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Sheila Lowe asks, “How Much is Enough?”

Sheila Lowe is the author of the Forensic Handwriting and the Beyond the Veil series. You can find out more about her on her website, or by clicking here, see her last post here, and buy her books here.

In 1997 I started writing my first novel, Poison Pen. In 2000 it won 3rd place in a mystery writers competition and I knew I was on my way (ha!). Sara Ann Fried of Mysterious Press was a judge. She wrote about my first twenty pages, “I love the characters. They are slightly over the top in a Jackie Collins way.” That’s not what I was going for, but I was happy to take it, and when she asked for the rest of the manuscript I sent it with alacrity (now there’s a word I’ve never used before).

Three months later, Sara Ann wrote that she was going to pass because she didn’t like the characters. Go figure. Tom Colgan, senior editor at Berkeley was the other judge. He liked the book and submitted it to his editorial review committee. Twice. They said “it’s not strong enough.” I didn’t understand what that meant, but I edited and edited my heart out. That first page saw so many iterations, I wore the letters off my keyboard.

Seven years and countless edits later I got an editor and learned what “not strong enough” meant (leave out most of the adverbs and stop having the protagonist feel guilty all the time). The book was finally published by Obsidian, an imprint of Penguin—it got a starred review in Publishers Weekly—as did the next three books. And then I published a bunch more. You’d think I would be satisfied, but nooooo.

I write better now than I did when Poison Pen was first published, and my pride insists that my books should keep up with what I’ve learned. Two years ago, when I took back my rights and independently published my series, I started by cutting 20,000 words out of Poison Pen—mainly redundancies and f-bombs—but it was always that first page where I spent most of my time and energy. I’d get it “just right.” And then, the next time I looked at it—cringe! So, I rewrote it again. And again. And again. I do believe that each time it got better. A couple of months ago, did it again, going word by word through the entire book.

I did it with all the books, though not nearly to such an extent. I don’t know whether readers will notice, but I do. And, guess what—I’ve just had some comments from a pro about that opening chapter. Apparently, I should have been looking at the bigger picture. Maybe the opening scene should not be the opening scene…

Here we go again.

Sheila Lowe

Sheila Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert and author whose Forensic Handwriting mystery series features Claudia Rose, whose career as a document examiner and handwriting analyst mirrors Sheila’s own, and the Beyond the Veil Series about a young woman who reluctantly communicates with dead people who want her to do stuff for them. Follow Sheila on her website,, or follow her on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    The lessons here for writers are clear: Keep writing, keep revising and polishing, and publish with pride. Congratulations to you!

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Thank you–I’m glad you see it in a positive light 🙂

  2. Avatar

    You are an inspiration in many ways. Keep on learning and growing, and I’ll be cheering in the bleachers!

  3. Joy Ann Ribar
    Joy Ann Ribar

    I believe what you’re describing is something most writers are cursed with: never good enough, never finished syndrome. I review my published novels and want to keep editing. You’re an excellent writer, Sheila, and now I understand why.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Thanks for a lovely compliment. I feel like it’s all a process and we all need to do it the way it works for us.

  4. Tracey S. Phillips
    Tracey S. Phillips

    I admire your stick-to-it mentality! You have more stamina to go back and do it again than I do. But maybe someday I’ll do that with my indie books. You never know. And I’m just getting started! Good luck with your rewrites. Maybe this time you’ll be satisfied.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      I don’t think it’s a matter of stamina for me. As I wrote, it’s about pride. And since I am independently publishing now, I can change things as much or as often as I want. I know it works because the last time, when we posted the first chapter as part of an ad, it significantly boosted sales of that book.

  5. carleneoneilmysteries

    It’s so hard to know when to stop. Sometimes you end up with something nearly identical to what you began with!

    1. Sherrill Joseph
      Sherrill Joseph

      Sometimes, you just have to say that’s the best I can do–for now. I’m reminded that artists know (I think!) when to pull the brush away from the canvas.

      1. Sheila Lowe
        Sheila Lowe

        Sometimes, that’s true. And sometimes it just takes one more brush stroke to create perfection.

    2. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      I’m not changing anything in the story, just editing so it’s better writing. So in one sense it is nearly identical–story–but in the other, it reads better.

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    Margaret Mizushima

    I love your writing, Sheila, and appreciate your dedication to your work. I’m awaiting the dev edit for my ninth book and am really looking forward to the revision process. But oh, how I hate that last proof read when I know my last chance for changes will be over. Great post today! Thank you.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Thank you so much, Margaret, and same to you. Let me know if you need a beta reader for #9!

  7. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    I’m going back over my “training” novel right now. The one that I thought I was done but then got feedback from beta readers, then from conferences, then from agents, then from publishers, then more agents. Basically, it turned into Frankenstein’s Monster all cobbled together with different opinions.
    Now that I’m feeling stronger in my writing skills, I’m revisiting it because the story and characters are awesome. The writing makes me cringe (you can’t start every sentence with “she”), but I’m fixing it. Thanks for the inspiration, and also for letting me know it will never be enough 🙂

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      It’s amazing how different your book can look from a distance. It’s what my friend Bobbie Cimo calls “the book of your heart.” You know you have to get the story out, and now you can make it what you want. Go for it!

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    Laurie’s Story

    Just like Sharon Lynn said that overworking a novel can end up it being a Frankenstein monster. thanks for being open and honest about what every writer goes through.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      But how do you know when it’s ‘overworked?’ I guess every author has to answer that one for themself. It’s a challenge, for sure.

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    Jacqueline Vick

    It is soooo tempting to rewrite an old novel. Except for some light editing when I republish for any reason (those adverbs!) I avoid the temptation and focus on what’s next. Thank you for sharing what is in many writer minds!

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      I guess it depends on the reason why you are drawn to rewrite. For me, it’s not about story, it’s about the writing itself, which may be the tone, the repetitions, the purple prose. Stuff like that.

  10. Colleen Winter
    Colleen Winter

    I sometimes think about going back to revise the first book in my series but worry about the cascade of consequences that would ripple through the rest of the series and the rabbit hole it would create. I admire your tenacity and dedication. Your pursuit of excellence has served you well.

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      It depends on what your revisions are. I don’t change the story, though I might move some things around. The changes I make don’t affect the others in the series. Thank you for the compliment.

  11. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    An excellent piece on the importance of editing and rewriting. I wish more aspiring writers would take the long view that you did. Thanks for reminding me, as well. ~JD

    1. Sheila Lowe
      Sheila Lowe

      Thanks so much. Sometimes I think I’m just insane, but maybe not entirely…

  12. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Sheila — You’re such an inspiration. My hat is off to you!

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