Five years ago I began a new career. Last night I ended it. The result of my five-year career is three published fiction novels (a fourth is half complete,) a short crime story, a short science fiction story, no profit whatsoever, and a tremendous amount of money down the drain. When I received yet another invoice from the printing company last night that I had sold over two-hundred-fifty-dollars in books yet my compensation was twenty-one dollars and some change, I threw in the towel and cancelled my contract. My suspense fiction novel, The Devil’s Valet, is no longer available in hard copy online or in books stores.
Along with countless other authors, with each of my three novels, I emailed and snail-mailed literally hundreds of literary agents with queries, synopsis and bios. Take The Devil’s Valet for example: I got probably a one percent hit. The majority of agents wanted exclusive rights to simply review either the first three chapters or the manuscript. This translates into having your manuscript put into limbo for six months to a year (all agents moan about the massive amount of submissions they get on a weekly basis). One San Diego agent held onto The Devil’s Valet for NINE MONTHS before rejecting it. That was it for me at the time. Being your typical Aries, I had my manuscript published within a month. I published it. I created my own publishing company, Philia Publishing. At the May 2009 launch at Borders, I sold all but three of forty copies of The Devil’s Valet.
Nora Roberts once told me personally never to write to trend. I had certain agents along the way who admired my work but had their own advice. I was guaranteed to be on the bestseller list within a year with my first novel, A Port of No Return, if I would make my protagonist, Quinn Carrigan, a lesbian. 2006 was a hot year for gay and lesbian rights and outings. The problem is, Quinn simply is not a lesbian. She’s survived shark-infested waters, taboo love, hurricanes, the black arts, and drug smuggling. She is what she was from the beginning and there is no way I or anyone else is going to change her.
The critics hailed my debut novel as “a sexy, thrilling ride.” The second novel in the series, The Shadows of the Sea, received an equally as favorable review. By dint of perserverance I side-stepped the "casting call" process and got myself booked on three Princess cruise ships (eastern Caribbean, the Panama Canal, and Australia New Zealand) one year as a featured author/lecturer. It was beyond rewarding to see passengers relaxing on the Lido deck reading my novels. One night I spied a couple from Texas heading into the dining room with both my novels, A Port of No Return and The Shadows of the Sea, tucked under their arms. They told me they simply couldn't put them down.
Timing has a lot to do with everything, and two years ago when I finished The Devil’s Valet, vampires and werewolves became the rage. Even armed with this Kirkus review, “McKellar has created a strong, empathetic heroine, and she renders the world she moves in in convincing detail. Worthy of a Lifetime movie," The Devil’s Valet was doomed it appears from the get go. I wrote press releases. I scheduled book events, printed hundred-dollar posters, book marks, business cards and other collateral material. I invested in a website and blog. I literally went into debt with my novels. I refinanced my house to support my “craft.” The bottom line is I have made a tidy sum for two publishing houses and one print house.
I must concur with a fellow author who wrote, “Unless I was a brand name, 99% of publishers/agents would never give me the time of day.” Case in point, my former-niece-by-marriage, Danica McKellar, starred as Winnie along with Fred Savage in the fabulously popular 1988 sitcom, Wonder Years. She’s published several books on math for young readers. Not to detract from Danica, who I know personally to be a talented, brilliant and creative woman, I have no doubt publishers saw how marketable her film resume made her. I haven’t read the books, but I believe the critics and I commend the niche she chose to express even more of her talent.
Writing, to me, isn’t at all about “the money." I could care less about fame—I treasure what privacy I have. It’s about “the look” in readers’ eyes. I’ve been blessed countless times since publishing my first book with seeing that look. And equally with hearing, “I was up so late last night because I couldn’t put your book down!” I’ve had moments at my PC keyboard where the hair on my arms and even my head stood up as a plot took off. I’ve paced my back patio in a total frenzy, talking to myself or scolding my characters. I’ve cried real tears over a plot twist in The Shadows of the Sea. The imagination is a living thing and it cannot be stifled. Like a shark, if I don’t write, then the imagination and I, too, shall die.
Yet, authors must eat and pay mortgages. And, there is something diminishing about working your ass off seven days a week, day in and day out, and not receiving any compensation. No one in their right mind would put in the magnitude of hours of solitude, of research, of proofreading, of editing that a writer does without any expectation of return. One can’t eat accolades. One can’t survive on less than a five percent return. Therefore, I’ve turned my eyes, my mind and my talent to non-fiction writing. To a world where at least I can get paid by the word: those words that so command me, and that I love so much.