Writing Tips: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Genre

Whether you write Mystery, Romance, Fantasy, or some other genre, you'll find the writing tips in today's guest post invaluable!  

Please help me welcome award-winning author, Lois Winston, whose heroine-sleuth was dubbed by Kirkus Reviews: "North Jersey's more mature answer to Stephanie Plum."  Lois is the author of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. ~ Adrienne deWolfe

How to Make Your Series

Stand Out in a Crowded Genre

By Lois Winston

Before I began writing my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, I did extensive research, reading dozens of crafting mysteries to get a feel for the genre. What I discovered was that most of these series centered around a craft shop in a small town. The amateur sleuth was either the shop owner, an employee, or a close friend or relative of the shop owner.

You need to put a unique

spin on the conventions.

One piece of writing advice I had heard for years and years was don’t follow trends. If you want your book to stand out in a crowded genre, you need to put a unique spin on the conventions of that genre. So I began to brainstorm as to what I could do differently but still produce a series which readers of crafting mysteries might embrace.

I decided to take my protagonist out of the shop and stick her in a different crafting profession. I made Anastasia the crafts editor at a women’s magazine. To my knowledge, no other author had ever featured a crafts editor as an amateur sleuth.

How to write a novelBut I went a step further. Another observation I made in studying amateur sleuth mysteries in general, not just crafting mysteries, was that most of the protagonists were busybody snoops who channeled Nancy Drew or Jessica Fletcher and often believed they knew more than the professional investigators assigned to the crime.

In real life this would never happen, but fiction—especially genre fiction—is all about the suspension of disbelief. Readers of amateur sleuth mysteries are happy to suspend disbelief for a good whodunit. However, once again, I wondered what could I do differently so that my series would stand out, yet still give readers the type of satisfying read they expected from the genre?

What if I made Anastasia a

reluctant amateur sleuth?

My amateur sleuth would like nothing better than to turn the clock back to a time not so long ago when she led a typical middle-class life with a devoted husband, two great kids, and a job she loved. But that’s not going to happen because in order to write an ongoing series, the protagonist needs a reason to keep on sleuthing. However, where is it written that she has to enjoy sleuthing?

A successful book needs a story arc with a protagonist who is not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning of the book. This is called character growth. But in an ongoing series, you can’t resolve all the protagonist’s goals, motivations, and conflicts at the end of the book. Doing so will end the series. You want to keep the reader coming back for more of your character’s adventures. But at the same time, you need your character to learn from her experiences and move toward her goal. So in the vercrafting mystery, suspense, crafting mysteries, Anastasia Pollack, Lois Winstony beginning you need to set up a situation whereby your protagonist can make inroads toward her goal with each subsequent book.

I set the

stage for







In Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in my series, I set the stage for what will be Anastasia’s ongoing goals, motivations, and conflicts. The series opens with her discovering that her recently deceased husband led a double life, more devoted to Lady Luck than his family. When he drops dead at a roulette table in Las Vegas, Anastasia discovers he’s gambled away all their savings and left her with huge debt. In each book she tries to find new ways to earn extra money to whittle down that debt. But since this is an amateur sleuth mystery series, she also winds up dealing with unsavory characters on the wrong side of the law, not to mention tripping over the occasional dead body.

But no amateur sleuth operates in a vacuum. She needs friends and family in her life. Creating conflict within a protagonist’s personal life adds another layer of depth to a series. Not only does the amateur sleuth need to figure out whodunit in each book, she needs to deal with life’s normal problems. Adding fully developed secondary characters that readers will enjoy will keep them coming back for more.

Lucille is the character

readers love to hate.

I receive the most fan

mail about her.

In my series, Anastasia must deal with a hateful Communist mother-in-law. Lucille is the character readers love to hate. I receive the most fan mail about her. Half want me to kill her off, the other half hope I never do because she’s so much fun to hate. But I went further with family as well. In addition to a Communist mother-in-law, Anastasia has a mother who’s a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. And both mother and mother-in-law are forced to share a room in Anastasia’s home. Conflict. Conflict. Conflict. You can never have too much.

Fiction Coaching, Mystery Novels, Sleuth, Detective, PI, murder

Writing Tips: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Genre
Whether you’re writing a crafting mystery series or any ongoing series in any genre, the same advice applies:

1. Give a unique spin to your protagonist, her profession, and/or the setting of your series.

2. Set up an overall situation that will allow the protagonist to make progress toward reaching her goals and resolving her conflicts as the series progresses from book to book.

3. Develop secondary characters that add depth to your series and create additional problems for your protagonist.

Follow these three steps, and you’re on your way toward creating a series that will stand out from the competition.

About Lois Winston

crafting mystery, crafting mysteries, suspense, romantic suspense, how to write, writing tips, writing novelsAward-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.”

