Sara Shepard tells the truth about lying

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

"Pretty Little Liars" author Sara Shepard speaks this weekend at the Philadelphia Writers Conference.

It's one of my favorite stories: the person who dreams of someday writing a book — and then really does it, with phenomenal success. I especially like when this person describes how they achieved this great success: lots of perseverance and hard work.

Downingtown native Sara Shepard has lived this story, and this weekend she'll return to Philadelphia to share her hard-earned wisdom as the opening speaker and a workshop leader at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, taking place June 12-14 at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District (

Years back, Shepard was working at a publishing job she didn't much like, and she began ghostwriting young adult novels on the side. She stepped in for publishers who had acquired books that needed a writer, a model she says worked well for other series from Nancy Drew to the Baby-sitters Club. In fact, the company she worked with, Alloy Entertainment, is famous for these pairings of concept and writer, and they have brought many successful books and series into being, including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Gossip Girl.

Shepard's experience as a ghostwriter was very useful. "I learned how to write a book, how to be edited, how to outline a book," she says. "I got my MFA as well [at Brooklyn College], but I definitely learned more being a ghostwriter."

Alloy offered Shepard the opportunity to collaborate with them and create her own series, and asked her for some ideas. She chose to write a mystery and set it in Philadelphia on the Main Line. "I wrote a whole bunch of chapters and development material, not thinking it would be anything," she says. And then the publisher bought four books. "Ok," she thought, "I guess I'm doing this."

These books were the first in her hugely successful "Pretty Little Liars" series published by HarperTeen. Set in the fictional town of Rosewood, PA, the series now has sixteen books and a TV show spin-off to boot.

At the conference, Shepard will talk about changes she's seen in the publishing industry, for example how she thinks e- and self-publishing make it easier to get your work out now. She'll also talk about how things she only imagined would happen with social media in her early books have sadly come true, dangerous things like cyber-bullying. And in her workshop, she'll discuss the book to film transition.

Shepard has slowed down a bit since she had her second child 13 months ago, but in general, she keeps a workaholic pace with several projects going on at once and multiple books published each year in her various YA series (Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game) as well as several adult books. She enjoys working in both categories and writing for all ages. Right now she's on the 3rd draft of a new mystery which will be the first in a new series. It's tentatively titled The Amateurs, and, like the other series, it's about "young adults with secrets in their past."

As it happens, it was exactly ten years ago that Shepard sold her first book, so it's a great time for her to come back to Philly (she lives in Pittsburgh now) and celebrate by sharing what she's learned over the last decade and encouraging other writers attending the Philadelphia Writers Conference. She's very grateful for what the last decade has wrought: "It's nice that I've been able to sustain it for ten years. It's been great. I've always wanted to do this." And, says the savvy and realistic writer: "Hopefully I can stretch it a little longer."

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