Please welcome the first guest of 2020 to the Showcase
At the age of eighteen, thanks to the Irish Rovers, I met the unicorn that inspired my first attempt at writing a book. It was high fantasy, but of course, I didn’t know that back then. I also had no idea about writing in chapters, the number of words expected, head-hopping, all the usual hazards. All I knew was that I wanted to get a story down on paper.
And I did. With paper and pen and pencil. I was in way over my head and knew it. I did it anyway. Justifiably, I was proud of myself, even though I knew the finished product lacked a good opening and was burdened by a few weak plot points. I still have that manuscript, somewhere.
I didn’t try to write another book for—let’s just say lots of years and leave it at that. I had some minor success with poetry and it fed my creative spirit for a long time. At least one of my poems survives in an internet archive of a magazine.
One day I heard about this thing called NaNoWriMo, a challenge to write 50,000 words—a book, basically—in one month. I had a story bumping around in my head that wouldn’t fit into a poem, and the challenge sounded like fun, so I decided to give it a try.
Well, fun may not have been the right word for the experience. And I didn’t “win’ by getting 50,000 words on paper. At least I tried. And it got me hooked.
Three books later and I finally wrote one that I thought was worth publishing. Which led to the inevitable question—how the heck does that work? I knew the basics about agents, publishing houses, and cover letters, but not the nitty-gritty details.
So I hit the internet to get the information. That’s when I realized the time frames involved and was also introduced to the concept of indie publishing. That’s when I decided I was too darn old to wait for a traditional publishing route and started to figure out how to go about being an indie author.
There were things I missed before I published my first book. We’ll get to those later. First, here’s a short snippet from that first published book, Wolves’ Pawn.
She needed to get away from West Virginia and into the mountains of Pennsylvania. That was her home turf, and she would hole up there and try to again figure out why she was being chased. She owned nothing of value to be stolen, only her clothes and her ring, and her clothes needed to be washed. Tonight she’d make camp by a creek and rinse them out. Luckily, her ponytail had stayed in its wrappings, so her hair wasn’t too much of a mess. Raiding the bearded one’s wallet had supplied her with enough cash for gas and a little extra. To go back to her old campsite for the rest of her meager belongings presented too big of a risk.
The biggest problem as always was food. Changing used a lot of energy, and between shifting and the chase she had used up most of her reserves. It was too early in the year for berries, and she had no time to set snares for rabbits or squirrels. No, she would just have to do with whatever she bought from a convenience store. She longed for a rare steak to satisfy the blood lust licking her paw had awakened, but she hadn’t found a gas station yet selling them. She sighed. Beef jerky would be on the menu.
Sitting by the barest of fires after dark, she decided the time had come to change her human appearance. Cut her hair short, maybe dye it red. She wondered how that would affect her wolf aspect. She could see the tabloid headlines now. “Rare red wolf spotted in the Allegheny Mountains” and underneath the article would begin “Hunters are requested not to try and capture this animal, but to report its location to the Game and Fish Commission.” Then a paragraph speculating on some Native American prophecy. She laughed, a lonely sound in the night woods, leaned against a handy tree, and fell asleep.
What did I learn from publishing this book?
First, publicity is hard. Harder than writing, in my opinion. I’m an introvert and having to put myself out there to sell my book is hell. Well, close to it. And blog tours never worked for me. I think, with the first book, I hit the end of the road, just when they lost their effectiveness. They are still great for name recognition, not so great for selling books.
Next, editing. Edit, edit, edit. And as good as the books are for self-editing, don’t think they will solve all your problems. You’ve got to have human eyes (not just yours!) on your writing. More than one pair, preferably. And not your mother or your best friend, unless they happen to be writers or editors as well. There will still be mistakes missed, but the number will be minimized. (I love finding errors in books that come from traditional publishing!) My first book went through about three rounds of edits, now I do five or six rounds per book.
Let’s talk about two things I wouldn’t change, covers and formatting. I don’t even pretend to think I could design a good cover. What fonts to use? What color works with what color? Where to place images? Not my expertise. I passed my cover design off to a graphics artist. We worked together on the concept, but she’s the one who pointed me which way to go and made the vision into reality. I’ve used her for the covers for all my books.
And formatting? Sure, I could learn to do it. But back when I was researching how to get my books “out there,” I decided to pay to have it done. Having someone experienced with the different formats needed for various retailers do the work sounded like a bargain when I considered how much time it would take me.
What else? I got much better at listening to my characters. I’m a pantser- that means I don’t work from a fleshed-out outline. But the small story arch I’d developed for this book went out the window once I got to know my characters. When I started writing my next story, that ability saved me. It started as a paranormal romance called “The Ghost Who Loved Me” and ended up as an almost-cozy mystery named “The Marquesa’s Necklace.” Here’s a snippet that pays homage to its roots.
“The library is haunted? Nobody ever mentioned it when I worked here.”
Janine leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “That’s what she claims. She said back in the 1920’s, shortly after the library opened, a man who taught English at the local high school dated one of the librarians. According to the story, she broke off the relationship after a few dates. He tried to win her back, but she didn’t want anything to do with him. In fact, she started seeing the owner of Mitchell’s department store. According to Mabel, the teacher committed suicide. Hung himself off the second floor railing the same day as the librarian and the businessman got married.”
We both raised our faces towards the spot and a chill ran down my back. Janine knew a lot for someone who didn’t listen. “Mabel said that every few years, there’s a report of a man on the second floor after the library closes. Someone dropping books in the after-hours book drop sees something and calls the police. The police can never locate anyone inside. The stories say the man always wears a brown suit.”
If you’re looking for a moral to this long-winded tale, you’re going to be disappointed. There isn’t one. Except maybe the ones that the unicorn taught: Find your voice and your passion. There’s magic inside of you and dreams can come true.
You can find my books at the links below. Each of the books of the Free Wolves series can be read as a stand-alone story. I do suggest that the Harmony Duprie mysteries be read in order. They don’t contain cliffhangers but are chronological. I’ve listed the Amazon links, but they are also available on iTunes, Nook, and Kobo. Or you can just check them out on my website! (listed below)
The Free Wolves https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YZM9DB7? (Wolves’ Pawn, Wolves’ Knight and Wolves’ Gambit)
The Harmony Duprie Mysteries https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B074C6CTKP? (The Marquesa’s Necklace, Her Ladyship’s Ring, The Baron’s Cufflinks and The Contessa’s Brooch)
Born and raised among the rolling hills of western Pennsylvania, P.J. MacLayne still finds inspiration for her books in that landscape. She is a computer geek by day and a writer by night who currently lives in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. When she’s not in front of a computer screen, she might be found exploring the back roads of the nearby national forests and parks. She writes the Harmony Duprie Mysteries (not-quite-cozy) and the Free Wolves Adventures. (urban fantasy/paranormal)
My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.
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