Friday, May 6, 2011

My Dumb Ugly Baby

By Deborah Sharp

Why don't people like my middle child?

Don't work yourselves into a lather, parents. I'm not about to cyber-humiliate an actual youngster here. I don't even have kids. I'm talking about my middle book, Mama Rides Shotgun. Don't all authors think of their books as their babies? I know I do; and it makes me as mad as any mama to see my second-born being ignored.

This became clear to me last week at Malice Domestic, a conference of mystery readers and writers held each year near Washington, D.C. The good news: The conference bookstore, Mystery Loves Company, sold out of the first and third volumes in my Mace Bauer Mystery Series. The bad: There sat an ample supply of Shotgun, forgotten and forlorn, like the unpopular kids at that table in the back of the school cafeteria.

What is it? The trail ride setting? Too many would-be readers afraid of horses? Or is it the Shotgun of the title? Too old-fashioned a firearm in a world of SIG Sauers and Glocks? Ohmigod, is it the poor child's mother? Is she trying too hard?

Whatever. I feel like that mom who just knows her unpopular kid is as smart and special as the homecoming queen (maybe more so), if only the other kids would take the time to get to know her.

Maybe I'm just fooling myself. As a middle child, I have tons of experience in the realm of being overlooked. When the First Born comes along, everyone says: ''What a tiny, perfect miracle!''
With the baby of the family, friends and relatives gather to coo: ''Awwww, so cute!''
Here's what they say, eyes glazing over, about Little Miss Middle Child: ''Oh, I didn't realize you had three kids.''

Is it just me, or do other series authors see the same phenomenon? The debut continues to sell. The latest release garners some excitement. And the one in the middle? Glazed eyes and, ''Oh, I didn't realize you had three books.''

How will the series fare as I add more titles? My fourth, Mama Sees Stars comes out in September. So, will there now be two middle books as series wallflowers, while No. 1 and No. 4 dance under the disco ball at the prom? Or, will it still just be Shotgun, all alone in the corner, wearing the dunce's cap?

How about it, series authors? Do your middle ''kids'' get ignored? Readers, do you prefer to start at the beginning of a series? Or, will you happily pick up the author's titles in no particular order?

In other words, is this a general trend? Or, is it just my poor little Shotgun that's so unappreciated? Go ahead, be honest. Break a mother's heart.


Charmaine Clancy said...

I always have to start at the beginning of a series, and get cranky when book shops stocks lots of series without Number Ones available.

Lisa Bork said...

I liked your middle child, Deb. It's sitting on the shelf right in front of me.

It seems like everyone's first book gets lots of attention then things dwindle off--evidenced by ratings on Amazon or Goodreads--unless just the right cord is hit. And weddings do trump trail rides.

Deborah Sharp said...

Charmaine, I hope the first in my series is always available ... hate the thought of readers getting cranky ;-)
Lisa, Awwww, thanks! I bet you were always nice to the unpopular kids at school, too.

Lisa Bork said...

Ooops, I meant chord.

And, Deb, I was one of the unpopular kids...still am :)

Keith Raffel said...

Deb, why didn't Shotgun sell out too? Because those who were just meeting Mama for the first time bought Time and your fans had already read the first 2 and wanted to read Hitched.

Lisa, you brought tears to my Friday morning eyes.

Beth Groundwater said...

Hi Deb,
This is a typical occurrence for series books. As Keith said, readers who are just discovering you buy the first book in the series and readers who already know you buy the latest. If those first-time readers like the first book, they'll buy the second, and third, and fourth later.
- Beth

Lois Winston said...

Deb, Keith and Beth are correct. I even heard other authors at Festival of Mystery saying this. People who attend these events are looking for authors new to them. They start with the first book in the series. If they like it, they buy the next. People who are already familiar with your series will be looking to buy your latest release. It's not the book. It's all about buying habits of mystery readers. I'm sure those who bought your first book will be buying your second when they finish the first, and those who bought your latest book had already bought the second.

Darrell James said...

I was an "only child in a family of six" (being very late to come along). I don't know about middle children.

I believe Keith and Beth are probably right. Give your little darling some growing time, she'll probably turn out to be the hit at the 20 year class reunion.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I once heard a bookstore owner say that getting attention for the second book in a series is the hardest. For the first, you're new; you can get some buzz. Once you have three or more, there's a track record and a growing number of readers looking for the next one.

All very cheerful, since I'm working on launching my own book 2 in September...

But - I bet those who picked up the latest will be going back to get the earlier volumes!

Deborah Sharp said...

Keith: Lisa also brought tears to my eyes.. but can't picture her as an unpopular kid!
Beth: From your (and Keith's) mouth to Go'd ear.
Lois: I'll keep repeating that: It's not the book; It's not the book; It's not the book ...
Darrell: I hope my ''baby'' is the hit at the 20th high school reunion; Lord knows her ''mama'' wasn't!
Kathleen: Hope so! PS: What's the title for your No. 2 book?

Dru said...

Never fear, I'll buy and read all your Mama books.

Jessie Chandler said...

Deborah, what a hilarious and heart-tugging post! I've turned in my own second book, and it will be interesting to see how it goes. At least I'll have you and a number of other folks treading this territory before I get there! I'm inclined to agree that the second sib will get more popular over time as people discover you and want to get their hands on ALL the books :-)

Deborah Sharp said...

Dru: thanks, girl ... as always, you're the best!
Jessie: Yep, always nice to know you can look to fellow M'Inkers for the score. I did it, now you and others with debuts out now are doing it, too. BTW, congrats on signing on for No. 2!