Author Q & A: Cozy Mystery Author Sarah E. Burr

Sarah E. Burr’s latest cozy mystery, Too Much to Candle, dropped on October 13 into the eager hands–and Kindles–of fans of her new Glenmyre Whim Mysteries. This is the second book in a line of paranormals by the author of several cozy series including the Court of Mystery Series, Trending Topic Mysteries, and the upcoming Book Blogger Mysteries.

And it turns out there are even more series in the works which Sarah and I discuss in the Q & A.  

Too Much to Candle is Sarah’s sixteenth book in a whirlwind writing career that began in 2017 and continues to accelerate. At this pace, the author might rival the most prolific writers of our era, the ones that require several pages of front matter in each book just to keep all the titles straight. Go, Sarah! 

Anyway, I first encountered Sarah while perusing the Sisters In Crime (SinC) writer organization’s chat forum. She’d posted a link to one of the graphic design instructional videos that she offers for free to writers, and because I’m interested in learning how to build my own brand with graphic design, I decided to take a look. The video was, indeed, helpful, but the concept of the book she used as an example caught my interest.

A female PR guru and amateur sleuth with a taste for finer things and a beachy setting? Sign me up, please! 

I went ahead and bought #FollowMe For Murder, read it on my Kindle, and then I took a look at Sarah’s website to see what else she had to offer. That’s when I discovered something amazing: We both grew up in Maine.* 

Turns out, Sarah’s from a small town called Appleton, not far from coastal Camden and also not far from the small town I grew up in outside of Bangor. After graduating from the local high school, Sarah attended Elmira College in New York where she double-majored in Political Science and Philosophy & Religious Studies. After college, she lived for awhile in Boston where she worked in healthcare IT before beginning her writing career. She then moved to a town in New York. 

Beside penning several novels per yer, Sarah is also the social media guru for her local SinC chapter. She’s responsible for designing the group’s online content and managing their social media page. Her interest in online design came about when she realized authors now have to do so much of their own promotional work. She met the challenge by teaching herself graphic design and became enamored. She now creates all her own PR materials and also offers her services to other writers. This on top of all the writing. Phew! 

I’ve quite enjoyed both Sarah E. Burr books I’ve read so far:  #FollowMe to Murder (Book 1 in the Trending Topic series) featuring social media consultant, Coco Cline, and You Can’t Candle the Truth (Book 1 in the Glenmyre Whim series) about a candle shop owner, Hazel Wickbury, who has a paranormal gift, or “whim” as the Glenmyre clan calls them. Both books feature amateur sleuths solving small-town murders amid a quirky cast of characters in charming settings. Love all that! 

Sarah’s writing career really intrigued me, as well. How did someone write so many books in just a few years? Where did she learn her graphic design skills? What inspired her to become a hybrid author, both indie and traditionally published? 

I contacted Sarah to see if she’d be interested in participating in a Q & A for my blog, and lucky for all of us, she agreed. I am delighted to share our conversation. 


*One other weird coincidence. A minor character in #FollowMe For Murder is named Shelley. Not only that, a couple characters also share the same names as characters in my upcoming book, Final Draft: An Olivia Lively Mystery, which I serialized starting in 2014 (and in the Paid program in 2020) on under a different title. I promise, Sarah and I chose these names totally independently! 

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas being out there in the universe looking for writers to grab them. Maybe there’s something to that. Or maybe it’s more like plugging into some universal story matrix? I don’t know, but it was weird! The two stories are nothing alike except for those names. And the fact that our heroines love fashion. I think they’d get along. But really, it’s just an odd, but intriguing coincidence. Gave me chills…which for a writer of mysteries isn’t a bad thing. Now on with the interview. 

SRB: Thank you so much, Sarah, for agreeing to talk with me and share your writer journey with all of us. I’m so happy to have met you via Sisters in Crime!

Your new book, Too Much to Candle, just came out this month. Congratulations! The book is the second in your Glenmyre Whim Mysteries Series. What is a whim? And what was the inspiration behind this series? 

