Dr. Gail Lukasik has been a client of mine for several years, and she’s a joy to work with, and to talk about. As you’ll see from some of what she shares below, she’s not only talented – which is a wonderful thing – she’s thorough and she’s persistent. If you believe that talent alone will get you where you’re going, you’re mistaken. It’s a plus, but learn from Gail’s experiences:
PJ: How long have you been writing?
Gail: I’ve been writing poetry since I was in high school and mysteries since the mid-1990s.
PJ: At what point did you reach a place where you felt successful as a writer?
Gail: Successful is a tricky word for me because as my career evolves it keeps changing definition. When Destroying Angels, my first mystery, was accepted for publication I had a great feeling of success. But as time went on and I learned more about the mystery “business,” that initial feeling of success waned. Maybe I was setting myself higher goals. With my newest book, The Lost Artist, one of my goals was to receive positive reviews from two of the big reviewers. (I’d received positive reviews from Kirkus Reviews for Destroying Angels and Death’s Door.) Luckily, and lucks figures a great deal in writing and publishing, I did receive two positive reviews—one from Kirkus and one from Publishers Weekly.
PJ: Congratulations! That’s no easy task today. The general public seems to think authors are relatively wealthy. Without prying too much, has your writing income lived up to expectations?
Gail: This question hits close to home for me. After six years and four books, I’m doing a little better than breaking even. My advance is modest and because my publisher caters to libraries, the book comes out only in hardcover and the print runs are about 1200. Even though I’m able to sell my paperback rights to Harlequin for their Direct to Consumer book club, my audio rights to Books in Motion and have put the first two books in the Leigh Girard series out as e-books, the cost of promotion and travel wipes out most of my profit.
PJ: How long did it take you to get published the first time?
Gail: Before switching to writing mysteries, I’d been a published poet for about twenty years. My poems appeared in over 75 literary journals. I’d won an Illinois Arts Council award for my poem, “In Country,” and my book of poems, Landscape Toward a Proper Silence, was published in 1992 (Eye of the Comet Press).
That said, when I started sending out my first mystery, I wasn’t prepared for the arduous task or the fickleness of fate. After six years of rejections and rewrites Destroying Angels was accepted for publication in 2002. Here’s where fickle fate steps in. That publisher held my book for two years and then went out of business. And this was no fly-by-night publisher. The publishing house had been in business for thirty years. During those two years I waited for my book to come out, I wrote the second book in the series, Death’s Door, went through a rigorous editing process, and lined up blurbs from well-known mystery writers. Now I had two books and no publisher. At that point I almost gave up, thinking maybe it wasn’t meant to be. On a whim I pitched Destroying Angels at the Love is Murder Mystery Conference in Chicago and within a month had a contract with Five Star/Cengage. And the rest as they say is history. So the short answer is ten years.
PJ: That’s incredible! Again, there’s something to be said for persistence. Writing new material, rewriting, submitting new work, waiting, promoting published work…the list is large. How do you manage to divvy up your time to give adequate attention to all needed areas?
Gail: I’m a very organized person. When I’m writing a book, I write five days a week from 9-12 p.m. The writing is usually a combination of writing new material and rewriting.
If I have a book about to come out or one that has just come out, I devote my afternoons to promotion. The first six months after publication are when you have to promote heavily. And now with the advent of blogs I’m doing a lot more writing to promote my books than ever before.
PJ: What is the single most exciting thing that’s happened to you as a writer?
Gail: Without question the Kirkus Review of Destroying Angels. Kirkus described Destroying Angels as “a riveting thriller. Plan on an all-nighter.” After ten years of ups and downs, of almost giving up, the review confirmed all the hard work I’d done to bring Destroying Angels to fruition. When I read the review on my computer I sat there and wept with joy.
PJ: What’s the most memorable thing (good or bad) that’s happened to you while promoting your work?
Gail: In April of this year I was invited to appear with five other well-known mystery authors at the Spring Green’s Literary Festival in Wisconsin. The entire weekend was devoted to our books with signings, book talks, panels, and concluding with a mystery dinner. The next day we were given a private tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s splendid home, Taliesin. I have never felt so appreciated.
PJ: With more books being released each month now than ever before, what do you believe sets your work apart from the others?
Gail: Besides telling a compelling story, I believe my writing and the depth of my characters and settings are what set my work apart. Words, for me, are almost like notes of music, maybe because I studied ballet for many years and was a member of the Cleveland Civic Ballet Company. I craft my sentences, scenes, and chapters paying close attention to the language and the pacing. I try to fashion “real” characters who are complex and don’t ride the surface. The same goes for my settings—I go to the places I write about. I don’t Google a place for my descriptions. You can’t smell or feel a setting online. You have to be there, smell the air, watch the light, and walk around the terrain.
PJ: What would you like to share with writers who haven’t reached the point of publication yet?
Gail: You have to be tenacious and persistent. There are always exceptions to the rule, but putting self-publishing aside, it takes on average about ten years for a first-time author to be published.
Also, learn your craft. That means read deeply and broadly in your genre. Don’t think a good idea is enough for a good book. The real work is the writing. You have to love it to withstand the rejections that come with the territory. Crafting a good book should be as important as to you as getting published.
Don’t discount luck. I heard David Morrell speak this year at a mystery conference and his speech confirmed what I’d learned these past six years about publishing. He said it take three things to be a successful author—talent, persistence, and luck. Luck is the one thing you can’t control. It’s impossible to guess what the next best selling book will be. So write the book you need to write, the one you’re passionate about. You may get lucky and it’ll be the next best seller. But if it’s not, at least you will have written the book you wanted to write, the book only you could write.
PJ: What do you feel is your most effective tool for promoting your published work?
Gail: I wish I knew. I’ve used just about every promotional tool except Tweeting. Nothing has stood out from the pack.
PJ: What area of book promotion is the most challenging to you?
Gail: Without question networking at conferences is the most difficult for me. I’m an introvert by nature, as many writers are, and I’m not good at small talk. But I’m working on my networking skills.
PJ: Do you have a local independent bookseller you’d like to mention?
Give us a list of your published titles in chronological or series order:
Landscape Toward a Proper Silence, 1992, Eye of the Comet Press, poetry
Leigh Girard Series:
Destroying Angels, 2006, Five Star/Cengage
Death’s Door, 2009, Five Star/Cengage
Share with us an elevator pitch (no more than 30 seconds) of your latest title:
The Lost Artist
When Rose Caffrey, a struggling Chicago performance artist, uncovers four nineteenth century murals in an old southern Illinois farmhouse, her quest to discover the unknown artist leads to a hunt for one of the greatest lost art treasures of sixteenth century America. What Rose never expects to find are crimes going back over four hundred years with the potential to transform American history–if she can escape the fate of the other lost artists before her.
Where can we buy it?
Gail, thank you so much for sharing with us. I really applaud your persistence and the wonderful books that you create with your skill. I hope everyone who reads this will go and buy a copy – they’ll make excellent additions to any library!