers still bought them, but the real interest was in the stand-alone.

But whether the reading public didn’e2’80’99t like them as much, or if that wave of interest happened to coincide with the Internet’e2’80’99s theft of hours from the free time of the general population, publishers found that merely being a stand-alone novel wasn’e2’80’99t enough to guarantee a book’e2’80’99s success. So yesterday when I went into my local bookstore, Jan the owner was telling me that he’e2’80’99d noticed how many series novels he’e2’80’99d seen in the current catalogue (sorry, not sure which house’e2’80’99s catalogue it was.) One book after another had its title followed by, ‘e2’80’9cA Glassblowing PI novel’e2’80’9d or ‘e2’80’9cA Jack Russell Mystery’e2’80’9d or’e2’80’a6

So if I were a new writer, what would I do to capture the eye of an editor? Series or stand-alone?

Looking at what I do, I suppose my answer would be, in addition to ‘e2’80’9cJust write what you love to write,’e2’80’9d that if I were a new writer, I’e2’80’99d do both. In the past twelve years, I’ve written in two series, although because I get bored easily, the books don’e2’80’99t really follow in each other’e2’80’99s footsteps. The Martinellis, for example, each have central characters who reappear only tangentially in subsequent stories. The Russells move from place to place, with five inside England and three without, and again, characters of their own.

And of the stand-alones I have done, DARKER PLACE, FOLLY, and KEEPING WATCH, two are closely tied’e2’80’94not as closely as books in a series, but with overlaps. And in the future, other novels will develop other characters first seen in FOLLY’e2’80’94and even, I think, manage to tie in DARKER PLACE to the cycle.

When is a series not a series? When are stand-alones not stand-alones? And, when am I going to write a “stand-alone Russell”??

Posted in


  1. Elisa on October 11, 2005 at 3:03 pm

    I don’t really care if a book is classified as “stand alone” or part of a “series.” Although I’m thrilled to hear there may be more written about the “A Darker Place” characters, please just keep writing. While it is fun to know some things about the characters at the beginning of a book, it isn’t necessary if the writing “hooks” the reader. The story is what will get me to buy the book. I’m actually not all that attracted to the current covers of the Russel books. If I’d never read any of them before now, I’m not sure the cover would get me to pick one up. But I’m well and truly past needing to be persuaded to purchase. Like any addict, I wait patiently. For the most part.


  2. Chris on October 11, 2005 at 4:07 pm

    This makes such fascinating reading – many thanks for the insights!

    Personally, I love the attaction your works bring by being something different each year, whether it be a standalone or a series book. I started out as a Martinelli fan (well, I still am!) but became hooked on the Russells. The 3 standalones are amongst my favourites of all your work!

    I am so hoping (in the absence of a UK tour next year!) that you will have a San Francisco book launch in the first half of June – I’m in the City and the Bay area for holidays at that time, and could actually attend…(May try and persuade Allison and Busby to send me a copy of their edition before I come out, to bring with me, if they are publishing simultaneously – now that’ll be a challenge!)

    All the best

  3. Roxanne on October 11, 2005 at 6:58 pm

    Gosh. Having never posted anything for public consumption, I just experienced an involuntary chill as I clicked on Post a Comment. In any event…

    Stand alone or series? Either? Both?

    I cannot speak for editors and their (current) preferences. I can recount a clear memory from when I was in bookselling: I once happened upon one of my “regulars”–a middle-school-aged young lady whom I discovered scouring my YA section. She was searching–please tell me there is another one?!–for yet another title by her favorite author. She was more than crestfallen–in fact, devastated–when I was forced to inform her that her favorite author had passed away some years before. There were no more books in the series; she had read them all. I am not unlike this young lady (although no longer “young’). I readily admit that I adore the Russell/Holmes series. (And, yes, I blaspheme and include the name of Holmes in the series. Even though I recognise that Russell is the main character, and even though I would more than willingly buy a “Russell stand-alone,” I must admit that I would miss the Russell/Holmes interaction and relationship development.) I recently purchased Locked Rooms and devoured it (the first time) in one all-night sitting. Now I am languishing. How long until the next one???

    Anyway–the above addresses the need/popularity/desire for books in a series (at least on the part of the reader). Isn’t it characteristically human to want more of a good thing? That being said, I have now resorted to finding and procuring anything else written by Ms. King. Other series. The stand-alones. Whatever I can find. Because–even though I love the character of Mary Russell–I am a devoted reader of Laurie R. King. Ms. King’s books educate me. They expand my vocabulary, often sending me scurrying for the dictionary, and expand my world with her delicious characters and lushly detailed locations.

