March 26, 2010

A moment in the midst of Moments

Filed under: Kids and Life — jenny @ 8:50 pm

When I was a senior in high school, and had been rejected by the very last college I had yet to hear from–Barnard, which ironically became my alma mater after I transferred there two years hence–an old friend of my dad’s was visiting from Scotland.

I was lying length-wise on my childhood bed in my childhood room, sobbing. I was a kid and am now an adult who tends to hide her feelings from all but the most intimate in my circle. It was a sign of how heartbroken I was that even as this Scotsman sat on the edge of my bed, trying to say goodbye to this out of control, angst-ridden adolescent, I couldn’t pull myself together.

I had been dreaming of going to college for a long, long time. Only one thing penetrated my caul of sorrow, and that was when Jim said the following in his thick brogue.

“Jenny, I know you won’t believe this now,” he said. “But sometimes, the things that seem the worst to us turn out to be for the best.”

Then he patted me fondly if a little awkwardly–remember, out of control teenager, and Jim had at that point only a four year old–simple, easy–and got up and left for points east.

(Scotland’s east, right?)

I applied late to Bard College. I went there for two years and left for a reason that still seems divinely steered given how much I loved Bard–but that’s for another post.

What’s for this one is that Jim was so right that I remember his words these many years later, and still recount them for basically anyone who will listen.

Sometimes the worst things turn out to be for the best.

If you really take that to heart, you can weather a lot of blows. You can anticipate that what seems like a big ole punch to the gut just might turn out to be exactly what you needed.

We’re at a point like that again now. It’s not anywhere near as bad as that final rejection letter felt. But things are a bit in upheaval, we’re not sure how the next step of our lives might shake out.

I’m trying to remember Jim’s words. I’m hoping that for anyone who’s in a similar place, those words might have meaning, too.

March 25, 2010

Made It Moment: Stacy Juba

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 9:14 am

25 Years Ago Today

The second I read a little snippet of Stacy’s inspiring story–and I’m not talking about her fictional one, at least not at this point–I knew I had to ask her to write a Moment. Here it is without any further ado! PS: Her novel is worth checking out, too.

Stacy Juba

I knew I’d “made it” when I attended a Book Club meeting as the guest of honor, listening to members discuss my debut mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. As a first-time author, I wasn’t famous, but while I sipped ice water in the bookstore and enjoyed the animated talk about my novel’s twist ending, I felt deep satisfaction that, finally, my books were where they belonged – in the hands of readers. After 17 years of rejection, I had nearly given up hope that this moment would arrive.

Ironically, I had my first novel published by Avon when I was a teenager. I never anticipated that it would take almost two decades to publish a second book. I came close, with editors championing my novels before Publishing Committees, however their efforts always failed. An agency represented my work for a couple years, but eventually they gave up and I wondered whether I should quit, too.

Then, my novel-in-progress won the $1,000 William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Grant, and I couldn’t quit, not after the grant committee recognized potential in my work. I plugged away and for two years in a row, my novels finaled in the St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Contest for the Best First Traditional Mystery. Frustrated at coming so close, I read inspirational books and created a vision board showcasing my goals.

When I heard that an exciting new independent publisher called Mainly Murder Press was seeking mystery novels set in New England, I sent off Twenty-Five Years Ago Today. A couple months later, the acceptance letter arrived and that one magic moment made all the rejections worthwhile. I’m equally thrilled that in December 2010, Mainly Murder Press will publish my second mystery novel, Sink or Swim.

That title also describes my path to publication. I could have let my dreams sink, but I managed to keep them afloat even in rough waters. I’m so glad the voyage led me to this point and I look forward to many more inspiring interactions with readers.

Award-winning writer Stacy Juba is the author of the mystery novel Twenty-Five Years Ago Today (Mainly Murder Press.) Her second mystery suspense novel, Sink or Swim, is scheduled for release by Mainly Murder Press in December 2010.

