Stale Books: A Guest Post by Lois Winston

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Miss Demeanors is delighted to welcome Lois Winton to the blog. Take it away, Lois!

No author ever wants to hear readers say her series has grown stale. Yet, how often have you fallen in love with a series only to find after a certain number of books, subsequent titles feel too much like ones you’ve previously read?

Is it time for the author to leave those characters behind and move on? Some authors get tired of writing about the same characters and do just that. But for other authors, the decision to end a series, even if the author wants to continue writing it and readers want to continue reading it, is made by their publisher.

Authors are at the mercy of a publishing industry always looking for the next big thing. For some authors, a series ends because sales are down. For others, it’s because their sales are stagnant or aren’t increasing enough. Sometimes the decision to cancel a series has nothing to do with sales but is more about allocating dollars elsewhere. In addition, some authors are dropped due to mergers, others because the editor who championed the series changed jobs or was laid off. An author has no control over these reasons.

Those of us who’ve walked away from traditional publishing to “go indie” have an advantage over authors who remain with traditional publishers. We no longer need worry about holding our breaths, waiting to hear if our current contract will be extended or a new one offered. We’re free to keep alive the characters we love for as long as we want to write about them. The challenge that confronts us is how to keep readers reading the series, but that also applies to traditionally published authors.

With the recent release of Sorry, Knot Sorry, my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series now includes thirteen novels and three novellas. I’ve employed several different methods to keep the series fresh, beginning with the introduction of new characters. Many cozy mysteries feature a set number of recurring characters. The only new characters in each book are the victim or victims and any ancillary characters connected to them, who never again appear once the murder is solved.

In Book Three, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, I introduced several new characters. These included Anastasia’s previously unknown half-brother, his kids, Anastasia’s future stepfather, and a new detective. In the following book, Decoupage Can Be Deadly, I introduced ex-Special Forces and IT expert Tino Martinelli. All have had recurring roles in subsequent books.

Tino was originally written as a one-off character. That changed when I received a note from a reader asking if I’d ever bring him back because she really liked him. At the time I was writing Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide and had written myself into a corner. Her note made me realize Tino was exactly the character I needed to move forward with the story. He’s since made periodic return visits.

In the next book, Drop Dead Ornaments, I gave Anastasia’s son Alex a girlfriend. Sophie and her father, Shane, have played pivotal roles in several books since then.

Not every character makes an appearance in each book, though. Sometimes only a passing reference is made about them. Sometimes they’re not mentioned at all. However, in some books, they once again become major secondary characters in the story. It depends on the book.

All cozy mystery authors fear succumbing to Cabot Cove Syndrome, something the writers of Murder She Wrote became aware of as the popular series continued. Given the size of the town and the rate of murders, eventually Jessica Fletcher would wind up the only citizen left in the tiny hamlet. Therefore, the writers wisely decided to send her off to stumble over dead bodies in different parts of the country.

I’ve set my series in a suburb of New York City. Some books center around Anastasia’s workplace, others around her home. In Death by Killer Mop Doll, the setting is a Manhattan television studio. A Sew Deadly Cruise is a “locked room” mystery with the murders taking place on a cruise ship. Stitch, Bake, Die! is another “locked room” mystery, taking place at a conference center during a storm.

Finally, the ideas for most of my plots and subplots are inspired from the headlines. In Guilty as Framed, the plot involved an actual unsolved crime. Death by Killer Mop Doll incorporated Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. A Crafty Collage of Crime took inspiration from recent cryptocurrency scandals. In Sorry, Knot Sorry I incorporate the proliferation of podcasts, artificial intelligence, and the current obsession with all things mid-century modern as the backdrop for Anastasia’s investigation of a man gunned down in front of her house.

Sorry, Knot Sorry

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 13

Magazine crafts editor Anastasia Pollack may finally be able to pay off the remaining debt she found herself saddled with when her duplicitous first husband dropped dead in a Las Vegas casino. But as Anastasia has discovered, nothing in her life is ever straightforward. Strings are always attached. Thanks to the success of an unauthorized true crime podcast, a television production company wants to option her life—warts and all—as a reluctant amateur sleuth.

Is such exposure worth a clean financial slate? Anastasia isn’t sure, but at the same time, rumors are flying about layoffs at the office. Whether she wants national exposure or not, Anastasia may be forced to sign on the dotted line to keep from standing in the unemployment line. But the dead bodies keep coming, and they’re not in the script. Craft tips included.

You can find buy links here. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.


  1. These are great tips. I love the idea of bringing in a new character who might just stay around. And your titles are great!

  2. Great insights into the industry! I realized I couldn’t maintain a series when I realized that my main character’s arc was finite. I wanted to focus on other characters and that made all my ideas for sequels feel completely bipolar. I will keep all these tips in mind for the future. Thank you for visiting!

    1. Emilya, many romance authors write series where each book features a different hero/heroine who were secondary characters in the first book. These are usually finite series that run 3-5 books, but some are longer. You might want to consider doing something like that with your characters.

  3. A series I’m writing is several unpublished novellas and a loose prequel/origin story several decades earlier. A lot of the victims have developed personal stories, just like the detective — since the story often involves her children and theirs also. A couple stories even involve wrongly accused characters.

    The first few stories of the main series depict her going between Alabama and Florida for different personal and professional reasons. After the detective’s mother dies at the end of #3, she takes her sons to different Florida state parks in each story while still investigating cases. One story has her going cross country to national parks. Even a couple of stories where there are two or three connected cases. A lot of the personal and travel ordeals are from my life and family.

    There’s even a descendant of a character from the loose prequel/origin story who shows up in a couple of the main detective stories. He’s a defense attorney representing the culprits and his interactions with the detective (she has an ancestor in the same story and they were on opposite sides) are NOT pretty.

  4. Lois, interesting post. You handle the introduction of characters with finesse. They’re always unique and memorable. That’s another one of your great talents, darn it! 🙂

  5. Great insights Lois! I choose was wary of the Jessica Fletcher syndrome as I call it and still move Nora Tierney around England. Even the new Trudy Genova moves her from Manhattan to upstate New York for an outing. I think it keeps us fresh as writers, and keeps readers from feeling the reading the same book over and over again. Congratulations on your new book!

  6. Thanks so much for joining us, Lois. One thing I love about recurring characters is that, over time, you get to know them more deeply. I’d love to know what things you learned from your experience as an agent that have helped you with your writing.

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