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.