I’m the author of ten novels and hundreds of short stories. I’m honored and grateful to have this career and I have the privilege of being a published writer. But there are things I wish I had done differently. For instance –
My first YA novel was nominated for an Edgar. Published by a small New England press, they worked very hard to promote me. I appeared on television, on radio, I spoke in schools all over the east. I quickly wrote a sequel and thought for sure that I was well on the path to fame and fortune.
The fame was fleeting and the fortune non existent. I didn’t win the Edgar and two days later, my publisher told me that the company had gone bankrupt. (Perhaps they spent too much money promoting me.) While on my writing journey, I have met many helpful, kind people. But in the end, it’s all on you. No one can hold you back and you shouldn’t count on anyone to push you forward.
The market is flooded with so many books, especially cozy mysteries. When I began to post on Facebook, announcing my recent publication with a bright, colorful picture of the cover and a brief description, the response was dismal. I got a few likes from relatives but, after a while, even my sisters didn’t bother to hit the like sign. The problem was everyone was posting, begging readers to “buy me” or in some cases, “download me”. For free.
Kristin Lamb writes an excellent blog for writers and she often says, “Know me, like me, buy me.” There is just too much competition and the chances that someone is going to pick up my book, because they’ve read me before, because they like the description, or the flashy cover, are bleak. But maybe if they are following my blog (which is mostly fashion) or look forward to my tweets (which are mostly inspirational) they just might take a chance and download a sample.
When I wrote my first novel, I spent a lot of time sending out queries to agents, one at a time. I didn’t dare write another letter, (just in case two people were interested at the same time, yeah, right) until I got a response, or until a month went by, and I got the message I was being ignored. After this procedure proved unsuccessful, I queried small publishers and again I waited. For over a year. Finally I found an editor who was interested in my novel. And I waited some more. Until the novel was finally published.
Don’t put all your hopes and dreams on one novel, one agent, one publisher. Don’t wait around while dreaming of that packed book signing. As soon as you submit, get busy, and write something different, something better. That way when you get an e-mail that says no, doesn’t work for us (or no e-mail at all and your heart sinks every time you examine the junk folder, and no, nothing there either) hope will still be on the horizon.
I once decided to self-publish a novel on Amazon. I was lured by stories of unknown and unpublished authors, who wrote books, targeted audiences, made money, and was courted by major publishers offering huge advances. I worked hard on the novel, paid someone to design a vivid cover, found someone to do the formatting, and then I held my breath. The book was a story about purgatory, a kind of a ghost story, appealing to some Catholics. I was surprised when people actually bought it and posted reviews. Readers were impressed by the novel and the plotting, but the book was slammed for lack of editing, which included multiple spelling errors and bad punctuation. And, oh yes, I was an English teacher. I had no choice but to withdraw the book.
You cannot find your own mistakes. So before you send your well crafted novel into the world to fend for itself, consider hiring an editor. If you can’t afford one, at the very least, hire someone proficient in the English language, who will give it a careful read. (I’m very good at finding other people’s mistakes.) No matter how wonderful your novel is, if the reader is constantly distracted by a multitude of typos, the willing suspension of disbelief is shattered. And so are the hopes of the reader finishing your book.
I cannot tell you how many times I have given up on my dream to become a bestselling author, on the New York Times list, and earn enough money to actually buy a Manhattan penthouse. But the odds are clearly not in my favor. According to a survey from AARP, in 2015, 700,000 books were self-published in that year alone, and the chances of your book making it to a bookstore are a dismal 1%. Well, I’m not self-published (not that there is anything wrong with that, except it’s harder) and a few of my books did make it to the shelves of stores. We are all competing for the same small piece of pie and it’s exhausting.
Lesson Learned: I remember what Mark Cuban once said. “The beauty of success, whether it’s finding the girl of your dreams, the right job, or financial success, is that it doesn’t matter how many times you have failed. You only have to be right once.”
Brief Excerpt from Trouble Purse Sued
“Where are you?”
The desperation in Mrs. Hopwood’s voice immediately put Mrs. Johnson on guard. “I’m just leaving the baseball field, after watching the twins play. I have to tell you that they’re the backbone of the team. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up being professional players.”
“They’re six years old. Listen, you have to do me a favor.”
“What sort of favor?” Mrs. Johnson was wary as she rifled through her handbag for her car keys.
“I need for you to come and pick me up at my Aunt Eunice’s. It’s not far, right on Franklin Street. And if you can, bring the van.”
