After a much-longer-than-planned break, Julie Williamson is back at work. The central figure in my three mystery novels (Stealing History, Breaking Ground, Mapping Murder), Julie returns in Finishing the Puzzles, just published by Maine Authors Publishing (http://indieauthorbooks.com/fiction/finishing-the-puzzles/). As in the earlier mysteries, Julie is the executive director of an historical society in a small town in western Maine who loves to solve puzzles—jigsaws and crimes. But in the new one the focus of her detecting shifts from historical societies to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) to which her parents have recently moved to be near her. Who could imagine that such a placid site as a CCRC could be the scene of thefts, financial frauds, and murder? Julie again proves up to the task of solving those crimes.
How she does so I’ll leave to readers of Finishing the Puzzles. Here I’d like to explain how the book came to be published, a tale that illuminates the, shall we say, mysteries of the current publishing scene. When the press that published my three Julie Williamson mysteries abruptly decided not to publish the fourth, I figured my writing career was over. I had submitted the manuscript in late 2020. In early winter 2021, the editor told me it was scheduled for publication by the end of that year. A few months later the editor wrote to say that because of a backlog and limited staffing at the small press, she had decided not to publish it at all. Of course she said she liked the book, considered it a worthy sequel, regretted that . . . well, yada yada. I was gob smacked. I knew from my royalty statements that my earlier mysteries had sold reasonably well and obviously made decent profits for the publisher. So what was I to do?
As I tried to answer that question, I had to think about what I called above “my writing career.” I’m not a professional writer in the sense that I publish for a living. In my earlier life I had co-written several textbooks on management communication that sold well and earned enough royalties to splurge on such luxury items as a Range Rover and a boat. But my family finances were grounded in the decent salaries my wife and I earned as professors and, later in my case, as an academic administrator. Writing mysteries after early retirement from salaried life was a hobby, the fulfillment of a lifelong interest in the craft of writing, a test to see whether with enough free time I could produce publishable mysteries.
Considering what to do with the newly rejected fourth book was therefore not a question of money but of ego: I wanted to get the book out to satisfy fans who kindly inquired about a sequel—and to satisfy myself that it was worthy. Seeking a new commercial publisher was an obvious possibility, but I didn’t consider the time and energy required to submit a manuscript and await responses to be worth it. The best thing I did was to email several Maine Crime Writers bloggers for advice. The responses were wonderfully prompt, supportive, understanding, and useful. The result was that I decided to enter into what was for me the new world of self or custom publishing. On the strong recommendation of several experienced mystery writers, I contacted Maine Authors Publishing and soon began working with them. And now the book is out. A hearty thank you to those fellow writers who encouraged me and sent me in the right direction. I’m learning about how to market a book unsupported by the staff of a commercial press, a process that will take time and require work.
One lesson learned in this experience is that publishing today is a very different world from the one I had been used to over the 40 years or so in which I wrote textbooks and then mysteries. How quaint it is to recall long and expensive lunches, even for textbook writers, at French restaurants in Manhattan hosted by editors at name-brand publishers that no longer exist! Custom publishing requires a different attitude and new kinds of work. A second and perhaps more pertinent lesson is that persistence is as necessary, and maybe more so, in the new world of publishing as it has always been for would-be writers. Just as you have to simply stick with it as you write, so you have to stick with it as you evaluate new forms of publishing and take on promotional and marketing challenges on your own. All things considered, I wish my former publisher had published the mystery. But here I am in a new world and realizing that the opportunities it offers will present new challenges worth trying to meet. And, best of all, I’m back as a writer. Again, warmest thanks to Maine Crime Writers bloggers whose support and advice made that possible.