Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Guest blogger - Sheila Lowe - Series versus Standalone Writing

A special treat for readers today. Sheila Lowe is here to talk about writing series versus writing standalone novels. She's done both. :)

Series v. Standalone

When I started writing my first mystery novel, I had no plans to make it a series. Having loved reading mysteries since childhood, I’d always wanted to write one. Still, it wasn’t until after my first two non-fiction books were published and I’d worked for thirty years as a handwriting analyst that I got the idea that became the novel. So I wrote Poison Pen, which won third place for Mystery in the 2000 Southwest Writers competition. I figured that meant I was all set to publish and sell a gazillion copies, but the truth was, I couldn’t find a publisher. They liked the premise, but they (rightly) said it wasn’t strong enough.

So, while sending out queries to agents and publishers (and doing countless rewrites of the book), I took a course with the amazing Elizabeth George and began plotting Written in Blood, the second Claudia Rose story. I had grown to know and like Claudia and her cohorts, and was happy to be spending time with her again, but I still didn’t think of it as a series until I started writing the third book, Dead Write (note the handwriting-themed titles!).

It took seven years to get Poison Pen into print, but once it was published by a small press, I was lucky enough to attract the attention of a major publishing house. They ordered the first four books and called them the Forensic Handwriting Mysteries. I thought, “Okay, now I’m really set!” Uh, not so fast...

I’ve heard it takes five or six books to get a series well established and my books have developed a nice following. Unfortunately, however, my editor — the one who really loved my series — left the publishing house after book three. The fourth and last contract book, the appropriately titled Last Writes, was published in 2010, but the new editor didn’t offer a contract for additional books. Boo hoo me.

But, not one to give up easily (remember, I worked for seven years at getting published), I’ve just sent my agent a new standalone. Lying in Bed is a psychological suspense/thriller about a young woman who wakes up on a train with total amnesia. Since I don’t want my readers to forget Claudia, however, she and some of the other characters have small parts in the book. Readers often e-mail me to ask when the next Claudia book (which is already being plotted in my head) will be out, so it’s my fervent hope that the series will find a new home.

Bottom line, I hadn’t intended to write a series, but I did. And now that I’ve had a taste of writing a standalone, I wouldn’t mind doing another. But Claudia Rose is where my heart is.

Thank you, Sheila, for sharing your experiences with series and standalone writing. Folks, you can see my review of Poison Pen here.

Bio notes:
Like her character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila Lowe is a real-life handwriting analyst who testifies as an expert witness in court. She’s a frequent guest in the media and was invited by Lifetime Movie Network to provide information and analyses of criminals on their website as a tie-in for Jeffery Deaver’s The Devil’s Teardrop movie. Sheila holds a Master of Science in psychology and is the author of the internationally acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and Sheila Lowe’s Handwriting Analyzer software.

Sheila can be reached via e-mail, and through her website.


Steve Liskow said...

Sheila (and Lisa),

I have a feeling that my experience is the exception rather than the rule. I tried to break into print with a series, but it never sold.

My first published novel (seven years later, Sheila, just like yours) was intended to be a standalone, but so many reviewers and visitors to my web site have wanted more with the characters that I'm now going back to them.

I have an indie-published novel coming out this fall that mentions that character, but doesn't feature him. Characters from both books will probably end up interacting later because they seem to play well together.

I've reached a point where the readers help me a lot more than the so-called publishing industry.

Sally Carpenter said...

Hi, Sheila, thanks for blogging. Your post is an inspiration to pre-pub writers to never give up. Keep on writing and keep on promoting.I enjoy your Claudia Rose books. I hope your standalone will give you the recognition you deserve.

Sally Carpenter
"The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper"
Oak Tree Press

Sheila Lowe said...

Good luck, Steve! Persistence seems to be the key.
And thanks, Sally, much appreciated.