Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Walk the Line: The Balancing Act Between Reader Expectations and Fresh Writing

with guest/s Sparkle Abbey!

Reader expectation is a powerful thing.

Especially today when readers can jump on the Internet and express with contagious enthusiasm that what we’ve created has met their expectations. Those reviews rock! Or they can write a scathing review on Amazon when they’re upset with a book, promising to never, ever read that author’s work again. Ouch.

We believe every author thinks about what their readers want. (Though some may claim not to.)

We love the fans who tell us they really don’t have expectations. They just want to read a good book and escape from the daily chaos of their life. Hmmm...that’s an expectation, but don’t tell them.

If you’re writing genre fiction, there are a few universal expectations to keep in mind right off the bat.

In a romance, readers want a heroine and hero who are worthy of each other. Readers look for chemistry, tension and a conflict that can’t be resolved with a simple face-to-face conversation. They want an engaging plot and an emotionally satisfying ending.

We write cozy mysteries. There are also basic reader expectations for our genre. The obvious one—our readers expect a dead body. Two? Even better. Readers do not want to see violence or anything graphic on the page, but they do want rising tension and a strong conflict. The savvy cozy reader also expects a great puzzle to solve along with the sleuth.

Those are pretty straightforward.

It’s the expectations that come after fans have read a specific author or series that plant themselves in the writer’s thoughts and can potentially derail or bog down the storyline. How do you give the loyal reader what they want and still keep the series evolving? 

It is possible to add new and fresh ideas and still not disappoint. An author’s voice, tone, theme and characters are part of why a reader returns to a favorite author or series. It’s important those elements remain consistent, but you can still change things up. Add a twist. Perhaps a new challenge or a new character.

We write pet themed cozies—no animals are harmed; only people are dead. That’s an expectation. Could you imagine if we ever put an animal in danger? Talk about blowing up reader expectations. We’d lose most of our audience. So we chose not to go down that path. Is that us being swayed by our reader expectations? Sure, it is. But we’re not really interested in writing that type of story anyway, so it’s a win-win situation.

Our fans also want Caro and Mel, our Texas cousin amateur sleuths (who are currently not speaking to each other) to make up and work together. Will we change the course of the series to meet that expectation? Probably not. If we did, we’d lose built-in conflict and tension. You know, those basic genre standards mentioned earlier. However we can’t let Caro and Mel rehash the same scenarios over and over, or our readers will quickly tire of the conflict.

To maintain what your readers want and yet keep the story new, you have to throw in some surprises. Still it’s important to note that while surprises are good, twists that come out of left-field are not. You want a spin that logically flows from the characters’ journey, not a jarring bolt from the blue. A revelation, not a bombshell.  An unexpected development, but one that feels exactly right for these characters.

To do that a writer must walk the line. It’s a balancing act. Sometimes a tight-rope balancing act. You must find that intersection where the story continues to provide the experience that made readers fall in love with it in the first place. And yet, you must mix in something fresh and new that provokes readers and makes them wonder just what you’re going to be up to next!

What do you think? Do you take into account readers’ expectations as you’re writing? Have you ever been influenced by fans to alter a storyline or a character? What methods do you use to keep a continuing storyline fresh? 

Please leave a comment. We’d love to send a copy of Fifty Shades of Greyhound to someone! (A winner will be randomly selected and announced in the Weekend Edition of Seekerville)

Caro Lamont, Laguna Beach's favorite pet therapist, is thrilled to support the elite fundraising gala for Greys Matter, a SoCal greyhound rescue group. All the guests in the couture-attired crowd are clad in varying shades of grey, the champagne and donations are flowing, and there are fifty gorgeous greyhounds in attendance. But before the evening ends, a stranger in their midst is dead.

Caro sets out to help the rescue group find the identity of the mystery guest but soon finds herself in the doghouse with homicide detective, Judd Malone--oh, and federal agent, John Milner. When there's a second death, Caro is convinced she's on the track of someone who wants a secret to stay buried, but it's a race to see whether Caro can uncover the truth before the killer decides she's next.

Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of mystery authors Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter. They write the popular pet mystery series which features whodunits set in the wacky world of pampered pets, precious pedigrees, and secrets. They chose to use Sparkle Abbey as the pen name on this series because they liked the idea of combining the names of their two rescue pets - Sparkle (ML's cat) and Abbey (Anita’s dog). The first book in the series Desperate Housedogs, an Amazon Mystery Series bestseller and Barnes & Noble Nook #1 bestseller, was followed by Get Fluffy, Kitty Kitty Bang Bang, and Yip/Tuck Fifty Shades of Greyhound is the latest in the series and will be followed by The Girl with the Dachshund Tattoo. 

They love to hear from readers and can be found via their website: or on Facebook:


  1. Wow. Not only is the pen name hip, I love the titles of the novels. My expectation, not that I will get it, but a hookah olio can dream, right? 4 awesome books a month. I might as well have said 20, since I'm bound to be disappointed by that! Loved the post

  2. It's good to see you again, Mary Lee and Anita!

    What a great post about expectations. We definitely have reader expectations in category romance. I like to think of my readers as I write, to give them what they want. Yet I still like to surprise them. It's sometimes tough to walk that line!

    Mainly, readers need to worry that there's no way my hero and heroine are going to get together. :)

  3. I guess we probably all have expectations when we pick up a book and begin to read. If our expectations aren't met then we may pass on the next book by that author. Years ago I started reading a book and through the first several chapters I fell in love with his righting so I went out and bought every other book he had written that I could find. Unfortunately he disappointed me because when I got near the end of the book he hadn't wrapped things up like I thought he would and he used the final chapter to try to tie everything up and I hated it. It felt rushed. I didn't expect it and needless to say the other books were given away without being read. I grown since then and at this stage of my life I would give the author a second chance to pull me in. Maybe one day I'll pick up another one of his books.

    I too love the titles of your books! Cute!

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  4. Love the title.

    So many things to consider. Thanks for sharing!

  5. MARIANNE, what is a "hookah olio"?
    Kathy Bailey

  6. CINDY W., I hope when I'm published I have a reader like you. We love those "second chances"!

  7. Yeah, about that. Romance is romance and genre is genre. I recently had a crit partner say my WIP was "bland" and "predictable" because I opened it with a woman meeting a man. Which is, um, what we do in romance? I left there with my mouth hanging open. Which come to think of it is my usual state...
    Kathy Bailey
    Processing it all in New Hampshire

  8. Marianne - Thanks! We have fun with the titles!

  9. Good morning Mary Lee and Anita! It's good to have you back in Seekerville!

    Reader important to keep in mind with each book we write - to deliver "the same only different." :)

    Like you mentioned, along with genre expectations, we have things that readers have come to expect and look forward to specifically in OUR books, particularly in a series. Setting, tone, "familiar faces." Character growth; something deeper to "take away" and mull over later; maybe leaving them with warm fuzzy feelings when they close the book and scenes that linger in their mind.

    Thank you so much for this reminder!

  10. Missy - That's it exactly. While your readers expect a HEA, they also want to be surprised. And that worry about whether the hero & heroine are going to get together is what keeps them turning pages. :-)

  11. Cindy W - That's a great point. We also have expectations about how the story wraps up and a rushed ending effects how a reader feels about the whole experience.

  12. Kathy Bailey - That first meet is certainly an essential element for a romance. The challenge is always in how we as writers give that our own twist.

  13. Glynna - Yes! In addition to genre expectations, we also have those things that readers come to expect from a particular author or series.

  14. I haven't written enough to think of reader expectations - I'm still at the stage of considering editor expectations (well, I guess those two groups are not mutually exclusive. Hmmmm....)

    Your titles are such fun. Talk about setting reader expectations... *heh*

  15. I love the novel titles! Yip and Tuck, what a hoot!

    Mary Lee and Anita, you are so right about the reader expectations. AND, trying to freshen up your work so it doesn't become stale, but not so much you re-invent yourself as an author.

