Starting a New Book (Reading or Writing!)

Glass Rooms

LUCY BURDETTE: Recently a line from a blog post by editor/author/former agent Nathan Bransford caught my attention. (And yes, he’s the namesake for my Detective Bransford.) He talked about the idea that it takes a lot of energy to begin reading a new book—with new characters, new setting, new stakes, new style, new everything. It’s a leap of faith for the reader to trust her/his investment will be worthwhile. This is why a book’s opening is so important—something about it must draw the reader in quickly. 

I’ve noticed that choosing what to start reading next can also depend on my mood. If I’m tired or discouraged, I would rather pick something familiar.  Last week I chose The Glass Room, an Ann Cleeves Vera book and Many a Twist by Sheila Connolly instead of Barbara O’Neal’s When We Were Mermaids or Ryan Stradal’s The Lager Queen of Minnesota. I know I’ll love both of the latter, but I wanted the bar for entry into the world of the book to be set low. Hence, picking up series books where I’d already met the characters, rather than everything feeling new, like a foreign country. 

Readers, does this ring true in your book choices? Writers, do you think about this when beginning a new book?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Reading one? Or writing one? I’m very fond of standalones, so everything is new most of the time. I have very few series that I’m devoted to–so my book choices are more like to be whole new worlds.  (Ask me about J Ryan Stradal, Lucy, I just shared a signing table with him and he is adorable) When it come to writing ,I’m doing standalones, too, so my goal indefinitely to get the reader instantly intrigued and situated. You could also look at it, I suppose, that the bar for entry to a standalone is LOWER, because you’re not required to remember anything. Hmm. VE-ry interesting. 

HALLIE EPHRON: I’ve written both standalones and series, and they each have their bonuses. For me a book sets its own ‘bar for entry’ in its opening pages... not in the previous book. Having said that, I’ve been having so much fun the last few weeks rereading ALL of the Harry Potter books. Now I’m dawdling along near the end of the final one, reluctant to be on the exit ramp. 

RHYS BOWEN: I love writing standalones, knowing I’m going to create a whole new world, and when I’m done to walk away from it (however many letters I get demanding a sequel, which happens each time). But starting a new book in my series is like a reunion with old friends. So comforting to be back where I know everybody, I know my way around. The challenge is always to assume there will be new readers, and how to fill them in on back story without becoming boring to established readers. As a reader I go through the same emotions, excited to start a new book in a beloved series yet sometimes wanting to try something quite different.

JENN McKINLAY: I’ve just written my first stand alone. It has been quite an experience. All that world building for one book just seems so exhausting. Then again, I am currently working on the next book in my library lover’s series and while revisiting my old characters and setting is comforting, I also get impatient trying to think of new and different ways to describe the familiar. As a reader, series are my jam. I love the comfort of revisiting characters that are near and dear to me. When I am feeling more adventurous, I’ll reach for a stand alone.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have always loved series novels. So much so that when I got the idea for a novel, it never occurred to me that it should be anything other than a book in a series. I also read standalones (just finished Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, which I adored) but I have to admit it takes more mental and emotional energy to dive into a completely new world with new characters. When I’m feeling a little overwhelmed I will turn to the comfort of familiar characters and settings.

So far, at least, I haven’t felt driven to write a standalone, because I get to explore so many new places and characters in my series books.

Red readers, do you find that it takes a lot of energy and commitment to begin a new book? Does this change depending on whether it’s a series book or a stand alone?

This content was originally published here.