Her young adult novel Face-Off, about twin brothers competing on the hockey rink for their father’s approval, was published by Avon Books when she was 18 years old under her maiden name, Stacy Drumtra.

March 18, 2010

Made It Moment: Debbi Mack

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:41 pm

Identity Crisis

I first encountered Debbi’s work when she sent me a copy of her snappy mystery, IDENTITY CRISIS. And I’ve gotten to know her further by reading about her publishing experiences in the brave new world of media. I’m very excited she brought some of her thoughts here to suspenseyourdisbelief in this Made It Moment.

Debbi Mack

It’s a Journey Not a Destination

Yes, that headline may be more than a little cliched, but the thing is, there’s a reason for cliches (just like there’s one for stereotypes). So often, cliches express truths so well that people often simply fall back on them. That’s how they get to be cliches.

In any case, when I think in terms of “making it” as an author, I think it can mean different things to different people. My notion of “making it” may have absolutely nothing to do with Dan Brown’s. But even Dan Brown was once where I am now. So, depending on what stage you’re at as a writer, “making it” can be represented by any number of moments.

For me, initially, “making it” was getting my book, IDENTITY CRISIS, published by a small press. Unfortunately, the press went under. So that was one step forward, two steps back.

But I resolved not to let that deter me from my goal of being an author. So, I not only reissued the novel through, the print-on-demand publisher, but I made it available as an e-book through Amazon, Smashwords and other sites.

The latter decision turned out to be critical, because I’ve been able to sell far more downloads of my book than print copies.

After June 2, 2009, when I first put the book up on Amazon (where I get the bulk of my e-book sales), I started marketing and promoting it through e-mail lists, Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Then, I hit the Kindle and e-reader forums, and my sales started to take off.

By early December, I was selling anywhere from 40 to 70 downloads per month. That seemed good, but I knew of authors who claimed to sell hundreds of downloads a month.

It seemed like as good a time as any for an experiment. I reduced the price per download from $1.59 to $.99. You wouldn’t think $.60 would make such a huge difference, would you? Well, it did.

After I reduced the price, my download count shot through the roof! Suddenly, I was selling 20 or more downloads a day. By the end of December, I’d sold almost 400 downloads for Kindle alone (more than 400, when you count in Smashwords and other sites). And I was well on my way to selling 1,000 downloads total (a benchmark I never expected to hit in less than a year).

At the time that I write this (Jan. 14, 2010), I’ve sold more than 1,100 downloads. All because I’ve marketed and promoted the book and found a good price point.

And would you believe that, with as little money as the author gets from Kindle sales (30% of the price, if memory serves), I’m still making more money based on volume than I was when the price was higher? Now, that’s an eye-opening statistic.

And here’s another eye-opener. Would you believe my e-book has ranked in the Top 10 for sales of hardboiled mysteries in the Kindle store? I’ve been keeping track and it’s been hitting the Top 10 (with few exceptions, when it falls into the Top 15) for that category since December 22, 2009.

Not only that, but my Kindle sales rank overall has risen to three figures on several occasions. Most recently (Jan. 10, 2010), my e-book ranked at #878, my highest ranking to date.

Now, I may not be on the New York Times bestseller list, but these numbers are darned encouraging. And while I may not have actually “made it” in a Dan Brown sense of the word, I’d like to think my journey has taken a substantial turn in the right direction.

Debbi Mack has published one novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, a hardboiled mystery featuring female lawyer Sam McRae in a complex case of murder and identity theft. Her short stories have appeared in the CHESAPEAKE CRIMES mystery anthology and an online magazine called The Back Alley. Debbi will have another short story published in the anthology, CHESAPEAKE CRIMES: THEY HAD IT COMIN’, to be published by Wildside Press in March 2010. After nine years of practicing law, Debbi quit in 1996 to become a freelance and fiction writer. Since then, Debbi has also worked as a news wire reporter covering the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, earned a Master of Library Science from the University of Maryland and served as a reference librarian at the Federal Trade Commission. In May 2009, she organized a fundraiser for dystonia, a rare movement disorder. A native of Queens, New York, Debbi and her husband live in Columbia, Maryland with their three cats.