    What a dilemma! Thanks for sharing your perspectives.

  16. Morning Mary Lee and Anita, Welcome to Seekerville.
    What fun to write with a partner.

    Have fun today.

  17. My mother-in-law used to read the "old" sweet Harlequins and she called them her "half-hour books." Today's sweet romances are NOTHING like those. They have real people with real problems, spiritual arcs and satisfying resolutions. Also character development.
    I think there are certain conventions -- the hero and heroine eventually get together, the mystery eventually gets solved -- but between page 1 and page 300 is when the fun happens. And we can do pretty much what we want as long as we get to the H&H coming together, the villain being exposed, etc. etc.

  18. Good morning ladies and animals!

    Animal dishes are set out along with carafes of java and plenty of bagels. My personal favorite breakfast food. Lots of cream cheese too!

  19. You know, it occurred to me that we have the same expectations present in Seekerville.

    Readers expect our 13 voices and they want to be uplifted. We try to be fun, inspiring and educational.

    No downer posts and no rants!

    Hope we do our job :)

  20. I love the cat pic with the caption, LOL! What's fresh to some is tossed into the "R" pile by others!

    Ladies, I love that you both appear whole and unscathed and you have not clawed one another's eyes out.

    WELL DONE!!!!

    And the thought of writing together just intrigues me no end, but I might be too bossy....

    (A whole host of people are Laughing right now!!!!!

    Okay, I am too bossy, but it still intrigues me!

    I have fresh cookies for breakfast, Snickerdoodles, and they're so yummy as to be against the laws of man.

    I kid you not. :)

    I like trying to come up with "fresh" and when you're writing category romance, it's a trick to put an acceptable spin on sweet stories, but I think it's doable when you let your brain step outside the "norm" and into the "what if????"

    And please let me dwell in my delusion that I actually manage to do that from time to time! :)

  21. And I too adore the titles for your books! Well done. Love the covers as well.

  22. NO DOWNER POSTS???? NO RANTS????????? ARE YA' KIDDIN' ME???????


  23. Wait the stuff I put in brackets didn't print????

    Why is that?

    It was supposed to say: ...runs to scrap next week's post asap!!!...

    But it disappeared and just the brackets appeared.

    Anybody know why???? What does BLOGGER HAVE AGAINST BRACKETS, HUH????

    Oops. Sorry. No rants.

    (guilty look across the room to Teeeeena!!!)

  24. TINA SAID: Animal dishes are set out along with carafes of java and plenty of BAGELS.

    Only I read it as "plenty of BEAGLES" and was ready to high tail it down there to pick me up one since I'm still in a dogless state at the moment. LOL

    I'm hoping I'm an open-minded kind of reader so when an author feels like thinking outside the box I'm prepared to follow her. BUT I do have my own set of expectations...especially if an author is writing Christian fiction there ought to be an inspirational thread in the story somewhere. :-)

    Love the catchy titles of your books - and your flashy penname. Though I am wondering how long it took to get a harmonious pose for that picture. Sparkle looks a bit put out having to share the limelight with Abbey.

  25. Kav - We think one should always pick up a beagle when given the chance! LOL You're right, the pose took a while and our very patient photographer suggested outside which as you can tell worked great for Abbey. Sparkle not so much. :-)

  26. Thanks for the welcome and the bagels, Tina. We always love the company here at Seekerville and you're right...we do expect to be uplifted. And the experience never disappoints!

  27. Good morning, Mary Lee and Anita.

    Terrific post. One of my expectations of cozy mysteries is the clever titles of the books. Yours are outstanding!

    As for reader expectations, I'm a reader first, so I'm looking to fulfill my own expectations as I write within the genre bounds.

    Ruthy, Tina could tell you, but I'm guessing the brackets made your words into HTML code. Ooops.

