Monday, June 08, 2009

Maggie Sefton on Taking Risks

Maggie Sefton
Dropped Dead Stitch
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Pub date: June 2009
Agent: Jessica Faust

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Author Web/Blog links:,, LinkedIn

Taking risks is a gamble, especially with your career. There’s no guarantee you’ll succeed. Some people will work at a job they hate for years rather than “risk” trying a new endeavor, something they don’t know how to do. So, they stay stuck—and unhappy.

I know how that feels. I was published in 1995 in Historical Romance by Berkley Jove with a western romance. It was fun to write, and it became my first published novel. Writing the western was a change for me. Up until then I’d been writing big historical novels set in the 1600s, 1800s, and medieval times. However, those novels weren’t selling. I was stuck. So, I took the risk of doing something different. I wrote the western, and it sold quickly.

That’s a lesson I’ve had to remind myself of several times over my 25+ year writing career. A few years after the western, I decided to take the risk of writing something different once again. This time I started listening to the contemporary mystery characters that were waiting in my “story queue.” They wanted onstage. Once I let them loose, they stormed the stage, chased the historical characters into the bushes, and took over. Later mysteries went on to become a nationally bestselling series—the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries with Berkley Prime Crime.

As writers, we should never stop taking risks. Whether it be through story ideas, characterization, or our craft. We need to stay open to new ideas and different writing styles. That’s how we stay fresh. And every now and then, we need to take risks.

I took a risk with my new release, the 7th in the Kelly Flynn Knitting Mysteries, DROPPED DEAD STITCH, out June 2nd. Amidst all the good times with Kelly and the gang and warm and fuzzies in the knitting shop, something bad happens. A murder, right? Well, yes, someone is murdered, and Kelly has to solve it. But something else occurs before that. Something bad happens to one of Kelly’s close friends.

It’s a sensitive subject, and I did my best to handle it with respect and sensitivity. Why take the risk and include the subject at all? Because I had to. My characters bring the stories, and they expect me to pay attention.

Risky? You bet. I had no idea how it would be received. I’m extremely gratified that reviewers have responded so favorably. DROPPED DEAD STITCH’s cover was even featured in the May 4th Publishers Weekly article on Traditional Mysteries.
All of that is wonderful. But I didn’t take the risk for the reviews. I took it for my characters, because the whole point of what happens is not the trauma, but the transformation that follows. For me—it’s all about the characters. Always has been.


Dawn Maria said...

Ms. Sefton's encouragement is a tonic for this parched writer. Last week I felt down about the process and to be reminded about risks and listening to characters is just what I needed. Thank you for not talking about query letters or when to send one to an agent.

I'll be checking out your books too!


What a wonderful, encouraging post. I think we writers sometimes get our feet a little too grounded and we let the cement dry, afraid of taking a few steps over to something less familiar.

I just started something new, at least for me (my MC is a seventeen-year-old male), and I was a little freaked out about it at first. But now, I'm going with it. The worst that can happen is that I have a manuscript that won't sell, but that I 100% enjoyed writing.

Thanks, Jessica, as always. And thank you, Maggie! :)

Carol Doane #pearlofcarol said...

While trying to decide why some folks stay mucked up in messy lives, my friends and I decided the 'bad known' is better than the unknown. May it never be so in our writing! Thanks for the reminder to s_t_r_e_t_c_h.

Kimbra Kasch said...

Oh I knit with a bunch of other girls at work on Monday, during our lunch hour. I'll have to pick up this book.

”Kim Kasch’s Blogspot”

M. Dunham said...

Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your writing wisdom with us.

Dara said...

Thanks for the post! I've been at a place career wise (and writing wise) where I've been debating taking that risk. I have made that jump and now I'm feeling better about it after this post!

Writing wise, I've recently decided to also take a risk, switching from a historical to more of a historical paranormal--something I would've never considered at one point in life. As you said, it's about the characters. This new story of mine would've never materialized if I ignored the characters that were speaking to me to get it written.

Kate Douglas said...

Amazing, isn't it Maggie, how people tend to think that the stories we write are OUR ideas? LOL...there's nothing better than when a character hijacks a story and takes over. Best of luck with your new release.

Caroline said...


Your words are a balm. I’m at a crossroad and taking that risk you talk about right now. I’m really excited about this new WIP as it’s almost finished and I will get to see what my agent thinks about it. It’s truly a story of my heart….

Keep your inspiring words coming.
I’ll be picking up your books too.


Madeline said...

"...the whole point of what happens is not the trauma, but the transformation that follows. For me—it’s all about the characters. Always has been."

This sums it up for me! Thanks, Maggie.

Anonymous said...

What a great post, and just when I needed it too. I've been feeling bad that my WIP is so different from the novel I'm querying. Now I'm going to try to stop doing that. It's good (for a rough draft) and it's true to the characters and the story I want to tell. That should be what matters.

Kimber Li said...

This advice seems to contradict the advice given by Nathan Bransford here-

Seems to me that right now no one can take any chances and you'd better color well within genre lines and hope and pray you just happen to land in the middle of a trend or forget it.


Sheila Deeth said...

Thank you. Sounds like perfect timing as I've been wondering whether to try something different and just started in a new direction a few days ago.

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Kimber An:

I'm not sure Nathan meant that you shouldn't take risks. There's no doubt that the market is tough right now and his post is right on target, all authors do need to step up their game, but if you want to really shine you need to also stand out. So while I wouldn't recommend putting a serial killer in a cozy mystery, I think that risks are what make you stand out from the pack and what make an editor stand up and get excited.

I hope this helps.


Maggie Sefton said...

Hey, everyone---thank you, thank you for your heartfelt comments. I'm so glad that my post touched many of you. And encouraged you. It's so hard when we start out, writing away on our projects, hoping we'll sell eventually, working hard on our craft.

That's why I think writers need to reach out and network with other writers. It's such a lonely business. There we are---working all alone, except we're not. We've got all these people inside our heads. That's why we need to get together with other writers periodically.

No one understands you like another writer. And yes----we're probably all certifiable.