How to Launch a Thriller Series

rocket-launch-67720_1280It’s launch week for me as I begin a brand new thriller series. I’m excited about this one, as it’s been bubbling around in my brain for some time. Now the first Mike Romeo thriller, Romeo’s Rules, is out, and two more are cooking.

So I was thinking about the steps one ought to go through when unleashing a new series. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. Create a character who grips you and won’t let go

I wanted to write about a guy who can fight, and who was admitted to Yale at age fourteen. I kept developing his backstory until he demanded to be written. That’s what you need for a series character, because you’re going to be with him a long time. In my workshops I suggest an exercise: what would your character have tattooed on his or her arm? You don’t have to put it there, of course. It’s just to dig further into character. When I figured out what tattoo Romeo would have –– and I did put it on his arm –– the character was complete. You’ll have to read the book to find out what it is. #Shameless.

  1. Come up with a twisting, turning plot for that character

The plot begins as Romeo is out for a jog … and a church blows up. He stops to help a bleeding woman, then finds a dead body in the church, and it’s not because of the blast.. The cops arrive. And that’s in the first three pages.

  1. Develop 2-3 other plots for the next books in the series

It helps your confidence to know the series will have some legs!

  1. Write the book

I believe this is an essential step.

  1. Have the book professionally edited

This is the biggest expense you’ll have in the indie-publishing process. But a good, experienced editor who knows the genre is worth every dime.

  1. Get a cover concept for the series (so the covers have a similar feel)


  1. Write the book description copy

I tried something a little different with Romeo’s Rules. Actually, it’s a blast from the past. On many paperback originals of the 50s and 60s, the copy would contain a tag line, then some dialogue from the book (or a bit of a scene), then short, to the point sales copy after that. It’s my homage to that great era of genre fiction.

If you want to stay alive, you better know the rules …

Natalia Mayne said, “What’s the first rule?”
“Fear nothing,” I said.
“You have any more?”
“Do unto them before they do unto you.”
”And you don’t owe the truth to people who lie.”
“I’ve never met anybody like you.”
“I’ve heard that before.” 

Mike Romeo is an ex-cage fighter living off the grid in L.A. Running from a dark guilt that dogs him, he’s finally found a place where he can rest and even heal.

Then a church blows up. And with it all of Romeo’s hopes to be left alone. When he stops to help an injured woman whose kids are missing, someone decides to put a target on his back.

But whoever wants him dead picked the wrong guy. Because Romeo has rules. And he’s about to teach some lessons.

  1. Try to create a little pre-release buzz (e.g., post the first chapter for viewing)

I did that a few weeks ago.

  1. Publish the book to retailers

As an indie, you can create direct accounts with the main retailers, or you can use a service like Smashwords or BookBaby to do all that for you. I prefer to do it myself.

  1. Tell people it’s published.

Hey! It’s published!

Here’s where you can get it




A print version will be coming soon.

Bonus step: Commission a book trailer. My rule of thumb is that a trailer should be 30 – 45 seconds. Here’s mine:

Oh yes, one more step: get to work on the next book! I’m already into Romeo’s Way. 

So what do you look for in a series? What makes you read on … or stop reading?

34 thoughts on “How to Launch a Thriller Series

  1. Love the cover and book description. I remember the first chapter intrigued me. Adding to my Goodreads to-read (<-for those who aren't aware, that raises a book's rank).

  2. Great cover. Good grabber opening setup. A good solid book. And the foresight to scheme out a couple books ahead. What’s not to love?

    Best of luck James! I can’t access the chapter sample here today in France…spotty wifi today. Will try later. For some odd reason, the Kill Zone site loaded fast and furiously.

    Bon jour à mes amis de Zone de la Mort. (sorry, that’s a good as my French gets).

  3. It just so happens I’m in the process of beginning my next series, Jim. Mine are now of the paranormal variety, but I still like the thriller-esque hero type. The tattoo suggestion is fantastic. I’ll have to stamp one on him. He is a Detroit gang unit detective, after all. I’d have a tattoo.

    Jim, you’ve been one of the constants in my growth as a writer. We’ve only met once, during which time you and Brandilyn Collins (another of my heroes) spent a good deal of time talking about my book, one of my first and one which will never see the light of day. You have always been a great encouragement to keep working and improving my craft. Hopefully, we’ll meet again someday.

    God bless.

  4. You know, Mike Romeo (on the trailer) does indeed look like a retired cage fighter. Then again, he resembles a prolific writer and writing teacher. What are the odds?

    Seriously, glad to see this one coming out. I loved the Ty Buchanan books. Can hardly wait to start reading this one. Thanks for letting us know.

  5. JIm, congratulations on your new series.

    I look forward to reading Romeo’s Rules. I enjoyed the Kit Shannon series, the Ty Buchanon series, and the Force of Habit series. I really enjoyed Glimpses of Paradise, and my wife has even set aside her romance novels to read it. She loves it.

