Playing With Numbers

by Kaitlyn Dunnett

Today is my sixty-fourth birthday. It is also the date that my forty-fourth book to be published in print format by a royalty-paying publisher appears on bookstore shelves. I’d just as soon forget about that first fact. I don’t know who that fat old woman in my mirror is. Inside my head, I’m still in my late twenties, skinny, and untroubled by arthritis, much like the amateur detective in Scotched, Liss MacCrimmon, except that she’s smarter and prettier than I am. She did have the same knee surgery I’ve had, but in her case it was for a sports injury. She was a professional Scottish dancer before that knee gave out. Anyway, suffice it to say that my reason for celebrating today is the milestone represented by Scotched, not the other thing.

If you’re thinking that forty-four sounds like a lot, consider that the publication dates for those books are spread out over twenty-seven years and that I’ve been writing books for eight years longer than that, since 1976. There are many fine writers, past and present, who have more published books to their credit than I do.

Early on, I started keeping track of statistics. I suppose I needed cold, hard proof that I was a “real” writer. I don’t just mean earnings. That number would depress anyone, since the median income of professional writers from their writing has been around $2000 a year for most of my career. That’s median, not average. Ouch. And yet, some people manage to make a living by writing books. I didn’t, not until I’d been at it for more than two decades and had abandoned my real name, Kathy Lynn Emerson, for two pseudonyms.

The first book I sold, Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth-Century England, was the ninth one I wrote. It was nonfiction, based on research I’d done for the four unsold historical novels I wrote between 1976 and 1979, when I was trying to be the new Anya Seton in a world that had just discovered Kathleen Woodiwiss. The first version, broken into chapters, was rejected forty-seven times before I reinvented it as a who’s-who-style encyclopedia of sixteenth-century women. Women’s Studies was still fairly new back then, but slowly growing as a discipline. My rejection letters ran the gamut from “not feminist enough” to “too feminist” and from “too scholarly” to “not scholarly enough.” Finally, in 1980, a small scholarly press that shall remain nameless accepted the manuscript. I got no advance. In fact, it was a really lousy publishing deal. I should have suspected this when the contract was typed on orange paper, but what did I know back then? It was a sale! The only other one I’d had to that point was of a short story (“How Chester Greenwood Invented Earmuffs”) to Highlights for Children. Anyway, the book was duly published . . . four years later (1984). It stayed in print until the company went bankrupt in 2009. My earnings from this venture? A grand total (I kid you not!) of $413.79. Divided by 25 years in print, that’s . . . well, let’s just say I wasn’t raking in the dollars. Live and learn. By the end of that run, I was also pretty embarrassed about the content of the book. What had been up to date in 1980, was out of date by the early 2000s when the Internet made it so much easier to tap into resources I’d had to borrow, book by book, on inter-library-loan back in the 1980s . . . or couldn’t get hold of at all short of traveling to England. Even before Wives and Daughters reverted to me, I started A Who’s Who of Tudor Women as an online freebie connected to my Kate Emerson webpages (http://www.KateEmersonHistoricals/TudorWomenIndex.html). It now contains all the entries from the original book, revised, plus more women I’ve come across in my current research. There are currently 1434 of them. I call adding to this who’s who my hobby. My husband calls it my obsession. Either way, these days 1434 is a number that makes me smile.

Just playing with numbers, here are some of the statistics for the period from June 1976 through this coming December 27th, when my fourth novel written as Kate Emerson, At the King’s Pleasure (book #45), will be in stores. Make of them what you will.

Number of books published: 45

Number of books written and submitted to editors that never sold: 38

NOTE: parts of many the 38 have been recycled into something that did sell

Longest gap between book sales: 2 years 9 months

Shortest gap between book sales: 13 days (1996)

Most books written in a single year: 5

Most books published in a single year: 5 (not the same 5)

Number of published works of non-fiction: 4

Number of published novels for children (for ages 8-12): 3

Number of published historical mysteries: 14 + one anthology of short stories

Number of published contemporary mysteries: 5

Number of published historical novels (non-mystery): 4

Number of published historical romances: 4

Number of published contemporary category romances: 9

Number of published time travel romances: 1

And, since Scotched is set at a fictional mystery fan convention, Maine-ly Cozy Con:

Number of times I’ve been to Malice Domestic: 12

Number of times I’ve been to Mayhem in the Midlands: 3

Number of times I’ve been to New England Crime Bake: 3

Number of times I’ve been to Magna Cum Murder: 3

Number of other mystery gatherings I’ve attended at least once: 8

So what does collecting all these numbers and other sorts of statistics do for me as a writer? Some give a boost to my morale when I need it. Others keep me humble. I’m not famous. I don’t make bestseller lists or command million dollar advances. I just write books, one at a time, trying to make each one as good as it can possibly be. And when I go into panic mode, as I do every single time I’m waiting for an editor’s verdict on a proposal or a manuscript, it helps to look back and remind myself that, so far, I’ve got a decent track record.