SEB: Thank you! This series is one that really took me by surprise. The inspiration came from a few different avenues. The first and most basic inspiration was my love of candles. Seriously. Candles are one of my favorite writing aids, helping to set a creative mood. Also, at the time, I had not written a paranormal cozy mystery, and it was a genre I wanted to explore. I like the idea of bending the rules and living a bit outside reality (no wonder I’m a writer), so I began toying with the notion of writing my own paranormal mystery. However, I enjoy bringing fresh perspectives to a genre, so I wanted to figure out how to write something magical without “magic” being involved.

My main character, Hazel Wickbury, introduced herself to me about a week after the U.S. went into lockdown in 2020. We hit it off pretty quickly, and while I knew there was something special about Hazel, I also realized she wasn’t a witch, nor did she use magic in the traditional sense. Whatever power she had, she used it infrequently and only if she really needed to. The notion “on a whim” came to mind, and eventually, “whim” would come to define the special abilities each of Hazel’s relatives have. For the most part, they are useful, supernatural powers: the ability to predict the weather, read minds, tell whether people are lying, talk to animals, and so on.

Unfortunately for Hazel, her whim gives her the ability to see a glowing clock above the heads of everyone around her, counting down the time they have until they die. Not very whimsical at all!

SRB: Besides the Glenmyre books, you have two other series. One is fantasy, The Court of Mystery Series, with eight books to date. The other is a brand-new contemporary series about social media called Trending Topic Mysteries. I noticed on your Instagram the other day that you are now working on a fourth series! Are you continuing to write books in all four? And why create so many series at the same time rather than one at a time? 

SEB: The short answer is that I like to keep busy. And feel free to go with that answer because the longer one is a bit heavy!

Actually, the project I was recently Instagramming about will be my sixth series. I have a new series launching next year from TouchPoint Press called The Book Blogger Mysteries, and I am currently querying a series with publishers called The Writer’s Retreat Mysteries. So, while I’m waiting for these things to take off, what do I do? I write. 

I have so many stories and characters in my head. It would be impossible for me to choose just one to focus on, so why bother? I love spending time with different characters and visiting new worlds each week. Since I write full-time, having more than one series keeps me entertained and engaged in my work because something new is always happening.

For the first year or so after I devoted myself to writing full-time, I tried writing one series only. It got stale. I love my characters dearly, but I found that I needed a break every now and then, but I didn’t want to stop writing.

Being an author is an incredibly tricky profession because your success is solely dictated on you and your effort. Any downtime I have or breaks I take, I have this nagging voice in the back of my mind telling me I’m wasting time when I could be advancing my career and moving my life forward. It’s really, really annoying and the biggest negative of this life I’ve created for myself. 

What’s even more painful is that I totally understand that breaks are necessary—and trust me, I do take them—I just still struggle feeling “good” about it. It’s why I do my best to promote self-care among the author community because we need to take care of our mental health and if I can help others from feeling the way I do, I consider that a win.

SRB: Yes! Because there is a lot of pressure on writers now to produce, produce, produce in order to stand out in the crowd. But it’s also a wonderful occupation with so much opportunity to be creative and thrive. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and how did you settle on mystery as your genre?

SEB: I knew pretty early on in life that I wanted to write a book, and by the time I got to second grade, I was trying my best to write one. Unfortunately, I just ended up accruing a lot of Chapter Ones & Chapter Twos. This plagued me well into college. I struggled figuring out what the whole story was about and where I wanted to go with it. I think that’s why I fell in love with writing mysteries because the whole story IS the murder: who died, how, and why. That’s your story. Everything else around it is just world-building.

SRB: It’s easier in some ways but harder in others because you have these conventions readers–and agents and editors–expect. I believe I read that you are both self-published and traditionally published, which makes you a hybrid author. Why did you choose to go this route and what was your path to publication both as an indie and a traditional author? 

SEB: I don’t mean to sound glib, but my foray into self-publishing happened because I wanted to try it. Back in 2017, Amazon had recently launched sweeping improvements to its Kindle Direct Publishing platform, and, as someone who loves new technology in all its forms, I began to research it. They made publishing your work seem so straightforward, I figured, why not give it a try?

