Yesterday I held the final print copy of my first mystery release, Snow White Red-Handed, in my greedy hands. As I contemplated this gorgeously packaged product, it occurred to me that none of my publication journey has transpired the way I thought it would. Here are ten things I’ve learned:
1. Finishing a book is like birthing a baby.
I wrote Snow White Red-Handed while I was pregnant with my daughter. I queried agents during my third trimester, which was probably a good thing because I was too tired from huffing and puffing even while going down stairs to cry about rejections. I got The Call from my agent offering representation on my due date.
Finishing a book really is like birthing a baby: the life-sucking emotional investment, the long months of work, the strangling fear about that book-or-baby not making its way safely into the world. The only difference is, while I probably won’t have any more kids, I intend to write dozens more books. (Yikes.)
2. But getting your book down the production line is more like creating Frankenstein’s monster.
I published two romance novels years ago, but they had very little editorial input. So I wasn’t prepared for the back-and-forth with my editor. Edits began with the heart-stopping request to add 20,000 words, followed by a request to completely re-focus those 20,000 words, followed by a few more rounds, including one with the most meticulous copy editor who ever called Earth home. I’ve seen this story dismantled and sewn back together so many times, it is grisly (insert Mad Scientist cackle here).
3. Publication can take FOREVER. And life goes on.
After I signed with my agent, I did not have a book deal for another six months. Then, the book was scheduled for release twenty months later. Kids, it has been a LONG twenty months. That baby daughter? She’s in her Terrible Twos. While the gears of the publication machine have been turning, my Real Real Life happened.
4. Social Media: People will make you do it. And it’s okay.
Like most writers, I’m not exactly a social butterfly. In the beginning, I had a bad attitude about having to set up a blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and so forth. It didn’t seem me, and I felt exposed. So decided to do it my way (feeling defiant), which meant creating a blog that genuinely gives me pleasure. Turns out, that “defiant” decision was actually a pretty decent branding strategy.
5. I evolved from a “Pantster” into a “Plotter.”
Back in the day, planning the entire story out in advance just seemed . . . depressing. But once I signed one book deal and then another, I had to either shift my strategy or miss deadlines.
6. Spreadsheets are my New BFF.
Here’s another way I totally shifted my thinking: I used to consider spreadsheets to be from that special tier of Hades that is filled with cubicles, buzzing fluorescent lights, and people eating microwaved burritos at their desks. However. Now I have to work quickly and guess what? Spreadsheets help! (Yeah, I guess I was the very last person to get the inter-office memo on this one.)
7. Speaking of friends, lots of them (and family, too) do NOT want to hear about Book Stuff. Ever.
Here’s the thing: for us writers, it’s a job, but it’s also a tumultuous love affair. To most other people, hearing about your Book Stuff = hearing about your job. You say, “Omigosh I have this plot hole that’s keeping me up all night!!!” They hear: “Blah blah blah. . . .” and take a desperate sip of beer.
8. I’m a Craftsperson, not an Artist.
Believe me, as the author of a couple bodice-rippers and now a cozy mystery, I have NO delusions of grandeur. But since craftspeople rely on tools, not inspiration, I know I can get work done even when I don’t feel like an inspired pixie princess wafting a glittering, artistic wand.
9. Being a writer is super lonely.
Another inter-office memo that did not get delivered to my cubicle.
10. This is what I want to do every day, forever and ever.
I make myself laugh (and occasionally cry) at the keyboard. Writing is a tumultuous love affair, isn’t it? How lucky are we?
Maia is giving away one print copy of Snow White Red-Handed to a U.S. or Canada resident who leaves a comment on this post before midnight Mountain Time Sunday, November 2nd. The winner will be selected using random.org and the winner posted here Monday afternoon.
Here’s a little more about the story:
Miss Ophelia Flax is a Victorian actress who knows all about making quick changes and even quicker exits. But to solve a fairy-tale crime in the haunted Black Forest, she’ll need more than a bit of charm…
1867: After being fired from her latest variety hall engagement, Ophelia acts her way into a lady’s maid position for a crass American millionaire. But when her new job whisks her off to a foreboding castle straight out of a Grimm tale, she begins to wonder if her fast-talking ways might have been too hasty. The vast grounds contain the suspected remains of Snow White’s cottage, along with a disturbing dwarf skeleton. And when her millionaire boss turns up dead—poisoned by an apple—the fantastic setting turns into a once upon a crime scene.
To keep from rising to the top of the suspect list, Ophelia fights through a bramble of elegant lies, sinister folklore, and priceless treasure, with only a dashing but mysterious scholar as her ally. And as the clock ticks towards midnight, she’ll have to break a cunning killer’s spell before her own time runs out…
Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, and her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, will be released in November 2014 by Berkley Prime Crime.
Maia is a candidate for the Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. This means that the exploits of Fairy Tale Fatal’s heroine, variety hall actress Ophelia Flax, were dreamt up while Maia was purportedly researching 19th-century American literature and fairy tale criticism. The Discreet Retrieval Agency series was born of Maia’s fascination with vintage shoes, automobiles, and cocktails combined with an adoration of P. G. Wodehouse and chocolate.
Upcoming titles include Come Hell or Highball (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and Cinderella Six Feet Under (Berkley Prime Crime, 2015). Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for.
READ AN EXCERPT FROM SNOW WHITE RED-HANDED:
“I simply must have you at my side this afternoon, Flax,” Mrs. Coop said. “I’ve come down with a sick headache, but I wouldn’t miss Professor Winkler’s gold test for the world. Tighter!”
“I’m doing my utmost, ma’am,” Ophelia said, straining to cinch Mrs. Coop’s corset laces.
After luncheon, Mrs. Coop had returned to her cream-and-gold jewel box of a boudoir, high in a turret of the castle, to change into her afternoon gown. She’d been breathless and disheveled, and determined to shrink her waist to a smaller compass.
Mrs. Coop’s disarray, and her sudden wish to appear pixie-like, resulted, Ophelia suspected, from the presence in the castle of either Princess Verushka or Mr. Royall Hunt. Mrs. Coop and Miss Amaryllis had made the acquaintance of these two fashionable personages at some point in the last two weeks’ frenzy of excursions into Baden-Baden.
“You must,” Mrs. Coop said, “stay by my side with my smelling salts, should I need them, and fetch me glasses of water and whatever else I may need. I am not well, Flax—even Mr. Hunt noted that I’m white as a lily—yet this is perhaps the most thrilling day of my life.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Ophelia said.
“Just think! Snow White’s cottage on my own estate. And a dwarf’s bones!”
“Do I hear doubt in your tone, Flax?”
“Truth be told, ma’am, it is difficult for me to believe that that house belonged to creatures from a storybook.”
“Difficult to believe?”
“Well, ma’am, near impossible.”
Ophelia had performed with P. Q. Putnam’s Traveling Circus for two years, and she’d known a so-called dwarf. He’d been a shrimp, true, but there hadn’t been a thing magical about him. Unless you counted swearing like a sailor and smoking like a house on fire as magic.
“Of course.” Mrs. Coop sniffed. “I nearly forgot you’re a Yankee.”
Ophelia held her tongue; she was stepping out of character. It had to be the result of exhaustion. Mrs. Coop and her stepsister Amaryllis—they had, Ophelia had learned, different mothers—kept her on her feet from dawn to dusk, arranging their hair, pressing their clothing, mixing beauty concoctions, and running up and down the spiraling castle stairs fetching things.
But how could anyone past the age of pigtails think Snow White and the seven dwarves had really existed?