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. Kathy (kaybee) you make a great point about the "certain conventions" that are part of the story. The fresh part is the unique way those conventions are presented and as you say, that's the fun!

  30. Someone editing one of my Japanese historicals once asked why I didn't use the old names of months to bring more flavor to the setting. I responded that the Japanese months in medieval times were based on a lunar calendar, meaning that our concept of the month would change. The most famous battle in Japanese history occurred in the ninth month, according to the Japanese calendar, but in October according to the western calendar. It's a balance between bringing more flavor that I would have to explain vs. ticking off the purists who would criticize me for any historical inaccuracy.

  31. Ruth - Maybe it works for us because we're both a little bossy. LOL

    You're right, you have to "let your brain step outside the "norm" and into the "what if" in order to get that fresh take.

    Any particular techniques you use?

  32. Mary - Yes, even the titles can have expectations. Mysteries, especially cozy mysteries, the play on words or the use of a pun is expected.

  33. Wow, Walt, that's really interesting. There is that balance as well - keeping things authentic but still maintaining the flow of the story.

    We have that dilemma (to a much lesser degree) in keeping things accurate with dog breeds facts while working hard to maintain a lighthearted puzzle, which is what our readers are looking for.


    Gotta admit that not only do I love your titles, but I LOVE your pen name ... it catches my eye every single time, so genius move, girls!!

    Ah, "walking the line" ... I learned what that was in my 3rd book when my editor told me I could NOT include something in my plot because it would push my readers away, much like killing a pet would be in yours. I wanted an ending that would both surprise and shock them, but although surprise works well, shock that is too shocking does not. :|

    The biggest quandary I ever had on balancing "fresh writing" and "reader expectations" was with my fifth book, A Heart Revealed, when the only way I could get the hero and heroine together was to kill off the heroine's husband, which was SO expected that it left me (and the husband, obviously) cold. So I prayed about it, saying, "God -- you have an ending here that not only will surprise readers, but not scare them away with a shock that is too much to handle. He did, and I'm just grateful He decided to clue me in as to what it was! ;)

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- my admiration for mystery and suspense writers is THROUGH THE ROOF because frankly, I think you have to be a little bit smarter than your reading public to pull off something that's going to provide shock and awe in a believable and non-offensive manner, so GREAT JOB, girls!!


  35. Love the pen name, the titles and the author profile shot of you guys. I wonder what Sparkle and Abby were thinking in that shot??? lol

    Kitty, Kitty Bang Bang

    Love it! :)

    And, expectations. It takes a lot to keep me going ... on books and movies. If I'm not jerked in immediately, I'm on to something else.

    The funny thing is I didn't use to be that way. I just have such a small amount of time for reading/viewing pleasure that I have to choose wisely.

  36. Love the title of your new release. So fun with the play on Fifty Shades! Very creative.

    In suspense, I always want to give my readers a surprise at the ending. Sometimes that's a challenge. Working on a current book that has me awake at night trying to fit all the pieces together. :)

  37. MARY LEE & ANITA, it's wonderful to have you back in Seekerville!

    And . . . you had me at "greyhounds"! Several years ago we adopted a retired racer (since gone on to doggy heaven), and she was the sweetest, dearest doggy ever.

    Great post on being true to our brands and meeting readers' expectations without going stale.

  38. Love, love, LOVE the name Sparkle Abbey. After all, one can never have enough sparkle in their lives. Or animals. :)

    You've got my mind a swirling (which isn't necessarily a good thing unless one is properly caffeinated) about expectations. I think it's something I'm conscious of without really being aware of it. But now that you've brought it to the front burner, I'll be contemplating those expectations much more often.

    Thanks for lighting a fire. :)

  39. Good morning, Julie. Thanks for the welcome!

    Ahhh, yes we've experienced that line too...where you think you have a great idea and your editor (thankfully) tugs you back and says, "Not that." LOL

    But there is that perfect balance, isn't there? Where it's fresh but doesn't veer off into a different story altogether. Sounds like you found that. :-)

  40. As a reader I have lots of expectations for a genre. I expect a thriller to be exciting and in a cozy mystery I don't want to see blood and guts.

