Taking a Chance Without a Contract by Nancy Means Wright

NancyMeansWrightcoverphotoqueensFor two decades I’ve been researching a historical novel, and when the manuscript grew to almost a thousand pages I put it aside while I wrote a dozen mysteries.  But when my opthalmologist told me I was a glaucoma suspect—and I had another landmark birthday—I decided to self publish. It would be my twentieth book of fiction, nonfiction, poems—the first nineteen traditionally published.

The novel, Queens Never Make Bargains, is the multigenerational tale of three spirited women who carry on their lives through a flu pandemic, the Great  Depression, and two World Wars (1912-1945). It’s based on my Scottish grandmother’s coming to America to be nanny to her widowed uncle’s brood of seven children. At seventeen, she had not only left a beau and a university education behind, but 1936Familyphotohad recently learned that she’d been conceived “out of wedlock,” as they used to say. It was this fact that sparked my story after I went to Edinburgh to look up my granny, and the archivist gave me a slight smirk and a slip of paper that read “illegitimate.” To compensate, I wrote a novelette for Seventeen Magazine called “Long Journey Home,” and made far more money than I’ve yet received from my novel.  I incorporated that magazine story into my “fictional memoir,” as I call it.

So I radically shortened the manuscript, opened my wallet, and sent it only to Red Barn Books, the self publishing arm of Wind Ridge Books of Vermont.  There I had a superb editor, who had earlier edited work by John Irving, and was allowed to choose my own cover art.  Admittedly, I loved being in full control for the first time in my writing life.  For Poison Apples, one of my St. Martin’s Press mysteries, the book jacket showed a leafy tree filled with ripe red apples—none looking the least bit poisoned—and a friend asked if I’d written a cookbook!

One of the characters in Queens Never Make Bargains is based on real life Joe Henry (1912-1973), an artist with polio who had no use of his opposable thumbs, and could only paint propped up in braces to sweep a painting onto canvas, or newspaper, since the family was poor. He died, alas, in a nursing home before I could meet him. But I interviewed a compassionate veterinarian who had taken Joe along on his farm rounds, offering subject matter for his paintings, which ultimately appeared in NYC galleries. I used one of those paintings for my cover art.

QueensRevisedcover2May14      In about four month’s time the novel came out, beautifully designed by Wind Ridge, and it now appears in their catalogue with other traditionally published books.  They also gave me a website for ordering, so bookstores and libraries receive the usual discount.

In my haste to push the book through, I had acquired, alas, only one blurb—and  by a non fiction author.  Then I read in Poets & Writers magazine that Kirkus would review my book, though with no assurance for a good review.  But Kirkus had always praised my books in the past, so I took a deep breath, paid their hefty fee—and lucked out. It was a lovely, long, thoughtful review without a single negative, calling Queens “an often illuminating novel that lays bare the societal constraints faced by generations of women and the stark realities they bore with grace.”

But it was too late to put it on the back cover!  So I had to advertise.

Kirkus offered, for a fee, an attractive, wide banner ad of the above lines, along with a link to the entire review, to run for two weeks on several of their websites. It apparently had a lot of hits, and my Amazon rating surged for a time, before falling slowly back.  Next I sent the book to Historical Novel Reviews, which had happily reviewed my Mary Wollstonecraft mysteries, along with a middle grade historical. But HNR has a rule set in stone: no self published books in its august pages.

HNR would, however, try to find a freelancer for an online review—and I’m still waiting.  My local Vermont Bookshop has rallied behind me and copies continue to sell, online and off.  New England Booksellers have plugged it on their website, yet I haven’t dared approach other bookstores.  The stigma for do-it-yourself has surely eased, but like the ants I can’t keep out of my Vermont kitchen,  it remains—at least for writers who haven’t the clout of a Stephen King, whose books are bestsellers with or without a publisher.

So as Fitzgerald, who didn’t self publish but made just $13.30 in royalties from The Great Gatsby, wrote: “So we beat on, boats against the current…”  And hope for smooth sailing!



Nancy Means Wright has published 20 books of fiction (mystery and mainstream), nonfiction, and poems with St Martin’s Press, Dutton, Perseverance Press & elsewhere, including two historical mysteries featuring 18th-century Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her most recent historicals are Walking into the Wild, and the multi-generational novel, Queens Never Make Bargains.  Short stories appear in American Literary Review, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Level Best Books, et al. Her children’s mysteries have received an Agatha Award and Agatha nomination. Nancy lives in Middlebury, Vermont, with her spouse and two Maine Coon cats.






9 thoughts on “Taking a Chance Without a Contract by Nancy Means Wright

  1. nancy345wright says:

    Thank you so much, P.J., for including me among your many excellent guest bloggers, and for laying out my text and photos so beautifully. I’m grateful, too, in retrospect, for your past help in Break Through Promotions!

  2. Nancy,

    Like you, I’ve always looked for traditional publication, but I truly understand the frustration. Many fine books do not find their way to a traditional publisher. The stigma once attached to self-publishing is gone. The real problem that remains in my opinion is gaining publicity and distribution, something the “big” publishers can provide. I found the information about F. Scott Fitzgerald very disheartening. But so many great writers weren’t known until after they were dead. Very sad!
    Since I have read your fine work and know it is exceptional, I hope you get the publicity you deserve.

    • nancy345wright says:

      Thanks so much, Jacquie for your good wishes. Who knows? I’m not altogether sure that the self publishing stigma is gone. I’ve discovered several venues that remain closed to self-pubbed books. And many bookstores won’t offer events unless one has a traditional publisher. But I thought it worth a try to do this!

  3. nancylynnjarvis says:

    Obviously, you are an excellent writer, and with so many books, you have some name recognition and fans. I predict you will do well in your new venture.

    • nancy345wright says:

      I really appreciate your dropping by, Nancy! And thanks for your kind words–although my novels were mostly mysteries and this is a mainstream historical–so I’m leaping genres as well as self publishing. Ah well, it’s kind of fun to take risks!

  4. margaretmendel says:

    I’m a couple days late to this blog posting but it was a supportive piece that gives writers hope. I do admire your stick-to-itness and when a piece of writing gets to be 1,000 pages, wow, now that’s impressive.

    • nancy345wright says:

      Impressive maybe, Margaret, but it took up a lot of space in my closet! So I had to whittle it down to a reasonable number of pages. And since it’s loosely based on my family, I knew I had to do something with it.Thank you so much for coming by, and good luck with your work!

  5. Brenda says:

    Thanks for sharing all this! I’ll look forward to reading this book and am happy to see I have many more of yours I need to catch up on!

  6. nancy345wright says:

    Oh, thank you, Brenda! That’s a lovely thought. You’ve made my day!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s