    Ms. King advises new writers to “Just write what you love to write.” I hope that the author continues to do so. I am very thankful for her work(s). BTW: My own middle-school-aged daughter recently overheard me laughing out loud during a rereading of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. She came to investigate the source of my amusement, read the passage that caused my outburst, paged back to the beginning of the book–and then refused to give it back to me! After a heated argument (which my daughter won), I was forced to find another copy of the book so I could continue my (re)reading. My daughter is now a huge Russell fan and is scouring my bookshelves for the rest of the series… My thanks to Ms. King.

  4. wolfa on October 11, 2005 at 8:09 pm

    I tend to prefer standalones or loosely related books (like Folly and Keeping Watch), where the same characters recur, but you do not need to read in some specific order — especially to try a new author with (I will read everything by someone I like enough).

    As ‘Folly’ and ‘A Darker Place’ are my favourite two of your books, I hope that you do manage to tie them together, if loosely.

  5. Bernd on October 11, 2005 at 8:21 pm

    Robertson Davis, a Canadian author, came up with a nice compromise between stand alone and series: he wrote in trilogies. Each book would have an overlapping cast of characters but be told from a different perspective. Take his biggest success, the Deptford trilogy as example: the first book is told from the perspective of school teacher Dunstan Ramsey; the second from the perspective of the son of Ramsey’s lifelong friend and enemy Boy Staunton (who passed away in the first book, being found in his car in the harbor with a rather large stone in his mouth); the third again by Ramsey, but this time he only serves as witness to the telling of the life’s story of Magnus Eisengrim — a renowned magician and hypnotist, who happend to be born prematurely when his mother was hit by a snowball cum stone thrown by Boy Staunton at Dunstan Ramsey.

    The overall effect is rather pleasing for the reader: he re-encounters characters he already knows, but gets to know them from a different angle; in several instances, an occurrence is retold from a different perspective, providing new insights into what was happening.

    I have not yet Keeping Watch, so I cannot be sure, but from what Mrs King wrote in today’s post about Folly and Keeping Watch, it sounds a bit like Davis’s approach to stand-alone vs. serial — especially if there is a third book in the wings of Mrs King’s mind to complete the trilogy.

  6. Anonymous on October 11, 2005 at 8:29 pm

    I appreciate your insights into the business of writing. Money and sales and marketing hold no interest for me; so, I find the publishing industry scary. I can’e2’80’99t make myself concentrate on it long enough to really understand it. I love to write. Anything beyond that is some sort of imposition on my brain. Though I want the novel I am nearly finished writing to be published, my second biggest fear after no one will want to publish it is that someone will want to publish it. Then, it would have to be marketed and sold and so in some sense would its author. Unimaginable.

  7. Lindy on October 12, 2005 at 2:54 pm

    One of my favorite authors – Madeline L’Engle (usually known for her YA stuff – A Wrinkle in Time and others – but she also has great adult novels) has a whole cast of supporting characters that appear in different non-series novels. Reading a stand alone, and suddenly finding a character that I remembered from a completely unrelated book made the stories seem fuller, like they were connected and continued outside what was written on the page. Like Folly and Keeping Watch. It’s a nice compromise to a series and a stand alone.

  8. Anonymous on October 12, 2005 at 9:27 pm

    I enjoy stand alone books, but then books in a series are my favorites–I ‘know’ the characters. I get greatly frustrated when an author of a series goes into deep, psychological stuff trying to explain what’s happening–just give me a good mystery/novel/suspense story to read and wrap up the ending! I also Hate reading a series then something bad happens to main characters (I swear I will never read another Inspector Lynley!!) So don’t kill off your characters!

  9. WDI on October 13, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    I can understand the marketing downside to series; I am congenitally incapable of starting a series in the middle, so if the bookstore doesn’t have the first novel, I won’t buy any of them. That said, though, one of my biggest delights is to discover a new series (whether by a new author or old favorite). Craft and story are critical to my enjoyment, of course, but I love reading best when I can develop deep connections to the characters — when they become friends and family. I find that good series, those that allow the characters to grow and change from book to book, do that for me.

    When a really good author writes more than one series — well, it doesn’t get a lot better than that!

Leave a Comment