    However, romance readers don't all have the same expectations. Someone looking for a sweet romance doesn't want graphic stuff. On the other hand, a reader looking for erotica doesn't want to read Bible verses etc.

    Wrong expectations can cause bad reviews. I see that a lot in inspirational reviews. A reader expected to read a sexy book and got the opposite. They'll give the book a 1 or 2 star even if the book is well written.

  41. I think it's strange but true that readers will accept the death of a person but not the death of an animal. I imagine cats and dogs in particular aren't to be hurt.

    In cozy mysteries isn't there an expectation that the sleuth will have a cat (usually)? Not a dog, so much.

  42. Ruthy muses Sparkle/and/or/Abbey's question....

    Honestly, I tried to envision the situation before me, the "inspiring moment" and then ask "What if?"

    I write romance, so what if a hero's one goal and fear was to make peace with his very angry ex-wife?

    Why is she angry? Why does he want to make peace when most ex-husband's shrug it off and get on with their lives? Why will it matter to the reader? What's the moral premise?

    "Money can't buy happiness, but faith can move mountains."

    So within that framework I could actually SEE the husband, wanting to correct old mistakes. Mend his ways. So I looked at "St. Maybe" and I loved that Ann Tyler let Ian (the hero with deep regrets) age significantly, 15 years, before building his happy ending because he had to atone....

    And the end result was "Try, Try Again" one of my independent books. And it all started because a rich Wall Street law partner told my son he was a lawyer "with a heart and a conscience"... and then I thought "How can I show an older lawyer DEVELOP a heart and a conscience in the money world of Manhattan?"

    And then it builds from there...

  43. Blogger is having issues today.

    It posted me three times.

    I will have my people talk to Blogger's people.


  44. Hi Pam,
    Sparkle was thinking there was a dog-at-large and someone needed to do something about it. Abby was excited about hanging outside without her leash and didn't even notice Sparkle.

    We understand the lack of time to read for pleasure. You're right, it's harder to hang in with a book that may not grab your interest in the first few pages when you have a limited amount of time.

    Do you ever wonder if maybe you missed a really good book because you gave up too soon?

  45. Welcome to Seekerville, Sparkle Abbey/Mary Lee and Anita!! I just love the titles of your books!

    I had a reader ask me to include pets in my stories, which is an expectation in series romance. And I listened. May seem weird to you that I hadn't thought of that myself, but I'm allergic to dogs and cats so haven't had pets until recently when granddogs came into my life. Thanks to allergy shots and meds, Reggie, Gapper and I get along just fine. I will use them in a book one day. :-)

    You are so right that walking the line between reader expectations and a fresh twist is tricky. If I create enough conflict between the hero and herone that feels real to readers, they will worry how the couple will reach their happily ever after ending. I sometimes use secrets that surface as a way to surprise readers.


  46. Hi Deby!
    Thanks! We have a lot of fun coming up with book titles.

    We love it when there's a surprise at the end of a story. Especially when it has been set up right from the beginning and we should have seen it coming, but we were so engaged with the characters, we missed it.

    Good luck on the book! We're sending creative thoughts your way. :)

  47. I loved this post. It's good to remember there are certain constraints, certain elements we as the writer must keep in mind to keep readers. I think to be a successful writer, I need to keep some of those expectations in mind.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom! Your books sound fun!

  48. Hi Delightful Duo:

    Thanks for this very interesting look at the balance between reader expectations and fresh writing. This is sure one way to look at the problem. I see it, however, within a different framework. (But then I see everything in a different framework.: ))

    As a marketing guy, I would suggest that writers try not to simply meet expectations but to exceed them. Expectations are fluid. They are not set in concrete. Different readers can even be expected to enjoy different aspects of your writing.