So, I sat down, and I wrote a novella about a Duchess who inherits her father’s throne after his untimely death only to discover her parents were murdered. I hired a cover artist to design a cover, I had a few beta readers read it, and I hired someone to edit the manuscript. When all that was said and done, I uploaded it. What I didn’t expect is for people outside my social circle to discover the eBook and write to me asking, “When is the next one coming out?” I’d honestly had no intention of making the novella into a series, but with the feedback I received, I decided to explore the world I’d created a bit more. I’m now writing my fourteenth story featuring Duchess Jacqueline. My Glenmyre Whim Mysteries are also self-published. I love the self-publishing landscape. I really enjoy moving at my own pace and having control over my work. Big name authors are choosing this path for the very same reasons. I’m also really excited about the direction the self-publishing industry is moving in. Self-published books are being recognized alongside traditionally published works by reputable organizations more and more. You Can’t Candle the Truth was both a 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Award and 2022 Silver Falchion Award finalist.

Once I’d experienced the self-publishing landscape and found moderate success, I wanted to try traditional publishing, if at all possible. By early 2018, I’d written a cozy mystery about a lifestyle blogger/social media influencer that I thought would bring a fresh perspective to the cozy mystery genre. I love, love, love cozies, but I was noticing a trend where main characters were deathly afraid of using technology or having their cell phone charged. I couldn’t relate to characters like that; I grew up with Facebook, Instagram, Google, and so on. Here I was reading about women my age who continually forgot their phone—all to conveniently advance the story line. I wanted to try something new: a heroine who used her phone and her social media accounts to her benefit.

However, with traditional publishing, I was at the mercy of what the market wanted. In 2018, the feedback I got from agents and publishers alike was, “social media is a fad,” and that no one would be using Facebook in a few years (these email conversations occurred less than four years ago, and, in 2022, social media is more engrained into our lives than ever). 

Luckily, I connected with an agent who believed I was on the right track, and subsequently, a publisher who believed #FollowMe for Murder and Coco Cline had a place in today’s cozy mystery landscape.

SRB: What do you feel is the most challenging aspect of being an author today? And what have you learned about meeting those challenges? 

SEB: I mentioned earlier that I struggle with taking downtime because I feel this crushing sense of “I’m not doing enough to make it in this business.” This is a big, personal challenge for me: giving myself a break and feeling like I’ve earned it. With social media, we’re constantly flooded with success stories and this “hustle” mentality, like you always have to be working. I feel it very strongly among my generation. We always have our phones, we’re always on call, we’ve always got one eye on work. The work/life balance doesn’t really exist because work IS life. But that’s not a great way to live, nor is it healthy. I’ve really had to learn how to take breaks and disconnect from email/social media, just to give myself that downtime my brain and creative juices need to thrive.

Another challenge for authors in today’s world is marketing; there is so much responsibility on authors now to market themselves and their work. This means being on social media, getting those public appearances, and finding new, innovative ways to get your book in front of readers. I’ve been very lucky to discover I love marketing, particularly graphic design. I’ve spent time learning so many different design platforms and understanding what kinds of images/videos attract attention. It can be overwhelming at times, but nothing is more soothing to me than sitting at my computer and putting together a bright, exciting graphic that features my book cover.

SRB: Who are your favorite authors? And, if not the same, the authors you find have most inspired your work? What do you love about them?

SEB: Oh, gosh. There are so many amazing authors out there. At the end of the day, my favorite author will forever be Terry Goodkind. His Sword of Truth series was life-changing for me, and to this day, no one has created a better character than Kahlan Amnell.

Goodkind inspired me to write characters who give something to the reader. I like to focus on giving joy and fun. That’s why I love cozy mysteries so much because, at the end of the day, good will always triumph over evil. That’s the cozy guarantee. My favorite cozy authors are Denise Swanson, Julia Buckley, Sara Rosett, T.E. Kinsey, and Sheila Connolly.

