If at First You Don’t Succeed… Should Others Try & Try Again?

As the time nears when the first mystery novel by Susie is released, I thought I would post this entry asking you all for your opinions. [I should say that we know her as “Susie” but A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (the first in her Lucy Campion Mystery Series – which is coming out in April) will be published using her more formal name – “Susanna”.

Susie (Susanna Calkins)asked:

“… I’ve heard many writers struggle with the second book, especially when their first book was well received. I’d be so curious to know if readers usually like the FIRST book in the series the best, or do they think it takes a few books for the author to hit his or her stride.

…I’d love to hear everyone’s responses!”

Please feel free to post a comment with your opinion. Thank you!


  1. Lexie says

    I find that the first in a series sets the stage for a quality well written series. It usually takes (in my opinion) the first 2 to truly divulge the characters true nature (to stretch their roles and attributes) within the role they play and for the reader to discover what common elements about the series keep us coming back, what we delight in and what is interesting about the mystery itself. The elements we like must be in every book or (I) we lose interest. I.E. Sheila Connolly Orchard Series, she builds on her success and charaters with each book and gives the reader a fascinating glimpse of her work and orchard growth, or the Kate Carlisle bookbinder series, her mystery builds in each book with the series. That being said if I delight in all the elements of a cozy first I read every one in the series, hence the need for more bookshelves as I keep my series.

  2. BB says

    Some authors “grow” as they publish more books and some are fully mature from the start. Personally, unless a freshman effort is horrid or the subject matter is something I don’t care for, I try to give an author another chance. Seems like a lot of readers (and TV viewers) *expect* a sophmore slump, though, and I wonder if that doesn’t cloud their judgement.

  3. Susan F says

    My experience, is that unlike movies with sequels, the books in a series keep getting better and better. Best wishes and praying for your continued inspiration, Susan F

  4. Jetty says

    I think it is important that you are intrigued by the first book. In my opinion, next to good writing, the main request to trigger people to read more is to feel sympathy or curiosity towards the main figure and the development of people or surroundings around him/her. Of course they are mainly supposed to reappear in the next books. But the first book doesn’t need to be the best. Sometimes I read and consider it being just a nice read, but I am hooked after a second or third book. If after a first one, the second is slightly less interesting I could continue reading anyway, but a third would be enough to stop reading. I hope this helps Susie. Congrats on the publishing of your book, must be so exciting.
    I want to be an author myself, but I am just too afraid of being rejected. So I threw away all the stuff I wrote (in Dutch, not in English). Probably a wise decision as I don’t think I am talented enough :-)
    Good luck!!!


    • says

      Hi Jetty, thank you. I completely understand that feeling of being rejected! But sometimes we are our own worst critics; perhaps you could ask a trusted friend to provide constructive feedback. At the same time, sometimes we just need to throw away those first few tries, until the right idea comes along. When it does, I really hope you pursue your dream! Best of luck!

  5. Catherine says

    I find that the first book in many series is the weakest book. I have enjoyed reading many a series where each book just gets better and better. Of course the first book still has to be good enough to make you read another. There is a very successful author that I would have not continued reading if I had started with the first book in her series.

  6. Ksenija says

    I usually prefer later books, though the first one is essential for me to get interested in the characters, even though it may lack on plot or development. Get me hooked on people, and I will keep reading the following books.

  7. Judy says

    I believe the first book needs to be engaging enough to hold my attention or I am not going to finish it. I need to find interest in the characters, the plot, the story. When there is so much out there to read, why bother with something that I am bored with and are finding dull? So, yes, the first book in my opinion, if reading a series in order, should hook me in and make me want to keep going until the last page.

    If I find a book later in the series and read it first, it should be just as entertaining and make me wonder what I have missed by not reading the previous books.

  8. Nikki L says

    I generally like the first book the least. So much of it is establishing a sense of place and defining the characters. All that is important for a successful series but I love a great plot. The second or third book is usually my favorite in a series. The author relaxes, becomes more confident with the characters. Keep writing, the best is yet to come.

  9. Gayle says

    I agree with most of the comments posted. I will give the author 2-3 books to stay as interesting or get even better. I have read only one author whose writing and main character, I enjoyed in the first 2 books. In the 3rd and 4th books the writing style changed in such a way, that I stopped reading. I am excited to read the first book of a new author. Thank you

  10. says

    I think it depends on the author. Some do not do as well on the second book in the series whereas others seem to bring the characters to life even more in subsequent books.