    I love the “Cat Who” series of mysteries -- which I consider ‘the best of the breed’. I’ve read most of them but I first started reading them about midway into the series. When I went back to read the first books, I didn’t like them at all. The later books were far more enjoyable and provided a far more rewarding reading experience. I believe that the “Cat Who” series kept exceeding readers’ expectations as it progressed.

    I also look at expectations as having a lot to do with enjoying an emotional experience. For example, I want the great steak meal at my favorite restaurant to always be the same. That’s why I keep going back. I’m looking for consistency at the level of excellence. (Betty Neels wrote almost exactly the same book 130 times and I still read them all. Go figure that! I read all Betty's books for how they made me feel as I was reading them. The story was like the plate the meal came on -- necessary but not what I came in for.)

    I think readers are much the same as me. They want a great reading experience. That’s not the same as just meeting all the essential genre checkpoints in a story.

    Expectations are not so much what’s happening in the story, but rather are based on what’s happening in the reader.

    I believe that as an author writes each page she should ask herself, “What is the reader feeling at this point That is, is the story providing an ongoing rewarding reading experience?

    If the reader is always having a rewarding reading experience, page after page, then the story should be able meet and exceed reader expectations. It may be even possible to alter reader expectations forever -- as I believe Lilian Jackson Braun has done with her “Cat Who” series.

    In other words: don’t worry so much about where the deck chairs are placed on the Titanic – worry more about giving the passengers a rewarding and dry travel experience. : )

    I’d love to win “Fifty Shades of Greyhound” –- I just hope it is not too K9 kinky. : ) (Well, what do you expect with a title like that?)

    I hope Tina does not think this is a rant. I only really rant about pantsers.


    P.S. I like your cover better than the "Cat Who" covers.

  49. I love how the titles of your books are parodies of other books!

    I am just starting to work on my first novel, so I have no readers with expectations. I am just trying to write something that I believe will engage a reader.

  50. I apologize for the multiple deletes. I ended up posting my comments four times because it didn't look like it was going through, but apparently it was.

  51. Ruth, as you can see, I was also having trouble with multiple posts. I'm glad to know it isn't just me, as I was having some other computer issues yesterday as well.

  52. Hi Mary Lee and Anita!

    I love reading cozy mysteries, and your titles are fabulous. I'm anxious to try one of them!

    My first two books were Amish historicals, but my third book is a western (before I head back in the Amish world with the next stories). It will be interesting to see my reader's responses when it comes out.

    Even though it's a different sub-genre, my voice is still there, as well as my "type" of story - but I'm sure the absence of Amish characters will throw some of them off :) We'll see!

  53. Vince - Love your different take! Absolutely agree that it's about the reader experience.

    Hmmm..we think the experience our readers are looking for in our books is a good puzzle and a fun read. Love the idea of using that to ask the question, What is the reader feeling?

    Thanks, for the compliment on the covers. We've been delighted with each one. This most recent one is a favorite, though.

  54. Sandy - Blogger does seem to be a bit twitchy today. LOL
    Congratulations on starting your first novel!

  55. Jan - As you say, though you're working in a different sub genre your voice will be there and that's what your readers are expecting. Bet they'll be okay with it!

  56. Great post--and the novel titles are fabulous. So glad for the opportunity to meet Mary Lee and Anita!

  57. Everyone grabbing some lunch now? We're still thinking we need another one of Ruth's Snickerdoodles. :-)

    So, to piggyback on what some of you have said, as readers when we pick up a second (or third...or thirteenth) book by an author we are looking for the elements that made us love the first book.

    But...we don't just want to re-read the first book.

    As writers, we use various techniques to accomplish that goal.

  58. I just had lunch with the lovely Pamela Tracy so am bringing catered sandwiches to the Village.

    Chow time!

  59. So ladies, who thought of the first Pampered Pet title and then how did this cute parodied title thing snowball?

    I can tell you, I love it and I am sure readers do as well.

  60. Dear Vince Not a Rant Mooney!

    YOU? Rant?? Never.