“That’s not possible.” Mrs. Johnson was irritated by the request because she thought in spite of her protests, she was probably going to get roped into doing the favor. “I’m meeting Peter and the twins at Alfredo’s for pizza. He has the van. I thought Montgomery was picking you up.”
“Well, here’s the thing.” Mrs. Johnson hated it when Mrs. Hopwood said, “here’s the thing” because it always involved a long, complicated, convoluted explanation. “Evidently Aunt Eunice used to have a shop, where she sold used clothing, which, of course, now is vintage clothing. You wouldn’t believe what I found in one of the trucks. The most exquisite dresses and skirts and blouses and jewelry, and five handbags, well, four, because I took one. And Monte, well, he refuses to let me bring the stuff in the house. He actually had the nerve to call me a hoarder.”
“You are a hoarder, Julia.”
Mrs. Hopwood was undeterred. “Whatever. So I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, you could store the clothing and the bags and the jewelry, in your cellar, in that nice little space you have near your boiler. And then every morning you could bring me an outfit, your choice, and I could change in the teachers’ room and then I could change back at the end of the day and that way Monte would never suspect that I’m wearing the clothes and he couldn’t accuse me of hoarding because I’m not the one who is actually doing the hoarding. Of course, it would be really great if you could text me in the morning to let me know which outfit you choose and, then that way, I could make sure that I bring in the matching accessories.”
For a moment Mrs. Johnson was speechless. When she finally found her voice, she lashed out. “Have you lost your mind?!” She was screaming so loudly that a group of parents (on the losing team who stared at her every time she clapped for her twins) were now glaring at her. She lowered her voice. “You don’t think I have enough to do in the morning, trying to get the boys ready for school, prepping myself to come in to St. Polycarp and deal with a hostile staff, worried about losing my job in the fall, and now my back is killing me -”
“What’s wrong with your back?”
“I’m in horrible pain, probably from lifting the twins. You have asked me to do some insane things, some dangerous things, but this – this!”
“All right, all right, calm down.”
Mrs. Johnson did not liked to be told to calm down when she had every reason to be irate. And where were her darn keys? She hated this handbag.
“No one seems to realize how valuable this merchandise is, especially the jewelry. There are price tags on everything and even in those days, they were high end.”
“Then why don’t you,” Mrs. Johnson had finally located her key ring, stuck to the bottom of her purse, “for once in your life do something for someone else and sell all the clothing and jewelry and donate the profits to St. Polycarp?”
Mrs. Hopwood was silent. Mrs. Johnson suspected she had gone too far.
“That was unkind,” Mrs. Hopwood was clearly hurt.
“I’m sorry. I’m just really overwhelmed. I got to go.”
“No! Don’t hang up. I just got a brilliant idea. Why don’t we have a fashion show? You know the upper school girls think that they’re models already and they would love to strut down the runway wearing Aunt Eunice’s clothes.”
“And how exactly does this hair brain scheme make money for St. Polycarp?”
“We can hold an auction and sell the clothing right off of their backs.” Mrs. Johnson hesitated, which gave Mrs. Hopwood the opportunity to jump right in. “I’ll do all the work. You won’t have to do a single thing, except come and get me and the clothing right now. You have to admit, I might be a little shaky when it comes to the metric system and world geography, but one thing I do know is fashion. And there’s then Sister Grace Maria -”
“Sister Mary Grace”
“When she sees how much money we made and how hard we’re trying, she’s sure to reevaluate her plans for September.”
“Well, maybe” Mrs. Johnson was thinking of all the things which could go wrong.
“You won’t regret it,” Mrs. Hopwood promised.
Marianna Heusler is an Edgar nominated author of ten novels and hundreds of published short stories.
Her cozy series, taking place at St. Polycarp School, in which two amateur teachers solve murder mysteries, are originally published by Hilliard & Harris. The first three novels were chosen by Harlequin as part of their Worldwide Book Club. The fourth book in the series, Trouble Purse Sued, was just released.
A former elementary teacher at an all girls’ school, Marianna makes her home in New York City with her husband and her son and her little dog, Dolce.
St. Polycarp, the beloved school of Mrs. Hopwood and Mrs. Johnson, is facing closure due to dwindling finances. Determined to turn the situation around, Mrs. Hopwood, decides to host a fashion show, using the vintage clothing and accessories she has recently inherited from her great aunt, Eunice. But unbeknownst to the two teachers, hidden in one of the accessories is a clue to a long ago brutal murder.
Social Media Links
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On Pinterest where I frequently post to Fashion that Inspires and Book Covers and Writers
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Goodreads Marianna Heusler (Author of Murder at St. Polycarp)