  11. says

    Thanks for all the great responses. I think that my comment originally appeared during a conversation we were having on this blog about how many pages will you give a book before deciding not to finish it (the consensus seemed to have been about 50 pages, if I recall). I think I was in the middle of my second book of the series at the time (such a long process to publication!). I actually think my second book might be better than my first, so it’s a scary feeling thinking that if readers don’t love the first they may not try the second! As I’ve mentioned to Danna, I’m an avid mystery reader too so I just love learning from all of you! Thanks for answering my question…it’s so helpful to be able to ask these kinds of questions; I appreciate it!

  12. linda c says

    Susie, Do you want to know what kind of book I love the most? More often then not if an author can pull me into his/her book from the beginning, from the first sentence, or at least the first page, I am hooked almost forever. When there is very little beating around the bush, the author gets right to the jest of the story (that) is the kind of story that will keep me interested.

  13. Cathy says

    I usually make it a point to start with the first book of a series even if ratings/reviews are not so good for it. It seems to give me a perspective I might not enjoy as much if I don’t have the character’s ‘memory’ to rely on as I read the next books. To me, this makes each book better than it might be standing alone. However, I have observed after about ten books, the whole story line seems to start downhill….would prefer the author to wrap it all up nicely in a last book (and move on to another storyline hopefully) than ruin the whole series.
    Susie, I will definitely be adding you to my to-read list….thanks for taking the time to inquire about our opinions!

  14. linda c says

    Just maybe the problem with writing the second book in any series is that if the first one is such a good book, the writer and/or the publisher is just in too big a hurry for the second book to come out. Just maybe what is needed for the second book to be as good a success for the writer as well as the publisher is for both to just sit back, take a few deep breaths, relax, and enjoy the success of the first novel before taking on the second book. Seems to me both writer and/or publisher just need to give each other time and not pressure each other. If the first book is such a good book the readers will wait. Most readers, although I do say quite often that some writers don’t write fast enough, want a second book to be just as good as the first.

  15. Danna - cozy mystery list says

    I think that the first book is rarely the best in a series. At least, that’s what I find with my favorite authors. It takes them a little bit of time to really develop their characters and settings. However, if the first book in a series doesn’t grab me enough to want to stay with the author past page #50, then I don’t even give the author a second try.

    Thank you, ALL, for your comments. I hope we didn’t scare Susie!

      • linda c says

        One important thing that I have caught onto while reading any series is that if I am not able to read the series in order, book by book, if I jump from say maybe book 1, 2, or 3, to say maybe book 7 or 8, sometimes something will happen to a favorite character in one of those books that I missed. Then I have to go and try to find which previous book that happened in. An example of this is the Lucy Stone series. I didn’t read the book where Lucy’s son, Toby, got married. Now I don’t know which book that was in, nor do I know the circumstances.
        Also Marcia Muller’s Sharon McCone series. I have read several of the latest books in this series. Then I went back and tried to find some of the books at the beginning of the series. Now I can’t find some of the series’ books. This is such a good series that I want to know how Sharon got to where she is now. Skipping books in a series isn’t always the best either, especially if a reader wants to keep up with what is happening in these characters’ lives. Maybe we just need to endure some of these more poorly written books in the series so we don’t miss anything.

  16. says

    An interesting question. I’m currently writing a series and the second was definitely the best out of the first three. In terms of reading other series, I felt like Sue Grafton really hit a slump in the middle of the alphabet (not a surprise) but pulled out of it and is writing better than ever. The Brother Cadfael series was another where I felt the same way. But many authors just seem to be phoning it in after six or seven books. And then there are those authors who die (Judi McCoy with her dogwalker series and Rebecca Rothenberg with her botanical mysteries) or just quit writing a series and leave me longing for more. That’s probably the reason for the popularity of books that feature Sherlock Holmes and Jane Austen as characters.

    • Danna - cozy mystery list says

      Waverly, I totally agree with you about many authors “phoning it in after six or seven books.” I have dropped a lot of my favorite authors who I would NEVER have thought I would drop. There are just too many books out there for me to want to wade through an author’s “slump.” (Good thing there are so many other books and authors out there!)

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