March 8, 2010

Made It Moment: Marilyn Meredith

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 8:07 am

Marilyn Meredith -- An Axe to Grind

Marilyn Meredith wrote a novel that has a particularly unusual twist on one of my favorite themes in literature–the evil child, or bad seed–and I just had to ask her to write a Moment for my blog. Here it is below–and may many more readers find something in Marilyn’s impressive canon to get hooked on!

Marilyn Meredith

To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I have “made it.” What I do know is that I am content with the fact that I’ve had nearly thirty of my books published and many have received great reviews and a few even earned an award. I love being an author and that has to count for a lot in the “made it” equation.

Because I write two mystery series, both about law enforcement, I often have people ask what my connection to law enforcement is. No, I’ve never been a cop, not even close, but my fascination started early in my life because of an uncle who was a motorcycle cop. The first home we owned was in a neighborhood full of policemen and their families and we “coffee-ed” and partied together. When my son-in-law became a police officer he further piqued my interest with all of his stories. I went on a ride-along with him, and later on with others, including a female officer, single mom who shared many of her problems.

From all this came the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series with Dispel the Mist being the latest. In the Rocky Bluff P.D. series my goal has been to show how the job affects the family and what is going on with the family affects the job. An Axe to Grind will be out toward the end of January. For those who have been following Stacey Wilbur’s romance with Detective Doug Milligan should enjoy this story though I do want to point out, that I write each book as a stand-alone even though the characters are on-going so it doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the previous one.

Marilyn Meredith is the author of two mystery series. She has been one of the first authors to embrace e-publishing and has several books that are available in both e-format and trade paperback.

As a writing teacher, Marilyn has been a featured speaker at several writers’ conferences, including the Public Safety Writers Conference. Please contact her and learn more at her website.

March 1, 2010

Made It Moment: Don Bruns

Filed under: Made It Moments — jenny @ 12:02 am

Don Bruns -- Stuff to Spy For

I am new to Don Bruns’ work, but I can never resist a reference to the Hardy Boys (or any of the kid sleuths that made it feel possible not just to stumble across a mystery, but to solve it). Here Don discusses a very personal way to know you’ve made it.

By the way, Don’s story of how he came to be as an author is almost another Made It Moment in itself. I post some of it in his bio below, but please visit his website to learn the thrilling ending!

Don Bruns

“How did you know you’d made it” is a very personal observation. Did I get a million dollar contract? Did I sign a major deal? Did Sony option the book for a movie? I knew I’d made it when a librarian approached me at a signing. She said she’d read the “Stuff” series and felt like she knew my characters. (STUFF TO SPY FOR was released on Nov. 2nd, 2009, the third in the series.)

“Oh?” I said. “You think you know Skip and James?” The two twenty four year old boys who resemble the Hardy Boys, all grown up.

“I do.” She almost blushed. “James is a playboy. He thinks he knows everything and he’s witty, gritty and smug. Skip on the other hand is in love with his girlfriend, he’s somewhat insecure and he’s always trying to do what’s right.”

“I agree,” I said. “You seem to know my ‘Stuff’ guys well.”

“I do. You see, I dated James.”


“I did. But I married Skip.”

She gave me a big smile and walked away. I think when you make an emotional connection with a reader, you’ve really made it.

Don’s first novel, JAMAICA BLUE, was published in 2002. But as is true for most authors, it didn’t have the most straightforward path to discovery. In fact, when renowned mystery novelist Sue Grafton read Don Bruns’ first manuscript, she fired off eight pages of criticism, pointing out numerous structural problems, plot problems and character problems. Sometimes sarcastic, sometimes caustic, her comments stung the fledgling writer. After reading her remarks, Bruns told his wife Linda that he may as well give up on any attempt to get published. Two days later Grafton called and asked if he was ready to shoot himself or her…

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