I am delighted to introduce an old friend I first met at Thrillerfest many years ago, Mike Lawson. He began his career working for the US Navy as a nuclear engineer. While keeping his “day job” he began writing a terrific series centered in the US Congress. Now he has a new thriller, Redemption, released this week. It is described by Publisher’s Weekly as an “excellent legal thriller with meticulous plotting that keeps upping the suspense to nearly unbearable levels.” But, it is different. Here’s why.
by Mike Lawson
I have a new stand-alone novel coming out in April called REDEMPTION. The book is about a disgraced stockbroker, Jamison Maddox, who goes to work for a mysterious company that has security protocols that seem unwarranted for an organization that merely does financial research. Without giving away the plot, Jamison eventually learns that the company is engaged in nefarious activities and his life is threatened when he has an affair with the wife of one of the company’s executives. What Jamison doesn’t realize, is that the woman he’s in love with poses a greater danger to him than the company itself. Okay, so much for the new book, which, I’m happy to say, got a starred review from PW.
What I wanted to explore briefly—and would be interested in hearing what other writers think—is the risk a writer and his publisher take publishing a stand-alone when the writer has a long-running series. One problem with writing a series is that a series limits the kind of books you can write. That is, you might have a great idea for a new book, but that idea doesn’t fit the characters or the premise of your series. The other problem with a series is that readers come to expect a certain type of book from the author.
I’ve published fifteen books in my Joe DeMarco series, the first was INSIDE THE RING. The series revolves around a political fixer, and that’s what my fans (both of them) are used to. And I know, as a reader, when I read an author with a good series, I’m expecting a certain kind of book from that author, and when he or she publishes a different kind of book, I’ve sometimes found myself disappointed. For example, I was always a big fan of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser books, and when Parker departed from the Spenser series to write other books, I found myself disappointed, not because they were bad books, but just because they weren’t what I was used to seeing from Parker.
Knowing this, when I wrote REDEMPTION I considered publishing under a pseudonym, thinking that way the book wouldn’t be judged against my DeMarco series. The problem with using a pseudonym, of course, is that I would lose the name recognition I have with current readers. And my publisher is taking the same risk that I am, not knowing if the stand-alone will have the same appeal –and the same sales—as my series. Fortunately, Grove Atlantic, my terrific publisher, liked REDEMPTION and was willing to take the risk.
The bottom line is this: I’m curious if other writers have had this dilemma. That is, should you just write the next book in your series where sales are pretty much guaranteed or should you—and your publisher—try something different and hope that it sells as well or maybe, hopefully, even better? The second question is, how do you prepare your current readers for something different? Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
I know exactly what you mean! I would love to write some standalones. I once heard Dennis Lehane say that publishers love standalones, because it’s hard to convince the marketing department that a series that has been selling x amount of books will suddenly start selling y amount. But a standalone is a new deal, so it’s easier to get them excited. But turns out, my editor hates standalones!!!
What I’ve noticed so far is that while almost all the reviews of the book have been favorable, four star +, almost all of them make some comparison to my DeMarco series and many have said “I liked it but it’s not as good as the DeMarco books”which is the reaction I was afraid of. The best reviews come from the people who’ve never read the DeMarco books. Actually it’s as good as the DeMarco books but just different. Oh well, we’ll see what happens next. I really want to write more stand alones because they allow me to tell different stories.
When I made the jump I moved from traditional cozy mysteries to thrillers. I was told it was too big a leap by some, but I had an agent who believed in me, and an editor who was enthusiastic. And many of my readers were willing to take the new ride. Glad you made the reach.