Friday, July 13, 2018

Guideposts Continuity Mysteries, Part Two

Last week I introduced our readers to the Guideposts continuity mysteries. (Find Part One here).  This week I’m delving deeper into my behind-the-scenes look at how the Guideposts team develops the series and how they find authors to write the books. In addition, I’ll let you in on how they develop those gorgeous book covers. 

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)

Note: Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries will wrap up the summer of 2018, with 30 volumes in the set. Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard is at about the mid-point in its publishing cycle. The last of 25 books in the Tearoom Mysteries released in June 2018. Secrets of Wayfarers Inn is a new series, just launched this summer.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Guideposts Continuity Mysteries - Part One

Engaging characters . . . Fascinating settings . . . Faith . . . These are three of the ingredients that make up all of the Guideposts continuity series. Add intriguing whodunits, and you’ve got the recipe for Guideposts continuity mysteries. The icing on the cake? Books in each of the series are released monthly—no waiting for months to revisit your favorite characters. And if that wasn’t enough, there are enough books in each series to keep an avid reader supplied for a long time. There is one downside, though. When a series ends, you’ll be so invested in the characters you might go through a period of mourning, but that’s okay! There are a lot more series in the Guideposts continuity line-up. And new books and new series keep coming.

So, what is a continuity mystery, you ask? I wondered that, too, and I asked the in-house editorial team at Guideposts, Susan Downs, Jon Woodhams, and Caroline Cilento, to explain.  “A continuity is any series of books that shares the same premise, setting, and cast of characters. The most familiar metaphor might be a TV series. While there are often guest stars and walk-on secondary characters, most of the actors in the series are the same from week to week, and you get to know them over the course of the series. Our continuity books are the same way, except that readers get one book every four weeks.”

That makes sense! People love following characters on TV and in books. We develop a vested interest and eagerly wait to find out what they’ll do next. My favorite characters are those that I want to get to know over a cup of coffee. Guideposts continuities characters are just like that.

Setting is an important part of any good story, and the Guideposts mysteries settings are characters in their own right. For instance, one of the series is set in Martha’s Vineyard, aptly called Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard, and the heroine’s home is a lighthouse. How cool is that? Another series, Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries, takes place in (you guessed it!) beautiful Amish country, complete with quilts and Amish food. Seriously, the name “Sugarcreek” is enough to make you want pie. Then there’s the Tearoom Mysteries, set in a stately Victorian home-turned tearoom in a charming lakeside town in Maine. Tea and an old Victorian home--the perfect combo. The latest series is called Secrets of Wayfarers Inn, about three friends who buy a historic hotel that was once a stop on the Underground Railroad. It’s got secret passages and an old journal—secrets, past and present.

I asked the editorial team how the settings for each mystery series are picked. They said, “Our readers have made it clear that they love to read about places that would be their dream hometowns. They love to be swept away to cozy, charming locations where they can see themselves visiting favorite shops, sipping tea or coffee in a cozy cafĂ©, or attending a concert in a town square. So, locations—either real or fictional—are chosen because of their appeal. Our series have taken readers to islands, the Rocky Mountains, lake towns, Amish communities, the rocky coast of Maine, and more.” So, how about a little vacation from the comfort of your favorite chair? You won’t have to spend a dime on gas while you enjoy the sights.

When I first began to familiarize myself with Guideposts’ mystery continuities, I realized there were no murders. Yes, I know! I can hear my fellow cozy lovers exclaiming now, “What? Really? Mysteries with no dead people? Is that even possible?” Yes, it is, and to be honest, I found the change surprisingly refreshing. I asked Susan Downs why this was so. She told me, “Guideposts’ fans prefer ‘softer’ crimes. The publisher sticks with missing people or things or mistaken identities or white-collar crimes.” No worries, though. You won’t miss the bodies or the murderers. The sleuths in these books still have plenty of motivation to solve mysteries. Like, for instance, trying to figure out why a ghostly, but very human, apparition appears at night near a lighthouse.

These lovely Guideposts mysteries aren’t available on Amazon. However, they can be purchased through the Guideposts’ website. And readers who love getting books in the mail every month can purchase a series subscription. No need to remember to buy a book—it comes right to your mailbox! Everyone loves a package. I do, too, especially when it contains books. When I get one, the rest of the day, I anticipate curling up in my chair or bed and settling in for a few hours with my favorite characters. And with these mysteries, you won’t need to read slowly just to make the book last (although you can), because when you’ve finished one mystery, you know another one is on its way in just a few weeks.

When I inquired why Guideposts doesn’t market its books through Amazon, the editorial team said, “Guideposts is both a publisher and a direct-marketing company. We send detailed, multi-piece mailers to thousands and thousands of potential customers to market our series. The mailers include such elements as a sample chapter, a letter from the editor, a colorful brochure, and more. Customers can opt in by returning a postage-paid mailing piece. This accounts for the majority of our sales, but our books are also available—both in print and as e-books—on our website. We are also striving to grow an integrated marketing approach via social media and alternative media avenues.”

As I finish typing this article, I’m looking at the beautiful cover of Family Secrets, which is book one in Guideposts’ latest continuity series, Secrets of Wayfarers Inn. I just finished it, and I’m in love with this series already. Really, I just want to hug this book.

The best thing about Guideposts’ continuity mysteries (besides everything I already mentioned), is the way they leave me feeling. Happy. Hopeful. Warm. When I have a day where I can’t seem to escape the barrage of bad stuff that seems so prevalent in the world of late, settling down to read a gentle mystery is comforting. I can ignore the latest dramas on the Internet, snuggle in my favorite chair with a cup of tea, and just relax.

I’ve got a lot more to tell you about Guideposts mysteries, including additional details about the Secrets of Wayfarers Inn. I also want to share where those stunning covers originate and who the talented authors are. Next I’ll be going behind the scenes to give our readers a closer look at how the series are developed and how the authors are chosen. It’s not the usual publication process, so stay tuned. Meantime, if you want to check out all the Guideposts continuity mysteries and get your own book to hug, below is a list of the series in order, with links.

Church Choir Mysteries (out of print)
Mysteries of Sparrow Island (out of print)
Mystery and the Minister’s Wife (out of print)

Note: Sugarcreek Amish Mysteries will wrap up the summer of 2018, with 30 volumes in the set. Mysteries of Martha’s Vineyard is at about the mid-point in its publishing cycle. The last of 25 books in the Tearoom Mysteries released in June 2018. Secrets of Wayfarers Inn is a new series, just launched this summer.