As long as I can remember, I knew I was a writer. Even before I could put pencil to paper, I entertained myself with stories after my parents tucked me into bed, extinguished the lights, and ordered me to sleep. I loved creating a world where I was in control. My heroines were prettier and cleverer than me. They succeeded where I failed, always firing off that zinger at exactly the right moment.
I wrote short stories all through school, and although teachers and peers praised my work, I got nothing but rejection letters when I submitted them to national publications.
My first completed novel was a plotless, semi-autobiographical rant. When I got accepted into the Master’s in Professional Writing program at the University of Southern California, I showed my masterpiece to one of my professors. He suggested I begin a new project.
This professor believed the way to get published was to pick a genre. Agents and publishers want to know what shelf your book belongs on in a bookstore. He was a mystery fan, but I wasn’t, and I didn’t think I could write one. I decided to try my hand at romance.
My master’s thesis started as a romance novel, but I couldn’t follow the formula. Set in France, where I spent a year as a Rotary scholar, it’s full of culture clashes and misunderstandings. The heroine doesn’t choose either guy vying for her hand but rides off into the sunset with her new girlfriend for a summer of travel and adventure. The book never got published. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it as a YA-coming-of-age novel.
Unable to find fame and fortune as a writer by the time I finished my master’s degree, I got a real job working in the airline industry, which allowed me to indulge my passion for travel. I sold some travel articles based on trips I’d taken. I wrote some screenplays. I got an agent for one of my screenplays, but no one bought it. One script I worked on did get made into a film, but the movie never got released. Probably a good thing, because it was terrible. My contract promised “deferred pay” from the profits; I never saw a dime.
One night, while working at the Los Angeles airport during a major construction phase, I walked through a long, deserted, temporary hallway to meet an incoming plane. The fog was rolling in, shadows loomed, the ramp area where I waited was almost dark. I thought, Someone could get killed out here and no one would know. The idea for my first mystery, Murder at Gate 58A, was born.
I had a great time writing it, creating a cast of characters who all had motive and opportunity, and then trying to figure out whose motive was strong enough to commit murder. I was so excited when I found an agent to represent me, but unfortunately, after almost two years of peddling my story around the publishing world, he admitted he couldn’t sell it. Murder at Gate 58A is still on the shelf. Maybe someday…
My fourth completed manuscript, Going Home, also a murder mystery, was my first novel to get published. Going Home was inspired by my mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, which prompted me to wonder what it would be like to interview a witness or a suspect who could not rely on her memory. It opens when the heroine comes home to check on her elderly mother, who has Alzheimer’s and finds her hovering over the bludgeoned body of her caregiver. Alone. And unable to explain what happened. The heroine is forced to remain in her hometown in a caregiving role; while trying to prove her mother’s innocence. Although I began writing Going Home in 2003, it was 2013 before I got a publishing contract, and 2014 by the time the book was released.
Besides fiction, I write a blog about personal finance, Countdown to Financial Fitness, and I self-published Live Well, Grow Wealth, an accompanying nonfiction book. I chose self-publishing for this book because the information is too time-sensitive to wait on the traditional route. Also, I have no financial credentials, other than experience in an investment club. My book provides basic financial information for young people getting started on independence, based on my personal experience of living frugally, saving and investing, and retiring early with a net worth of over a million dollars.
When Going Home was finally accepted by Sunbury Press, I was afraid to tell many people, for fear of jinxing my good fortune. What if they went out of business or cut their list before they got around to publishing my manuscript? What if they changed their mind before my book made it to print? As a result, I made many mistakes regarding marketing: I didn’t build a website or start a blog about my writing journey, didn’t get on social media and create hype, didn’t try to get advance reviews and blurbs.
For years, I’d thought my journey would end with publication. Then I could sit back, count the money rolling in, and start working on my next novel. In reality, the journey only begins upon signing a publishing contract. Authors, whether traditionally published or self-published, are thrust into a role most of us are not comfortable with: marketing.
I haven’t done any paid advertising, but I’ve joined a lot of free social media groups for authors and readers. (I suspect these groups contain more authors than readers, with everyone trying to peddle their own stuff.) I have a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, and an Amazon author page. I’m on Linked In, Goodreads, and BookBub. I’ve done blog visits and podcasts. I go to writers’ conferences and speak on panels when they let me.
Probably what works best is one-on-one connections with potential readers. If I can work my writing into a conversation and find out if the person is a reader of my genre, I can often make a sale.
For the past three years, I’ve sold copies of Going Home at fundraisers for the Alzheimer’s Walk. Most people who attend these fundraisers have some connection to this terrible disease, so they can relate to my story. And many buy the book because all the proceeds are going to charity. It’s not a great way for me to earn a living, but it helps gain readers. It’s better than a giveaway; because I collect money for a good cause.
I’ll be doing it again this year!
My thanks to this weeks guest for a great post. I hope you all enjoyed it.
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