SRB: I’m fascinated by the social media aspect of your career, and, in fact, I discovered you on Sister in Crime because you were offering Canva tutorials on YouTube. You also sell pre-made design bundles. What got you so interested in this aspect of the writing life, i.e. public relations, marketing, design and how important is it in today’s publishing landscape? 

SEB: When I first started exploring content creation, I did so out of necessity. A self-published author at the time, I needed to be able to create my own promotional materials because I didn’t have a publisher backing me. What I discovered was a really soothing activity that helped me unwind from the day. I love graphic design. I love putting together elements to create something that showcases my book. Once I started posting these designs, I had author friends asking where I got them. When I told them I made them myself, they asked if I’d consider making designs for their books. Eventually, this would grow into my BookstaBundles service, aimed at helping authors save time by leaving the design work to me.

SRB: Your protagonist in the Trending Topic Mystery Series, Coco Cline, is a millennial go-getter and a trend-setter. This generation thrives on (and seems rather obsessed with) being “remarkable” rather than “basic.” How realistic do you think Coco’s life/journey is? Do you see this as aspirational for readers? I was totally hooked by it, actually, the same way I might be hooked by watching a reality tv show. The realistic part of me knows it’s totally over-the-top, and yet…I gobbled it up! Thoughts? 

SEB: There are definitely a lot of elements of Coco’s life that are over-the-top, kind of like a modern-day millennial fairytale. Enterprising young woman begins a startup. Startup gets acquired for millions. Fame ensues. It reads like a dream-come-true!

I mean, for context, I was in high school when Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire at age 23. It feels like, as a millennial, I have been conditioned by society and technology to create or work towards “the next big thing.” Success among my peers is the size of your paycheck, not whether you are actually happy at your job. Back when I was first writing #FollowMe for Murder, I wanted to explore such a mindset all while shining light on what really matters (or at least, should matter) in life. Because after Coco makes it big, she doesn’t ride off into the sunset with her money. Instead, she decides to figure out a way to use her expertise to help people achieve the success she had at a young age. She wants to help people and be around those she loves because she learned very quickly that fame and fortune aren’t everything. Yes, money is important, but it shouldn’t be what drives you or defines whether your life is a success. I like to think, with “The Great Resignation” movement sweeping the country, that people are realizing this as well.

At the end of the day, Coco Cline is introduced to readers as a cautionary tale of “be careful what you wish for,” and the journey she is now on in the Trending Topic Mysteries is building a life that works for her, not for what is expected of her.

SRB: What is the one question you wish I’d asked? And how would you answer it?

SEB: Who or what has helped you improve your writing within the last few years?

My dog, Eevee. Eevee was adopted during the summer of 2020, and she really has brought so much joy to my life that has filtered over into my writing. 

A cardinal rule for a cozy mystery is for the main character to have a pet companion, and I will admit I’ve overlooked this rule for a long time. Yet, with Eevee’s arrival, I realized my heroines deserved the unconditional love a pet gives. At the time, You Can’t Candle the Truth had been written, so I went through my draft to figure out a way to insert a pet into the storyline. Long story short, it wouldn’t work without big, sweeping changes to Hazel’s journey, but I could lay the groundwork for her to adopt a furry friend in Too Much to Candle. Readers will have to see what happens.

SRB: I love that! Thank you, again, for the sharing your thoughts with us. There’s so much here that will inspire other writers who are looking to build a career. And we do all need that reminder to take care of ourselves. Cheers and good luck in all your future endeavors!

Check out Sarah’s website to learn more about the author, her graphic design services, her blog, her podcaset, and her books. 

Young smiling woman headshot with nature background
Author Sarah E. Burr


  1. Loved it! So nice to read how writers handle different aspects of their careers. Keep up the good, and interesting work Shelley!

    1. Hey, Wendy! Thank you for stopping by and reading the interview. It’s so true. We all do things a little differently, and I feel I learn something from every writer I meet. I appreciate YOU very much. xoxo Shelley

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