Wednesday, April 21, 2010
**Interview with Sheila Lowe**
What is your writing background up until now?
[SL:] My first published book was non-fiction: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis came out in 1999. Until then I’d written a lot of technical monographs and articles about handwriting analysis (my avocation since 1967 and later career). A year after the CIG I was contacted by a publisher to write Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, which is a collection of 75 handwriting samples of well-known people from Galileo to Hillary Clinton, John Lennon, Ted Bundy, etc., etc., and my short analysis of each one.
What inspired your idea for your first (Poison Pen) published novel?
[SL:] I had always wanted to write fiction, but got busy raising 3 kids on my own and making a living, so the desire simmered for a long time on the back burner. Finally, around 1998 I got an idea for the book that became Poison Pen and started writing it. My first two books were best-sellers, but what I didn’t realize was, writing fiction is a whole different story (I know, groaner). I had to learn a whole new craft. What inspired the story was the sudden death of a woman I knew—the type of person you love to hate. She could stab you in the back and smile sweetly while she twisted the knife. Her death was ruled suicide, but nobody who knew her believed it. There were interesting things I knew about her background that lent themselves to a mystery plot. So I borrowed them and twisted them into a story that worked for me, and I began to write.
Why did you decide to expand into a series?
[SL:] I don’t think I deliberately decided to write a series. It was taking so long to get Poison Pen sold that I just started writing another story featuring Claudia Rose, my handwriting expert protagonist. When those two were sold, it seemed to follow that I would write more.
Do you have any specific daily writing routines you stick to?
[SL:] Yeah: email, email, email, all day long. Other than that, when I’m under a deadline I make sure I write a thousand new words a day after editing the work from the day before. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t, and being able to look at the word count helps push me forward.
So now that you have published are you planning any more novels that we should be looking forward to?
[SL:] I’m now working on a standalone mystery thriller, but Claudia will have a cameo role. Then I hope to write more Claudia stories.
After you completed your first novel that you published how difficult was it for you to land an agent?
[SL:] I didn’t have an agent to publish Poison Pen. After being unable to get it published after all those years (during which I paid a couple of independent editors to critique it and formed a critique group myself), I had an opportunity to show it to a small startup press. They liked it and had me send it to their editor. Finally, I learned what it meant for the writing to be “weak.” The editor, Ellen Larson, showed me where Claudia could be a stronger protagonist, and—very important—I learned to cut out most adverbs (“ly” words). Choosing a few strong verbs makes for better storytelling. When Poison Pen came out with Capital Crime Press, it got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, which was really, really cool, and led to Penguin making an offer for a two book deal. Then I got an agent. After that, I got another two book deal.
The moment you got a positive reply with an offer for representation, what were your initial thoughts?
[SL:] As I’ve said, I sold my first several books without an agent, but let me backtrack. During the time I was being rejected, I went through four different agents, none with well-known names and for good reason. When I finally got represented by an agent with a good reputation, I was very excited and hopeful. Sadly, that didn’t turn out as well as I’d hope, as it turned out that we had a different vision for the next couple of books that I plan to write.
How many rejections did it take for you to finally land that agent?
[SL:] I don’t even know. Maybe 20? And again—it wasn’t an agent who sold the first book.
Would you have any advice for aspiring writers?
[SL:] Yes, even though you want to be published by a big house, give some of the small presses a chance. And understand that getting published is only the beginning of the process. Even if you have a major publisher you will be expected to do most of your own PR and pay for it. No one will tell you that you have to do this or that, but if you don’t promote your own books, they aren’t going to sell, and then it’s a downward spiral. There’s tons of competition, so being aware of that from the beginning, and knowing that you will need some financial resources, even if you get an advance, can help you prepare. And, by the way, most authors these days get very small advances, if any. And one surprise I got when I signed with the big publisher was, the advance doesn’t come in a lump sum. You’ll get some of it on signing the contract, some more when you’ve delivered the manuscript and the publisher accepts it, and the final payment after the book is on the market. Sounds discouraging as I write this, but really, it’s better to be realistic.
Are you still with the same agent that you first landed?
[SL:] See above. Right now I’m talking with a very good agency and hope we go forward together. Everyone, wish me well!
Would you have done anything differently?
[SL:] I don’t know what I could have done differently. It just took me a long time to learn some of the lessons I evidently needed to learn. And really, it’s a process that continues over your career. What I’ve found is, from time to time I suddenly realize that my writing has reached a new level. And it’s still happening. Those moments feel really great.
Well, thank you so much to Sheila for doing this interview and good luck to her with finding the perfect agent! You can check out er site here: http://www.claudiaroseseries.com/