And what about that other thing that happened today? You know: the part about turning sixty- four. Well, I will resist the urge to break into song, even though, in 1964, I was a major Beatles fan. Like Liss, I can’t carry a tune. Besides, twenty-seven years ago, when my sister-in-law was considerate enough to give birth to her daughter on the 25th of October, I ceded the day entirely to my new niece. For those who are counting, that means I could claim that I’m still thirty-seven. Or not.

Happy Birthday Amie.

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14 Responses to Playing With Numbers

  1. Ross the husband here. Her Authorousness still sleeps while I pack young ‘uns off to school but HADDA hijack the con to wish you a VERY happy birthday. You’re a terrific person, a helluva writer and an inspiration to a LOT of authors…including Julia. You very graciously blurbed her very first book! 🙂 Because, as our teenager would say, that’s just how you roll…Thank you for everything you have done for other writers! Hope that hubby of yours is taking you someplace special tonight. We’re thinking of you!

    • Thanks Ross. In true writerly fashion, though, most of my birthday celebration consists of a visit to Barnes and Noble to see if they have SCOTCHED on the shelves yet (always a humbling experience to do this for a book and discover they don’t!) and have lunch with another writer (Hi, Lea!). In this household, we tend to ignore actual dates, so Sandy came through with the perfect gift a few weeks ago and I am now the proud owner of an iPad.

  2. Amie Smith says:

    Thank you Aunt Kathy! You’re an amazing person and continue to be an inspiration to me. Thank you for sharing your birthday with me. Also, thank you for being there for the birth of my own daughter. Hopefully we can see you soon. Have a fantastic birthday! (Also, this was a wonderful story to read.) Love you!

    • Thanks, Amie. You’ve been an inspiration to me, too, as you well know. The story idea for THAT SPECIAL SMILE came from you. And grew out of, I think, a long ago trip to Glamour Shots for an author photo. Back when I was trying NOT to look like myself on book jackets. And you went above and beyond the obligations of family to pose for the cover of the ebook original SOMEDAY when you were still in high school. So many thanks, and many happy returns of today.

  3. Lea Wait says:

    Happy Birthday! And, since we’re having lunch later today, I hereby notify you I plan on raising a glass humbly, plying you with questions, and picking up the check. And thanking you for all the help and advice you’ve graciously given this newbie in the past ten years. One stat you missed including — I can personally testify to having seen you at conferences of the Historical Novel Society — so I know you attend those, too! And, although this IS a Crime Writers Blog — you modestly didn’t mention the Agatha you won in nonfiction for your book on writing historical mysteries. And, I’ll admit — my very favorite of your books are your current series set at the Elizabethan court. Can hardly wait for December to read the next won. Brava, Kathy/Kaitlyn! You’re my role model for survival in the strange and changing world of publishing.

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Wow…forty-four sounds daunting…but gee…up the ante, and see if by your 66th birthday you can have 66 books. Sounds like you can do it.

    The rest of us are in awe!

    I’m going off now to drink my daily tonic and see if I can finish a book by nightfall, always holding you in my mind as a role model.

    Many happy returns of the day.

  5. Barb Ross says:

    Wow. Just wow. What an inspiration.

    Oh–and happy birthday!

  6. Sarah Graves says:

    Oh, happy birthday! And here’s to many more — birthdays and books!

  7. Brenda Buchanan says:

    All best wishes to you on your birthday the launch of Scotched! You are an inspiration!


  8. MCWriTers says:

    Happy Birthday, Kathy, and congrats on SCOTCHED. It was fascinating to read about your career. You go, girl — and keep on goin’!

  9. 44 still sounds like a lot in only 27 years! Congratulations on such a rich publishing career–may it only get richer. And happy birthday! 64 is the new 44 🙂

  10. Thanks, everyone, for all your kind comments and good wishes.

  11. Linda Hall says:

    Kathy Lynn, I loved your post! You probably won’t remember me, but I too am a mystery writer. Years ago the two of us were on a panel in Orono sponsored by the University Women’s Org. My career has followed much the same as yours, and right now I
    I’m working on another pseudonym! But, like you I continue to write my mysteries. I really can’t think of myself doing anything else. I’ve often said that if someone told me today that I would never get another writing contract again in my life, I would wake up tomorrow morning and begin plotting for a new series. I am 61, and when I look in my mirror I see a strange woman who has stolen my body and replaced it with this one!
    I am just east of Maine, in New Brunswick, but we spend every summer in our sailboat, along the shores of my favorite state! HAPPY BIRTHDAY. And thanks again. Your post resonated with me on so many levels.

  12. Prentiss Garner says:

    I love your Liss books. Happy Birthday! I turned 65 on the 16th and I was tickled to death to make it that far!!!!! I am looking forward to many more and wish the same for you.

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