    Rants are not your style, even when speaking about pantsering.

  61. I have been meaning to look up hookah olio all morning.

    Any guesses?

  62. Well, Tina, funny you should mention the titles. It all started at a RWA conference in Dallas...

    We'd come up with the premise of the series and had this idea that we'd each write separate books but tie them together as a series.

    Then we began brainstorming titles..and well, let's just say some of them will never make it to a book cover. LOL

  63. Tina, I bet you had fun with Pamela! I'm glad you had a nice lunch together. :)

  64. Pam and I did the conference swag hand off. She drove all my swag home.

    Was Sparkle Abbey in San Antonio? Will they be at #RWA15 NYC?

  65. You know, Vince, there's a certain freedom in what you've said.

    And I'm still laughing about the K9 kinky comment. :)

  66. Which reminds me. Swag that is. You guys (Sparkle Abbey) are worth following on FB just for the fun promo stuff you do.

    Can you share with those who have been less fortunate than moi, some of the fun signings and appearances you have done? Some were QUITE TASTY!@!!

  67. Myra - A big smile on the "you had me at greyhounds" comment. They are the sweetest dogs and very calm unlike what people expect from a racer.

  68. Tina - We have had some fun promos both in person and online. We like to pair our events with pet rescue when we can and worked with a local pet rescue group on Yappy Hour, which we termed a BYOD - Bring Your Own Dog event. We had cupcakes & coffee for the people, and pupcakes and water for the dogs. :-)

  69. Tina- We didn't get to San Antonio and so we're thankful for all the pictures others posted. We hope to make NY.

  70. Missy, we're still thinking about the K-9 kinky comment too. LOL And wondering how we can use it.

    Fifty Shades of Greyhound don't worry it's not K-9 kinky!

  71. I love the pupcakes idea! And the BYOD. How fun!

  72. Another thought on the "keeping your writing fresh" topic. Cheryl St. John says in her fab book: Writing with Emotion, Tension, & Conflict:

    "As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun. It's all been done before....What makes a story unique is the twist the writer give the tale and the well-developed, interesting, and sympathetic characters within it."

  73. Sparkle Abbey! I LOVE cozy mysteries! In fact, I'm working on my own right now, set within a symphony orchestra. I've been researching cozies, and realizing reader expectations for them. It's been a blast!

    One thing I always notice, like you said, is that the killer (or ending, in other genres) can't just come out of the blue. There are no random murders in mysteries. It can never be the homeless guy down the street with a crime of opportunity. It has to be a character in the story, which I find interesting when you look at series. The author has to introduce a number of new characters ("one-offs" in TV terms) in each book because readers wouldn't expect the latest culprit to be someone they've spent X number of books coming to love!

    Like many have said here, I love your titles, and cozy titles in general. I have a whole list of "punny" titles having to do with killer orchestras...

    Have a great day!

  74. Oooh, in keeping with cozy expectations and tropes, my heroine also has a dog, a Boston Terrier named Lady Grantham. Lady G will, of course, aid in the solving of each mystery.

  75. Love your setting, Stephanie! A symphony orchestra is perfect as it's a community within.

    You're right over the course of a series new characters must be introduced. (Or you'd soon have no one left. :-)) However, even those new fresh characters have to come naturally from the community you've created.

    Wishing you much fun with your cozy!

  76. Sparkle Abbey,

    What a clever idea for your pen name, your books, and your titles. No wonder they are a huge success. Not to mention the animal lovers among us.

  77. Sparkle Abbey,

    What a clever way to handle your book ideas, your pen name, and your titles. I can see why you enjoy success.

    As a reader I enjoy surprise and the play on words, which is why I believe your titles are so catchy.

    I agree that readers have expectations that should be fulfilled, but I think they also like when a book pushes the envelope just enough to intrigue without disappointing!

  78. Thanks, Becke! We think you're right, when a book pushes the envelope it sparks the interest. You wonder...where is the story going to take you!