    As for the book trailer, that’s a great actor. What agency does he work for? Is he available to make other trailers?…Glad you’re getting to do some acting as part of your writing life. You’ve written that was something you pursued for a time.

    As for your question: What do you look for in a series? I like a balance between the gripping plot and character development. I like some theme and symbolism, a little literary resonance built around the mirror moment.

    In your newsletter, you mentioned that a hard copy of Romeo’s Rules would be available soon. I like to buy the first book of a series in hard copy. Any chance you’ll be selling autographed copies?

    Thanks for the launch list for a new series. Like, Ron, I need to take my protag to the tattoo parlor. I did “brand” him with a scar from his back story.

    Thanks for another great teaching moment.

    • The actor in the trailer is very hard to work with. All sorts of demands: makeup trailer, private chef. Keep that in mind.

      Yes, when the print version is available I can certainly do autographed copies upon request. Thanks for asking, and for your support, as always, Steve.

  6. “It helps your confidence to know the series will have some legs!”

    That statement is so true. I am writing a legal mystery series and I think one of the things that keeps me going is that I already have an idea how things will play out in the MC’s professional and personal life. I got a real kick over writing something in the first book and then making myself a note about how this will change in book four.

    What I like about reading a series is the ‘insider knowledge’. Yes, you should be able to pick up any book in a series, read it and not be confused, but I love when the writer mentions something that only has special meaning to someone who has read more of the series. Since almost everything I write takes place in my fictional town, New Grace, I also enjoy adding to my stories small little tidbits of ‘consistency’ which readers can pick up on.

    • Michelle, one thing about a series is that after the first book comes out you can’t change what’s in it for the rest of the series. So what I did this time was after finishing the first draft of Romeo’s Rules, I wrote  drafts of the next two books. Very rough, but it enabled me to get a large picture of the arc that I wanted, and therefore I could change things before the final draft of Romeo’s Rules.  I found that extremely helpful.

      • IMMUNE FROM PROSECUTION, where the MC is an attorney, started out as Daniel’s Law where the MC was the client. Once I changed the POV I realized it could be a series. I have outlined several novels in the series, each with their own arcs, how they unfold and arcs throughout the series. Keeping extensive notes seems imperative.

  7. Jim, did you pay the actor in your trailer? You still have time to cancel the check. Seriously, best of luck with the new series. I look forward to reading Romeo’s adventures.

  8. Jim, bought your first Romeo thriller and am reading it right now. Hope there will be plenty of them. Yes, writing a series is a good for a writer, but it is even better for the reader. You can start enjoying a book with less effort because you are already in a familiar setting.

    What I like most of your post today is “4. Write the book. I believe this is an essential step”. That says it all.

  9. I really like the concept of asking yourself what your lead would tattoo on his arm. That not only makes you think about it, but think about it very concisely (unless your lead has a really, really big arm with lots of space. LOL!).

    Series fiction is very difficult to write. For me personally, I’ve only experienced successful series fiction as a reader in thrillers. I love historical fiction but off the top of my head, no examples I’ve read jump out at me with the same joy as thriller series. I very much enjoyed your Ty Buchanan from a while back, and I love Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp books. But it’s a lot harder than it looks to create that same kind of action in every book yet make it fresh and appealing each time.

    While I can’t precisely answer the question at the end of your post–what I look for in a series—what I look for in a character is someone who gives his all to whatever it is he’s doing. I don’t find that much in real life. That’s why fiction is a nice escape.

    BTW, I’ve been spending some quality time this weekend reading parts of 27 Fiction Writing Blunders—it’s reminding me that I need to get back to work on a villain I blundered on and have shelved because I haven’t worked out his nuances yet. I’m sorry to say my villain is one dimensional right now so I need to use those tips and flesh him out more.

    Thanks, as always, for all the tips here at TKZ.

    • BK, I like this:

      someone who gives his all to whatever it is he’s doing. I don’t find that much in real life.

      Exactly! That’s what a mythic hero was all about, after all.

      And good on you for fleshing out the villain. It’ll be much more effective for your readers.

  10. I am proud of you Scott. No professional jealousy here. Nope. Not one slimy little drop. You get to write books. All the time. And I get to fill out immigration forms. I wouldn’t trade positions with you in a million years. Actually never. I’m just proud of you is all.

  11. Awesome! I’m pretty sure I’ve learned 98% of what I know as a writer from you (the other 2% I made up). And this got my wheels turning for my next young adult series. Congrats on your new series, Mr. Bell. It looks amazing – the cover, the description, the trailer, everything!

  12. I love this concept! And great tips for writing a series character. I think the fun part is that you get to delve into secrets over time and peel back layers of the character but, like you said, in order to do that you need to develop a strong and intriguing backstory. Looking forward to reading more about Romeo! But seriously…..write the book……really???

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  14. Late to the party, congrats! And, I can’t wait to meet you at the Sisters in Crime class on Wednesday before BCon. The only thing that could be me there early is a confirmed Dr. Bell sighting!


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