I'm watching the WB show Gilmore Girls right now (hey, don't laugh - it's a well-written show). Rory tells a teacher that she bought the teacher's book new, not used, so the teacher would get full royalties. The teacher responds, "I get full royalties whether you buy the book new or used." Rory quips that she's learning something already.
But what she's learning isn't true. Authors do not get "full royalties" on used books. In fact, authors get NO royalties on used books.
As a thriller writer, I'd never intended to do a "series" character - a hero or heroine who returns in book after book. To me, this was too much like TV. Each book is just a new episode in the character's life, rather than being a uniquely important event. Besides, I thought it would be boring to do the same character over and over. What a drag.
"Series" books are big with publishers, though, because they're considered easier to market than standalones. Over the years my publisher would suggest doing a series now and then, but I always resisted.
Then a few years ago my then-editor, Doug Grad, suggested that since I'd created several female protagonists who lived in L.A., I might try having two or more of them join forces. This idea sparked something in me, and I ended up bringing together the heroines of my books Next Victim and The Shadow Hunter. They teamed up in Dangerous Games, and now they're back in my just-released book Mortal Faults. (Buy it now at Amazon.com! Okay, sales pitch over.)
Someh0w, using two characters instead of one made the idea of a series more palatable to me. I liked the dynamic of the two women, who are opposites in most respects, and therefore continually at odds with each other. The ongoing conflict makes it easy to write their dialogue and to develop new situations that test their tenuous friendship. In Mortal Faults the test is particularly severe.
The characters can be defined quite easily by contrasting one with the other. Abby is self-employed, a freelance security operative who makes up her own rules and violates any laws she finds inconvenient; Tess is in a management position in the FBI, and she believes in following procedure whenever possible. Abby is hyperkinetic, sexually adventurous, and a night owl; Tess is calmer, much more cautious about entering into relationships, and (for the most part) an eight-to-six office worker.
These differences extend to other areas that aren't always spelled out in the books. In just about any area of life, I can tell you where these two ladies stand. For instance, Abby is a Democrat; Tess is a Republican. Abby is secular-minded with a touch of New Age consciousness; Tess is a traditional (though briefly lapsed) Catholic. Abby likes exotic foods but minimizes red meat in her diet; Tess is a meat-and-potatoes gal. Abby avoids caffeine because she's already so jittery; Tess drinks pots of coffee to get through her paperwork-filled day. Abby is the type of neighbor who plays her music too loud at all hours of the night; Tess is quiet, reliable, and will water your plants when you're away.
Generally, I can write Abby just by projecting a set of preferences that are the opposite of how I actually feel. I don't like noisy, crowded places - so Abby does. I don't drive a flashy car - so Abby does. I don't obsess over movie trivia - so Abby does. She is the anti-me. Whatever I am, she's not, and vice versa. At least, this is largely true. But there always has to be some common ground between a writer and his fictional characters. In Abby's case, it's probably her tendency to keep to herself a lot. I do that, too. (So do most writers, I think.)
Because she is a more extreme personality type, Abby is easier to write than Tess, who is more "normal" in most respects. I can relate to Tess. She sees the world basically the way I do. That's why, when people occasionally ask which of the two women I like better, I have to go with Tess, even though Abby seems to be the favorite of most readers. Tess is not as lively as Abby, true; but she's ultimately a better person - more mature, more responsible, more capable of seeing the larger dimensions of her work. Abby reminds me of a teenager who hasn't quite grown up - hyperactive, reckless, narcissistic. She is charming but, like any narcissist, potentially quite dangerous. A world of Abbys would be a world in chaos, but a world of Tesses would work okay.
Really, though, we need both. Or at least it seems my books do!
Lately I've been trying to move from paperback into hardcover, but I've found that it's a lot more difficult than I'd thought. The problem, as I now understand it, is that for a book to get a hardcover deal, it has to be approved by several different people. One editor alone can't greenlight it. You need three or four (or more) to all get on board.
Now, since three or four editors can never agree on anything, this is a tall order. I once had a book that was reviewed by three different editors. They all had completely different ideas. One editor excised a passage that he found wordy and pretentious, while another editor liked that same passage so much that he praised me for it over the phone! One editor thought there was too much characterization; another thought there was too little. One wanted the book to move faster; another thought I needed to slow down the pace.
These things are subjective. Getting three or four editors to all give the thumbs-up sign to any given project is probably not a whole lot easier than negotiating an Arab-Israeli peace treaty.
Then add office politics to the mix. You know, Bob likes the book, but Bernice hates Bob so she says she hates the book just to tick off Bob and make him look bad. Bob then gets back at Bernice by nixing her next desired acquisition. It's like a scene from the old, much underappreciated sitcom NewsRadio where two colleagues are mad at each other and take out their frustrations during a brainstorming session.
LISA: I think we should do subway updates every 15 minutes throughout rush hour.
DAVE: I don't like it.
LISA: Why not?
DAVE: I don't know, subway updates ... It just doesn't "feel" like our news station.
Of course he doesn't care about the updates. He just wants to step on her toes. I'll bet this happens in real life all the time.
LISA: We have a children's book here about a character named Harry Potter. He's a wizard, and he goes to a school for wizards where he learns magic. I think it could be a big hit.
DAVE: I don't like it.
LISA: Why not?
DAVE: I don't know, wizards, magic ... It just doesn't "feel" like our imprint.
So Lisa gets steamrolled, Dave gets a laugh, and Harry Potter gets a pass.
It's ridiculous, and it's just one more argument for the imperative necessity of developing an alternative to the stultifyingly inbred world of New York City publishing. Come on, e-books!
(You know, if there was no need to actually make money at it, writing would be a pretty darn good occupation.)