Other books in the series includes Death By Killer Mop Doll, Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, Decoupage Can Be Deadly and the ebook only mini-mysteries Crewel Intentions and Mosaic Mayhem.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning craft and needlework designer. She often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.

Visit Lois at www.loiswinston.com, visit Emma at www.emmacarlyle.com, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. Follow everyone on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Anasleuth.

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About Adrienne deWolfe

Adrienne deWolfe is the #1 bestselling author of action-packed Historical Romance, where feisty Heroines buck the conventions and true Heroes must be wickedly funny. Her greatest inspiration is nature, and the scene-stealers in her novels are often furry pranksters. Among her 48 writing awards, Adrienne has earned the Best Historical Romance of the Year. When she’s not writing, she’s mentoring aspiring authors, several of whom have become #1 bestsellers on Amazon. Adrienne also writes a fantasy and paranormal romance blog at MagicMayhemBlog.com. Looking for sneak peeks from her novels? Visit WildTexasNights.com.

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46 Responses to “Writing Tips: How to Stand Out in a Crowded Genre”

  1. Cindy Sample December 19, 2013 11:44 AM

    Great blog post, Lois, as usual. I enjoy your series for all of the reasons you’ve listed above. I get annoyed when a protagonist seems to stagnate with zero growth in book after book. One of my primary goals, besides providing a humorous mystery for my readers, is to ensure that my protagonist and the secondary characters are all learning and growing in each book.

    Happy holidays to you and Adrienne!

    • Lois Winston December 19, 2013 12:32 PM

      Thanks, Cindy! I have to admit that even though I totally agree with you (and it was certainly one of the points in my post,) there is one series I read as a guilty pleasure just for the laughs. I’m sure you know which one I mean, and we all know that character will never change. But now and then I need a good belly laugh, and those books certainly deliver those!

    • Adrienne deWolfe December 19, 2013 1:05 PM

      I TOTALLY hear you, Cindy. I just wanted to SCREAM while reading a fantasy series, recently, where chars in Book 3 were rehashing the same arguments (conflicts) of book 1. The author never bothered to up the emotional ante.

      Thanks for dropping by! Happy Holidays to you and all the folks you hold dear.

  2. Kathy L Wheeler December 19, 2013 11:26 AM

    Very interesting post. Thank you Lois.

    • Lois Winston December 19, 2013 12:26 PM

      Thanks for stopping by, Kathy!

  3. Kaye Spencer December 19, 2013 10:44 AM

    Lois, Oh, to write a series… I’m always a bit envious of authors who write them, because I’d love to, but alas, no recurring characters in my imagination. I do have two stories that are sequel-worthy, but nothing further than that. Now, having confessed my whiney shortcomings in the series-writing area, your advice on how you developed your series actually cracked open a window in my closed-to-a-series imagination. Hmmm… plotting now. Thanks!

    • Adrienne deWolfe December 19, 2013 11:19 AM

      Hi, Kaye! I managed to turn a 1-book contract into a 3-book sale, ’cause I pitched my editor based solely on a stray comment that she made about TEXAS OUTLAW: “One of your strengths as a writer is your compelling secondary characters.”

      SOME cool secondary char in your story must warrant a short story, at least? Maybe? Hope so!


    • Lois Winston December 19, 2013 12:26 PM

      Adrienne makes a great suggestion, Kaye. HOOKING MR. RIGHT is one of my contemporary romances. A few months ago I was invited to take part in a Valentine anthology. I decided to take one of the secondary characters from HOOKING MR. RIGHT and develop a story around her. FINDING MR. RIGHT will be featured in LOVE, VALENTINE STYLE, available January 1st.

      TALK GERTIE TO ME was the first book I ever published. It was a humorous women’s fiction story about a mother and daughter. I never thought I’d write a sequel to it, but readers often asked about one. Eventually I got the idea to write a novella sequel to the book and thus, ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR GERTIE was born. Since I’d switched over to writing mystery at that point, I made the sequel a mystery.

      Remember, a sequel doesn’t always have to be a full-length novel. You can write short stories, novelettes, and novellas. You can take your protagonists and set them in side adventures, write about them prior to when they appeared in your book, or write about other characters in the book.

  4. June Shaw December 19, 2013 8:09 AM

    What great suggestions! Thanks for sharing them with us, Lois.

    • Lois Winston December 19, 2013 10:38 AM

      Glad you liked the tips, June. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Helena Fairfax December 19, 2013 5:17 AM

    Great tips, Lois. I especially like how you maintain the character development / story arc over a series. Interesting read!

    • Lois Winston December 19, 2013 7:00 AM

      Thanks, Helena. Glad you could stop by.