Monday, June 17, 2019

Furthermore – When Readers Dictate Priorities

It started with my False Bottom (Seamus McCree #6) proofreaders. My ARC readers jumped in with two feet. When the local postmistress buttonholed my better half, Jan, I knew I had a strategic issue to address.

Each novel, novella, and short story in the Seamus McCree series has its own narrative arc, but the series itself has a larger arc. At the end of each tale, questions remain—not about the action in that one—about how something will affect Seamus and his family in the future. Some of the novels have a specific hook to a future book. I say future advisedly because the hook from Ant Farm (Seamus McCree #1), although it receives a nodding reference in Bad Policy (Seamus McCree #2), does not come to fruition until Empty Promises (Seamus McCree #5).

I’m not about to provide any spoilers, but it gives nothing away to confirm that at the end of False Bottom, the reader will recognize that I have left multiple issues for Seamus and his family to address. Perfect fodder for future books.

As I demonstrated with Ant Farm, I’m willing to let readers stew for a while before resolving open issues. My writing plan called for me to write a spin-off series featuring one of the secondary characters from an early Seamus McCree novel. Truth is, I’d like the experience of a big publisher contract and marketing, and that won’t happen with the Seamus McCree series (although many fans have suggested Seamus would make a great television series . . .I’m up for offers . . .).

So, once I finished False Bottom, my intent was to work on the second draft of the first novel in the new series. And, if False Bottom gained enough readers and reviews to make me think another novel was worth my time, I had an idea for it: I’d return Seamus to his camp in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and have the story revolve around his granddaughter, Megan.

Perfect until the proofreaders asked, “Who is she?” And they—and the ARC readers—predicted (without consulting me or despite consulting me) that the next novel would answer the question. Well, I had other plans that required them to wait for their answer.

Until Linda, my postmistress, told Jan she read False Bottom over the weekend and wanted to know who she was. When, she asked, was Jim coming out with the next one to answer that question?

2021 was not an acceptable answer.

As readers posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and contacted me by email, it became clear that if I waited two years to provide answers, I would piss off not only my rabid readers, but even folks who had read only False Bottom.

I thought my priorities were the new series and bringing Seamus back to his U.P camp. But they were not lining up well with my readers’ wish to find out who she is.

I caved. I will answer (Well, maybe. You never can be sure—this is me, after all.) my readers’ pressing question by writing a novella. It’s current working title is Furthermore. It takes place three weeks after False Bottom ends. Set in Boston, it will address both the complication hinted at in the last chapter of False Bottom and the burning question—Who is she?

I mentioned my decision to one proofreader, and she wanted to know when she would get it to proofread. When I demurred, she suggested she could set up a writing schedule for me. Talk about motivated. I expect to finish the first draft next week.

What do you think? Am I wise to accede to my readers, or should I have ignored the hubbub and worked on the spinoff?

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James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series. False Bottom, the sixth novel in the series—this one set in the Boston area—was first available in May. You can sign up for his newsletter and find more information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com/index.html.

This blog was originally published on the Writers Who Kill blog 6/16/19.