Please welcome bestselling author Annette Dashofy to the blog today….
Starting Over by Annette Dashofy
About four years ago, while well into the third of my contracts for my Zoe Chambers Mystery series, I began to sense it might be nearing the end of its run. I needed a backup plan and started noodling with some ideas for a new series.
Fast forward to early 2022. My agent had found a new home to continue my Zoe stories and snagged an offer on the proposal we were shopping.
Instead of being settled into the comfort of writing a long-running series with characters and a setting that fit me like my broken-in slippers, I was starting over.
After eleven books with the same central cast, I had to start from scratch. Matthias Honeywell and Emma Anderson needed a life that began well before page one. I’m not unfamiliar with creating backstory for my characters. I do it for every book, but not as deeply as is needed for the protagonists, who will (hopefully) return for many books to come. They need to have enough depth and inner conflict to carry them through a multi-book arc. I need to give them a full past with lots of potential for ghosts to come back to haunt them, not only in book # 1, but also in book #5, 6, and 7.
Another big change for me was the setting. Zoe Chambers and Pete Adams live in a fictionalized county based on the one in which I reside. No research required. The new series is set in Erie, Pennsylvania, a very real city. Matthias is a detective with the Erie Bureau of Police, a very real department. And for me, getting there requires a three-to-four-hour drive. Thankfully, I’ve logged plenty of vacation time there and have friends who can answer questions.
Still, setting a series in a real location presents challenges I never had when I made up everything. I decided to use a mix of fictionalized businesses with real ones. I studied street maps of the area and water current charts for Lake Erie.
I made several research trips to simply drive around and study neighborhoods. Honestly, I expected to have someone call the cops on me. That would’ve been okay too. I needed to tour the police department and did. Thankfully, I wasn’t under arrest at the time. A friend introduced me to a detective in the Major Crimes Division who willingly showed me around and continues to answer my questions.
Beyond the mere creation of the story, I was venturing into unknown publishing territory as well. While both of my publishers for the Zoe books were small presses with similar publishing models, the new contract is with a UK imprint of HarperCollins, One More Chapter, based in London. They’re digital first (January 20), with print coming later (March 2 in the UK, TBD here in the US).
And they’re HarperCollins. As in Big Five. As in, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Kensi (my cat. I don’t have a little dog named Toto.)
The editing process has been fabulous. Tough and thorough, but I’ve had tough, thorough editors in the past, so bring it. And my London editor “gets” me, which is always a relief.
What I have not had previously is a marketing and sales team. They conferred and decided to change my working title (Rule of Thirds) to Where the Guilty Hide. They thought it had more punch. Cool. Titles have never been my strong suit. I was happy to have a team working for me. They also decided to change the series name (Lake Erie Mysteries) to the Detective Honeywell Mysteries. Also cool. My second POV character, Emma Anderson, didn’t mind.
Best of all, my “team” wrote the back cover and promotional copy for the book. For me, writing back cover copy ranks right up there with writing synopses. In other words, on the same level as having a root canal.
As I’m writing this, the digital release date is still about three weeks out. Much of their advertising focus has been in the UK, which is a brand-new audience for me. There are still a lot of unknowns lurking. What will a digital-now, print-later release look like? I’m used to lining up book signings and store appearances for the weeks immediately following a new book launch. With no print books in hand, there will be none of that right now. I feel like I’ve forgotten something. The bulk of my sales have always been from eBooks, so I keep reminding myself it will be fine.
It will be fine, it will be fine, it will be fine.
Still, I confess I pre-ordered a print copy from a UK bookseller, just so I can get my hands on it. No matter who the publisher is, no matter how many books I have out, one thing doesn’t change. I love the feeling of holding each new release in my hands.
Annette Dashofy ©2023