In the 1970s, my first novel was published by Wm. Morrow & Co., then a major New York publisher and now an imprint of a larger house. For a beginning writer, it was a coup, and I thought it promised a golden road to the New York Times bestseller list. Instead, I’ve followed a rocky, bumpy road, and I’ve landed, if on the radar at all, on the lower rungs of the midlist ladder. I have been agented and non-agented, published by large New York publishers, small independent presses, university presses, and publishers who specialized in books for school libraries. Today I am non-agented, and I publish my own books. No, I’m not getting rich by any means, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the 1970s and beyond, self-publishing was a dirty term. It meant you couldn’t get a legitimate publisher to look at your work. The implication was your writing was not good, not salable, not publishable. If you self-published, you paid companies, known derogatorily as vanity presses, great sums of money to publish your work. They produced a quantity of your books and stored them in their warehouse. Publicity and marketing were up to you. After a certain period, the publisher would need the warehouse space, and they would—yes, it’s true—offer to sell you the books you’d already paid to publish.
Then came the revolutionary developments of digital or electronic books and print-on-demand. Both changed publishing forever, by reducing publishing costs and making books more accessible. About the time we were getting used to this sea-change in publishing, I decided to try my hand at mysteries. I was a lifelong fan but never thought I could write one. I went from being a western writer to a mystery wannabe.
I joined Sisters in Crime and began a whole new educational experience. One thing I learned, to my dismay, was that it wasn’t as easy to contract with an agent as it had been in my early experience. Some people submitted 200 or more queries; lots of work never found a publisher. Long story short, after several harsh lessons that cost me a few wasted years, my first mystery, Skeleton in a Dead Space (A Kelly O’Connell Mystery), was published by a small press that specialized in romance. I was their mystery experiment, and I stayed with them through seven novels before they went out of business a few years ago.
It’s no secret that I am in my golden years. When that press went out of business, I didn’t want to spend time on endless agent and publisher searches. I wanted to write. If one of the major mystery houses had come begging, I don’t think I’d have been interested, because I didn’t want the pressure to produce two or three books a year or to maintain my sales. I am fortunate not to need the income, so the slower pace and lower returns of self-publishing are all right with me.
I would not have gone indie (we prefer that term to self-publishing) without a following, but with five books under my belt and a growing audience for my blog, I knew I had readers out there. Not an astounding number, but enough to make me feel good about continuing to write. So now, in my late seventies, if not for money, why do I do it? Because it keeps me and my brain young and active; because I enjoy both the writing and the involvement with the mystery community and with readers; and because some people really like my stories.
A reader once swore to me she saw Kelly O’Connell going into her favorite restaurant. That’s how powerful a reader’s imagination can be if you feed it. I like that a lot.
Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.
She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.
The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.
Follow her at (Amazon) http://www.amazon.com/Judy-Alter/e/B001H6NMU6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1377217817&sr=1-2-ent;
her blog: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com;
Buy link for Murder at the Bus Depot: