How Many Books In Do You Usually Discover a Mystery Series?

This is sort of a companion thread to Tom's about how many books in a series before it usually starts to run out of gas.


Before the internet I can't remember ever once reading a debut mystery novel if that was the only book the writer had published. Sure, sometimes I'd hear about a series and start it from the beginning but usally by the time I'd heard about it the series was already 3-4 books along (I remember I first heard of Robert B. Parker when he got a big write-up in the Montreal Gazette when The Judas Goat was published and had scenes at the Olympics in Montreal - then I found out it was the 5th Spenser novel and started from the beginning).


The internet may be changing this, but I think it's still unusual for many people to discover a series on the first book.


So now I guess it's a race between getting the series noticed before it runs out of gas ;)





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I just posted on the other thread that it is believed in the business (my agent's words) that it takes 7 novels for the series to catch on.

I think it happens in less, perhaps one ot two, and depends entirely on the characters. I also think that many a series has lost it long before book five. Evanovich managed three with me.

Then you might consider that normally a year passes between books. Readers forget, and the series has to be rediscovered several times. Eventually that may work in its favor because you don't get tired very quickly, but rather return for another visit with great friends. In the latter case, readers may well want an expected routine rather than something new each time. And there the reaction might be different for those who read along as the series develops from those who come to it many years later and read the whole thing back to back.
"I just posted on the other thread that it is believed in the business (my agent's words) that it takes 7 novels for the series to catch on."

And that's what's so frustrating to me as a reader about how the big distributors killing perfectly good midlist series at three or four books.

I would often discover a series at four or five. Often that's the book I was able to get my hands on, and then I'd hunt down the beginning of the series before moving on to later books. However, very often these series were at seven or eight books before I discovered that fourth book.

Now and then I've discovered a book at the first of the series, but as you say, sometimes the wait until the next was long enough that I'd forget about it by the time the next book came out. The best situation to get me as a reader would be if I discovered it when there were at least five books - because after reading that many, I don't forget about the series.
Interesting points! Personally, I recall starting John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee series several books in (The Green Ripper, I think) because that was the copy my older brother handed me.

I then read a few others without thought of sequence. Once I was hooked, I went back and read them all in order. In my opinion, this series never flagged.
I agree, Jon -- I've never discovered a series on the first book. In fact, can you even really call it a series when there's only one? Or even two? I seem to always hear about a series at about the fourth or fifth installment, but I'll usually go find the pilot book to read first. I don't like coming in in the middle.
Two series that I jumped on from book one and have stuck with are Randy Wayne White's Doc Ford (Sanibel Flats) and William Kent Krueger's Cork O'Connor (Iron Lake).
I don't think there's any rhyme or reason to it for me. My current favorite series, C.J. Box's Joe Pickett novels, was discovered with the fourth book (there's 10 now). One of my all-time favorite series, Stephen Dobyns' Saratoga mysteries, was discovered 12 years after the first came out (No. 6, I think). Others I've discovered right from the get-go. Until the last five years or so, it all depended on what grabbed my eye on a given day at a given bookstore or library.

I will say this: One of the signs that a series is a good one is the ability of the reader to backtrack and then jump forward without feeling cheated or disoriented, and the ability of the author to make each book stand alone on its own merits while providing just enough connective tissue to other volumes to provide satisfying character development and progress.
You can check Amazon and see how many customers have bought other books in the series. To me that's still the best indicator.
I think it's at least three or four books in, unless a debut novel gets fabulous press everywhere, like Attica Locke's Black Water Rising. The joy of discovering a series that has a backlist is that you have plenty to go back to, which is what happened with me in discovering Ross Macdonald thirty years ago (and Hammett and Chandler, whose entire oeuvres were already published), or Elmore Leonard in the eighties, when he already had a ton of books out, including his westerns. When I do find an author I like, I always go back to the beginning and read everything, which is why my bookshelves are groaning.


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