In a Series: How Many Books Is Too Many? by Maggie Pill


I recall a few years ago blithely saying on a panel at Malice Domestic that I couldn’t write a series with more than five books. Too confining. Too repetitive. Too boring.


Eat, Drink, and Be Wary is the 5th Sleuth Sisters mystery, and it released April 14th.

The story came to me as it often does, as a basic idea: the sisters would go to a trendy winery and run into a murder in their first hour there. That was the backbone, forming a beginning, middle, and end, but it required a lot of work to cover that frame with the humor and personality of a cozy and the details that make a mystery enjoyable. What if the trip involved a group Barb disapproved of, and she decided not to go along? What if Faye got stuck dealing on her own with crowds of strangers and (OMG) a fashion show? What if Retta actually got dirty—not just a little dusty, but right-down filthy?

Weaving those ideas into the web of murder and other crimes, I ended up with a fun story, a satisfying plot, and a lot of humor and action. But it’s the fifth Sleuth Sisters Mystery. Does that mean I’m done?

The Sleuth Sisters is different from my other series (written under my real name, Peg Herring) in that the material comes from real life. I have two sisters. We love each other but recognize that we see the world from diverging viewpoints and live our lives very differently as a result. While we’re not like Barb, Faye, and Retta in most ways, we are as unlike each other as they are. I learned early in life that when people have dissimilar perspectives, they might have trouble working together.

Barb, the oldest of the sisters, sees humankind through a logical lens, which means she wants to “fix” people and things so they make sense. Faye, the middle child, sees life emotionally, so she notices and feels compelled to relieve the pain of both people and animals. Retta is a little selfish (having always been the cute one), and though she is strong and even fearless when necessary, her first concern is likely to be saving her nail polish from damage. Their differences give me a lot of raw material to work with in this “sister series.”

The other thing I (wisely, but not purposely) did is have the three women open a detective agency. I didn’t intend the first book, The Sleuth Sisters, to become a series, but it did because so many readers wanted it to. (When they beg for more, how can an author resist?) Professional investigators have cases brought to them, unlike Jessica Fletcher-type characters who must “happen upon” corpses over and over. This series combines the advantage of P.I. novels, where protagonists are charged with solving crimes, with the fun of cozies, where small-town characters exhibit unique personalities and lovable oddness.

There’s another thing I have to consider, and it’s what my fellow panelists were kind enough not to point out to me when I mentioned five as my limit on a series. Financial and critical success is hard to walk away from. Readers love the Sleuth Sisters, and as a result they buy them in e-book, print, and audio. It’s not just me who benefits from this. The owner of the studio that makes the audio books and the three actresses who read the sisters’ parts love their regular paychecks from Audible. My editors and cover artist are pleased with the prospect of more business from Maggie Pill. And my husband doesn’t mind listening to me talk about writing (which I do way too much) if I’m telling how well sales are going. It’s hard to look at rising numbers and reader requests for another adventure and say, “I’m not writing any more of those.”

The solution?

I plan to let the series be its own pilot. If an idea comes along that stirs my creativity, I’ll continue. If not…Well, I refuse to push it. I like the sisters and enjoy taking their different points of view as I write their adventures down. I hope a new idea comes along before 2018, but if it doesn’t, that’s okay. My Peg persona has lots of stories she wants to write down too.




Maggie writes mysteries, loves fine chocolate, and lives in northern Lower Michigan with her husband and an elderly, self-assured cat. She is working on visiting every waterfall in the Midwest before she’s too old to climb the steps. Maggie Pill is also Peg Herring, but Maggie’s much younger and cooler.



Visit Maggie’s website:

Or meet her on Facebook:

Or Twitter:




4 thoughts on “In a Series: How Many Books Is Too Many? by Maggie Pill

  1. radine says:

    Very interesting idea for a series. I definitely want to dip into it!

  2. I agree with Radine! Very interesting idea for a series. But I also agree with you–go where your mind takes you for this kind of decision. After all, it’s the part that will help the most with the writing!

  3. Donna Wolz says:

    I know your muse has to be inspired before you can write. I hope inspiration comes to you because I love this series.

  4. Peg Herring says:

    Thanks for the encouragement! It’s weird how it happens, but once I wrote this post, it occurred to me that I haven’t dealt with Barb getting into a pickle because of her night-time activities. What if the Grammar Ninja were suspected of murder? It’s an idea that’s growing in my brain…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s