The Same But Different
Oxymorons aside, I’ve come to realise after writing eleven books in my on-going Joe Hunter thriller series, that there’s a certain expectation from readers that each book should be the same…but different. By that I don’t mean conducting an exercise in cutting and pasting, changing a few names and locations here and there, but in that there should be familiar characters, themes and a similar level of explosive action they’ve come to expect from Hunter’s exploits. It stands to reason, I guess. Readers probably picked up the series because they enjoy the kind of characters, themes and explosive action promised by a Joe Hunter book, and stick with the subsequent books expecting more of the same. And being the scribe of Hunter’s adventures it’s my responsibility to ensure that my readers’ expectations are met. To which I try my hardest.
But the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time is true.
Joe Hunter is a British ex-counterterrorist soldier, who now works with his old military buddy, Jared “Rink” Rington’s PI outfit in the US. By his own admission, Hunter isn’t much of a detective, so usually takes on the role of bodyguard, fixer and even sometimes vigilante where necessary. By virtue his exploits tend to be hard and fast-paced, and often of an uncompromising variety.
Over time I’ve taken to heart some of the negative criticism levied on Hunter (and me) and tried to redress the complaints sometimes aimed our way. To me it’s kind of obvious to what market the Hunter thrillers are aimed, and yet I still attract negative criticism from reviewers who perhaps are seeking tales a little more staid or cerebral. The books are action thrillers, and so they contain action – usually with a capital “A” – and quite often a high body count, and my writing is often accused of being over the top in this respect. So, being objective and sensitive to this feedback, in the last few books I’ve toned down the action somewhat, and even in the latest Hunter thriller (book 11) – No Safe Place – ensured that Hunter manages to get to the end of the book without killing anyone (although there’s still plenty of action). But here’s the rub. I’ve now attracted negative comments that Hunter isn’t the indomitable action man he once was. To new readers it doesn’t matter, they’ve enjoyed the book, but to some of my long time readers they’ve bemoaned what they perceive as a softening of the character.
Over the course of the eleven books (and various short stories) I’ve tried to give readers what they want from Hunter, and have thrown him into various situations wherein I can challenge him, and also allow him to grow as a character in readers’ affections. He has faced a serial killer, an international assassin, domestic terrorists and a drug cartel, but equally he has also been involved in “smaller scale” cases confronting small town corruption, a family of demented rapists, and even a black widow murderer. I’ve been conscious of tempering the series when I’ve felt it has grown overblown by inserting a smaller tale to bring it back down to earth again. We are all familiar with box office movie franchises that follow the pattern of trying to be bigger and brighter with each outing only to fall into the realms of the ludicrous, and it has been my aim not to allow that to happen to Hunter. In doing so though it does open up the series to criticism from those who want more and more bang for their bucks.
With this in mind, I’ve sat back and taken the criticism onboard, and come to a simple conclusion after asking myself a question: do I write for my faithful readers or my critics (who might very well never read another of my books any way)? There’s surely only one answer. Faithful readers all the way.
Except, therein lies the conundrum.
Obviously I want to engage new readers. If they have been attracted to the series by the tamer books, will some of them be dissatisfied by ones of a larger scale? I guess so. But then an equally large number of new readers might love reading something the same…but different.
So, if I can ask a question of my fellow authors and readers (I’m both after all), do you follow a series with a sense of expectation, where you feel confident that you’ll get your usual fix, or do you prefer to be surprised along the way by something slightly different from the norm?