I’ve arrived at a point in my writing career where I’m seriously considering retiring and finally giving up on my dream of ever penning a bestseller. The truth is, there’s just too much competition out there nowadays, and many of the writers whose books have made it to the top of the bestseller list have done so by spending thousands of dollars per month on ads and promotions.
Heck, I don’t even have thousands of cents to spend on promoting my books, so that pretty much leaves them (and me) at the very bottom of the literary barrel.
Each book I’ve written took me months, even years in some instances, to complete. And upon finishing each one I've thought, “This is it! This is the one that finally will earn enough money to make it worth all of my hard work.”
But it hasn’t happened yet...and alas, probably never will.
I think part of the problem is I’m not certain which genre I write the best, if any. I have tried them all – romance, humor, sci-fi, paranormal, nonfiction, fantasy and more, hoping to attract a large audience to at least one of them so I'd know which was my true calling.
I remember when I searched online years ago to find out the most popular genre at the time. It turned out to be erotica. Laughing, I immediately searched for the second most popular. It was romantic thrillers. So I decided if that was what readers wanted, then that was what I would give them, even though I had no clue how to go about writing one.
I did have a plot idea in my head, but putting that idea into words that actually made sense and flowed perfectly turned out to be as challenging as trying to teach my dogs how to perform in a dance routine with the Rockettes.
After working on the manuscript for months and rewriting it at least a dozen times, I was satisfied I’d finally created a winner: Heed the Predictor, a thriller about a young woman who has the ability to accurately predict the exact day, time and way in which every person she meets will die.
I’ll never forget when I told my friend Bob I’d finished writing the novel. Its title, however, Heed the Predictor, obviously confused him.
“Is that like Conan the Barbarian?” he asked, thinking "Heed" was my character's name.
I probably should have taken that as a sign.
When the author’s proof copy of my book arrived, I thought it looked great. Smiling, I grabbed a cup of tea and sat down to read my masterpiece. I didn’t think I’d find any mistakes or typos in it because I so carefully had checked and rechecked every page before I’d sent the manuscript to Amazon, the publisher.
To my shock, there were so many mistakes, I began to suspect they secretly were breeding and multiplying as I read each page, just to defy me.
For example, on one page I’d written, “He walked over to the table and took a seat across from her.”
On the very next page I wrote, “Don’t just stand there,” she said, “have a seat.”
And then, I wrote, “Meg’s green eyes locked with his blue ones.” But a few pages later, “His hazel eyes narrowed.”
The guy must have been part chameleon.
I know this sounds crazy, but I also wasn’t pleased with the deaths in my book. As I reread them, they just didn’t seem as scary as I’d intended them to be. For one thing, I had my characters die in very weird and unusual, even comical, ways. I couldn’t help it, my sense of humor kept bullying me and taking control, no matter how much I wanted the deaths to be worthy of the best Stephen King novel.
Finally, I made it all the way through the proof copy and submitted the corrected version of my manuscript to the publisher. Then I waited for another proof. When it arrived, I decided not to read it myself. Instead, I gave it to my friend Nancy to proofread for me.
After she and her husband both read it, she got right back to me.
“So what did you think of my thriller?” I asked.
“Well…for one thing, it’s not really thrilling,” she said. “Your sense of humor kept popping up and ruining things. And the first two chapters seemed a little too rushed with not enough depth.”
Her husband added, “I loved the surprise ending! I didn’t figure out how the story was going to end until the fourth to the last page!”
The fourth to the last page? My “surprise" ending was supposed to remain a surprise until the very last sentence!
So once again, I sat down and rewrote the book. I changed my first two chapters by adding more details and dialogue so they would seem less rushed. Then I attempted to make the deaths in the book more tense and frightening. I added racing hearts, beads of perspiration and shortness of breath, which actually made my potential murder victims sound more like victims of cardiac arrest than homicide. And I changed the pages leading up to my surprise ending so the readers wouldn't be able to guess it until the book’s final paragraph.
By the time I was through, I’d unintentionally increased my manuscript by about 10,000 words. I had no idea if that was a good thing or a big mistake. I mean, by adding so much more to the plot, I'd risked turning the book into the equivalent of a giant sleeping pill.
I also decided, after doing some serious thinking, to add a few mild curse words to the dialogue. It just didn’t sound right for a maniacal killer to be saying things like, “Oh shucks!” and “darn it!” in the heat of anger.
Again, I waited for another proof copy to arrive. And once again, I started reading the book, even though I was so sick of it at that point, I’d have preferred to be doing anything else, like getting my underarms waxed.
The more I read, the more I found fault with just about everything in the book. There was something I wanted to change on every page. So I did. That’s when I realized I couldn’t be objective any longer – that even if I read that book another hundred times, I’d still change it a hundred times and not be satisfied with it.
So the book finally was published the way it was – good, bad or otherwise. And I didn’t remove all of the humor from it, so I suppose it can be called a “campy thriller.”
But to my delight, it has received positive reviews, with an average rating of 4.4 out of 5. Not too shabby, I guess, for a humor writer turned novice thriller-writer.
So I wrote a sequel, Conceal the Predictor, thinking I’d finally found my true calling, and then offered the original book free in e-book form (you can click on it below for a free download) to entice new readers.
To date, the free copy has been downloaded over 15,000 times and is in the top 75 in its category.
And I’ve sold a whopping 20 sequels.
Does that mean people prefer not to spend any money, so they specifically search for and read only free books? Or does it mean my original book is so terrible, nobody even cares about the sequel?
I guess I’ll never know…not unless I also offer the sequel free and see what happens.
But how can I ever fulfill my wish of writing a bestseller if I'm not actually "selling" the books?
As I said, maybe after 50 years, it’s finally time to retire from writing and do something less stressful that also will help supplement my income.
Like there’s an opening for a greeter at one of the area Walmarts I think I might check out.
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Sally Breslin is a native New Englander and an award-winning syndicated humor columnist who has written regularly for newspapers and magazines all of her adult life. She is the author of several novels in a variety of genres, from humor and romance to science-fiction. Contact her at: email@example.com