In the traditional publishing model, the idea for a book series usually comes from one author. Ideas for the Guideposts continuity series are created by Guideposts’ editorial, marketing, and research teams, with input from other Guideposts departments. That’s followed by input from outside sources. A totally collaborative effort.
I asked the editorial team to tell me more. “Guideposts puts its series concepts through a gauntlet of consumer testing and uses a panel of readers to help guide us to the concepts that intrigue them most and help us refine those ideas before they ever see the light of day.”
“Typically, we’ll have created, and tested, anywhere from three to six story ideas—not yet fully fleshed out—by the time we begin contracting a team of authors. After those ideas are developed into stories, we will then work with the individual authors to settle on plots for their books that are unique and interesting.”
Did you notice that little sentence in the last paragraph about contracting a team of authors? That leads me to the next step in the collaborative effort. Unlike the usual publishing process, where a series is written by a single author, each Guideposts continuity mystery series is written by a team of authors who write on an ten-book rotation basis. That means a series typically contains books by a team of eight (sometimes more) authors.
So, how in the world does the editorial team go about picking a team of authors to write a book series? Do the authors apply? Send resumes? Take a test? I asked and here’s what I found out. “We do a sort of ‘reverse acquisition’ process to find authors. In a traditional publishing model, an author’s agent might approach us about publishing his or her client’s book(s). In our model, we contact trusted agents to find out if they have authors whose style and skills might be a good fit for Guideposts fiction in general and a specific series in particular. We look for authors who have been published already and have a proven track record of producing books, but beyond that, we look for collaborative, enthusiastic, and creative writers who can meet deadlines and know how to write for our readership.”
To those of us familiar with the traditional publishing model, this might seem weird, but it’s a concept that works beautifully. In fact, cozy readers who sharpened their childhood reading skills on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys have already experienced this type of collaborative work. The authors of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries wrote under pseudonyms Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, respectively. The big difference here is that Guideposts generally puts each author’s name on the cover, though some series have used a collective pen name
And there’s a big benefit to readers when a series is collaboratively written—readers don’t have to wait months for the next installment of their favorite mysteries. Most authors cannot, by themselves, write a new book every month, and do it well. A group of authors easily can, and with the collaborative model used by Guideposts, readers can receive a book a month, keeping up with their favorite characters in a timely fashion.
I did wonder how so many different authors could write the same characters, be consistent, and keep track of all the facts. By facts, I mean things like the characters’ favorite beverages or eye colors and habits. That’s hard enough to do when a series is written by one author. Well, it’s not as hard as you would think. Senior Editor Susan Downs explains. “Over the course of the series, we create and add to a series guide, which can easily reach 20 to 30 pages, or more, by the time the series ends. (Some publishers call it the series bible.) Authors can access it to find answers to many questions such as characters’ personality and physical traits and habits, previous plot lines and developments, information about the settings, and more. Each series has an editor—called the series editor—who oversees and manages the continuity aspects of the series. And we also have private online forums for the authors and editors through which they can compare notes, ask questions, and post photos and information that might be helpful to the other authors. It is a very collaborative process.”
One of the stand-out features of all the Guideposts fiction is the artwork on the covers of the books. Even the spines are detailed and well done. Each series has its own “look,” and they’re pretty on the shelf.
Turns out, this is also a collaborative effort. No big surprise, right? Here’s how it works. First, the Guideposts’ in-house editorial team puts together cover ideas that fit the stories and would appeal to the reader.” Then an artist, represented by Deborah Wolfe, Ltd., takes the basic concepts and breathes life into them. After that, Mullerhaus, a team of designers in Tulsa, Oklahoma, does the final cover design.
I’m an author, and I know how much work goes into the publication of one book, but the amount of collaboration in Guideposts mysteries surprised me. It’s different than what I’ve seen in my experience, but it works beautifully. And I’m grateful, a fact attested by the growing collection of Guideposts mysteries on my bookshelf.
Next week I’ll begin interviews with some of the authors, so stay tuned! And if you haven't yet visited the Guideposts website, you can find all their fiction book series here or go to the links below.
Church Choir Mysteries (out of print)
Mysteries of Sparrow Island (out of print)
Mystery and the Minister’s Wife (out of print)