I am pleased to host Sarah Wisseman today, since she’s a perfect example of building on what you know to create good fiction, then exploring alternative ways to publish and promote your work. As our opportunities and options expand, we need to stay informed about changes in technology, upheavals in the publishing world, and the birth of new small and/or regional presses. And don’t forget Kindle, Nook, and the ebook process at smashwords.com.
My Writing Life by Sarah Wisseman
I became a mystery writer almost by accident. As an archaeologist at the University of Illinois, I was busy writing up the non-fiction account of our Egyptian mummy investigation and remembering the creepy old attic museum where I used to work. Then it dawned on me that this environment was the perfect setting for murder: a crowded labyrinth of suits of armor and plaster casts of Roman emperors and Greek gods with an ancient alarm system, broken windows with pigeons flying in and out, and an elevator so antiquated that some of our visitors thought it was an exhibit.
My protagonist, Lisa Donahue is a lot like me (an archaeologist and museum curator), but I made her a single mom who’d recently been widowed. I moved the museum to Boston to protect the innocent (actually to avoid having people I know in Central Illinois think I was writing about them). I began with X-raying a mummy that holds clues to two murders…thus Bound for Eternity was born.
When my manuscript was complete, I had it critiqued and sent it off to the 2004 Malice Domestic contest for Best First Traditional Mystery. I became a finalist, but did not win the prize: a coveted publishing contract with St. Martin’s Press. After querying numerous agents and a couple of small presses, I decided to self-publish “Bound” with iUniverse so that I could market the novel while my non-fiction book, The Virtual Mummy, was still in print. I figured that as a beginning novelist, having both books on display would help sales. It did. “Bound” is now available as a Kindle download, and I recently uploaded it to Smashwords so it is available in other e-formats.
In The Dead Sea Codex, Lisa travels to Israel, where she and another archaeologist seek an ancient manuscript before Christian fanatics destroy it. This second novel was accepted by Hard Shell Word Factory after I pitched it at a conference and published in 2005 as an ebook and one month later as a trade paperback.
The third and fourth novels, The Fall of Augustus and The House of the Sphinx, were published almost simultaneously by two separate presses in 2009. How did this happen? I discovered agents weren’t interested in picking up a series halfway through so I continued to approach small presses on my own.
“Fall” (Wings ePress) returns Lisa to her museum when her boss gets killed by a falling statue, and “Sphinx” (Hilliard and Harris) takes her to Egypt, where she stumbles upon a plot to infect Western tourists with smallpox. Wings Press publishes both ebook and trade paperback formats. Hilliard and Harris uses Amazon’s Digital Platform so that “Sphinx” appeared immediately on the Amazon website.
I plan to approach agents again when my next manuscript is ready. My fifth novel begins a new series starring a physician and amateur archaeologist fighting Prohibition in central Illinois. This will be a whole new episode in my zigzag path to publication.
Thanks, Sarah, for being here. It’s great to learn we have choices when we tackle this business of getting published. There’s a lot more information about Sarah and her books on her website. She has a blog as well, and there you’ll find information on writing and archaeology (including interviews with other authors such as Molly MacRae, Barbara D’Amato, and Libby Fischer Hellmann).