When I wrote The Crows, I thought it was a single title mystery. It wasn’t until after the The Crows was released and I was doing book talks that I was asked when the next P.J. Benson Mystery would be out. A second book? Hmm.
As I wrote the second P.J. Benson Mystery (As the Crow Flies), and also with the third (Eat Crow and Die), I have been faced with the question of “How much information do I need to include to tell the reader what came before?” How much is too much backstory and how much is too little?
In my case, as a reader, I get upset when I pick up a third, fourth or sixteenth book in a series and have paragraph after paragraph of information about a character or a town or an earlier incident. Those paragraphs stop the action for me, and in some cases, they stop my reading altogether.
Because of my reading tastes, when I’m writing, I tend to error on the side of less. I include too little information. This has really been pointed out to me lately. When writing books two and three in the P.J. Benson Mystery series, my critique partners had read the previous books. With the fourth book (the one I’m working on now), my critique partners have never read any of the Crow books. They know nothing about P.J. or Wade or Rhodesian Ridgebacks. They have no idea why P.J. never wanted to get pregnant and is afraid of becoming schizophrenic, especially at her age. The questions these critique partners are asking me are great. They are asking the questions I’m sure any reader who hadn’t read the earlier books might ask.
Now, my job is to figure out how to relay the information that would give them the answers they need without telling too much. I don’t want to bore them; I also don’t want to tell so much of a previous book that I keep them from wanting to buy and read that book, too.
One other thing this experience is showing me is, when I have Beta readers read what I consider to be an almost ready to be published copy of this fourth book, I need to have one or two people who have not read any of the other P.J. Benson Mysteries. They will be the readers who will point out what I haven’t explained well enough.
By the way, here’s a really good article on picking Beta readers: https://www.janefriedman.com/find-beta-readers/