  79. Your titles are wonderful! Must add them to my 'to read' list ... I sense humor.

    You asked: "Have you ever been influenced by fans to alter a storyline or a character?" I'm not published yet in fiction, but beta readers and contest judges have made comments that led to doubts and some unfortunate detours. I've leafed to be more astute at what to pay attention to and when I should just nod and say, "Thanks for that" and do it my way :-)

    Hope to read comments later today. Thanks for an informative, sparkling post!

    Nancy C

  80. I've 'leafed' to be more astute??? How does one do that? Let's go with I've 'learned' to be more astute :-)

    Nancy C

  81. You guys rock, as usual! I definitely have reader expectations-especially in romance. I cannot tell a lie!

  82. Nancy C - "Leafed" LOL We knew what you meant. You make a good point. While we may listen to beta readers or others, it's important to examine how those those views align with our own vision for the story. An opinion is just opinion. :-)

  83. Nancy C - "Leafed" LOL We knew what you meant. You make a good point. While we may listen to beta readers or others, it's important to examine how those those views align with our own vision for the story. An opinion is just opinion. :-)

  84. Hi Sherri - ~*~*~~waving~*~*~*~
    Can't wait to hear more NY stories!

  85. Great post, ladies! Writing any mystery series whether it be cozy, hardboiled, or otherwise is always a particularly tricky balancing act. Providing a satisfying whodunnit and character growth while keeping the series fresh and readers guessing is often daunting. I totally appreciate hearing from readers regarding where they would like to see the series go.

    Will those ideas end up on the page?

    Only my Muse knows for sure. ;)

  86. Well, Kathy Bacus! (Cousin of GK)Good to SEE you in Seekerville, again!

  87. We just found out that Fifty Shades of Greyhound was picked up by Gale/Thorndike for their library Clean Reads program. Our previous titles are part of this program and we're thrilled they want the most recent one.

    Definitely some reader expectations there, huh?

  88. Thank you, Miss Tina! Super happy to drop in and say "hey"!

  89. Hey, Kathy! Great to see you here. A little bird told us you're working on a new mystery series. How exciting!

  90. Love Thorndike Press library books. I check them out myself.


  91. Great, thought-provoking post! Gives me something to chew on. :)

  92. Thanks, Jennifer. Something to chew on is a good thing! :-)

  93. Tina and other Seekers - Thanks so much for allowing us to stop by and chat. As usual, we had a great time!

  94. As a reader I do have expectations, but I trust they are not unrealistic.

  95. Thank you for writing! I love a Clean Read!

  96. So true, ladies... So true. These are the thoughts on the mind of late as we decide where to go with our series. I've not gone through reviews and comments but need to, so we can keep the continuity but add fresh story.

    That's the key and you write it well. :)
    Love that you included Grumpy Cat too (new book out so I read!).

  97. Mary Lee and Anita, this blog is my first introduction to you two and I'm so happy to "meet" you.
    Just went to Amazon and ordered Desperate Housedogs.

    I have begun what I think will be a cozy mystery, after having written a couple of romances.

    Can you tell me, in your opinions, the main differences between a cozy and a regular mystery? Other than cozies avoid the blood and gore and usually have a cat or dog involved and have some humor.

    I am reading some of both types of mysteries and can see more differences. I've also ordered Cohen's "Writing the Cozy Mystery."

    Do you two have a regular blog?

    Finally, several folks I talked to about writing a cozy have made the remark that cozies are not selling right now. You seem to prove this incorrect. Good.

    Blessings, Elva Cobb Martin, President, ACFW-SC Chapter, Anderson, SC

  98. Hi Elva - Sorry we missed your comment before! Some of lines seem to be blurring a little with cozies but the main ingredients are:
    An amateur sleuth
    No on-the-page graphic anything
    A focus on the community of the story (whether a small town or a group of people who share an interest)
    An though it wasn't always true, most cozies anymore have a theme (food, crafts, books, pets, etc.)
    Best of luck to you with your cozy. Please keep us posted!