The Evolution of a Book by Matt Cost

The evolution of a book is a complicated journey through time that takes many a turn and twist but at the same time follows a basic model. Mainely Wicked, the fifth book in my Mainely Mystery series set in Brunswick, will publish on August 9th, and these are the phases that it passed through in its evolution.

It starts with an idea. What is the book going to be about? Often, for me, this is something gleaned from the news or something that I have read. What if there were a problem at a nuclear power plant? What if heroin was being smuggled through lobster traps? These ideas can range from cults to ice storms to genome editing to powerful lobbyists to unexplained aerial phenomena to an epidemic. Or, in the case of Mainely Wicked, how scary are the modern dating sites?

Most recently, my idea germinated with the thought that I wanted to combine my love of history and mystery between the front and back cover of a novel. I decided that I wanted to write a historical PI mystery set in the past. Where? I decided that Brooklyn, New York, was a fabulous place to set this novel. It didn’t take me much longer to realize that the Roaring ‘20s was absolutely great fodder that was rich in material.

Thus, the idea was born to write Velma Gone Awry set in 1923 Brooklyn. A young flapper disappears and her wealthy father hires PI 8 Ballo to find her. A simple story that gets more and more complicated page by page.

Once the idea is generated, the next step is to begin the research. Straight up historical fiction requires a great deal of delving into the topic at hand, whether it be about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution, Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War, or New Orleans during the period of Reconstruction. To me, this is fascinating material that is exhilarating to dive into and toss around and learn more about. I have taken this love of digging into topics with my contemporary mysteries on the above-mentioned topics. Nuclear power, Big Pharma, Scientology, and what is in the sky above us?

For Velma Gone Awry, it was a mixture of these two ideas; getting the time period correct regarding people, events, slang, as well as the topics of the day. The most fascinating research method that I used to accomplish this was to read the Brooklyn Eagle for every day for the entire year of 1923. Just 100 years later. The articles, events, and listings for what was happening were are all great information, but it was the advertisements for everything from automobiles to fashion that was perhaps the greatest contributor to this research.

And then you write. I write every day. Sometimes just a bit, often more, and occasionally the words will spill from my keyboard like the rain in Vermont from a couple of weeks ago.

I also keep an outline where I will fill out tidbits of thoughts that will happen at certain times in the book. My basic philosophy is that something substantial must happen every 12.5% of the book. I shoot for 80,000 words on the first draft, knowing I will add another eight thousand with edits, so every ten thousand words something has to go down. Shit must happen.

As I write, I continue to constantly do research, especially in a historical such as Velma Gone Awry where I need to fit appropriate slang in, fact check that refrigerators existed, or some other factoid of the time. Often, my best writing times are taking a solitary hot tub, walking the dogs, or driving. This is when I put the pieces together for the next segment of writing, so that when I sit down at the computer, it is a race to see if it can keep up with my fingers. I haven’t won yet.

The editing phase can be a frustrating exercise in painting the exterior trim to make the novel shine. The stages of editing for me include at least two passes of my own, three by a professional editor I pay, and then at least two more by the publisher. In my upcoming book, Mainely Wicked, my wife, after those seven edits had been done, found a major mistake in the ARC. A character who had been abducted was present for the planning session on how to saver herself. Whoops. Glad it was caught.

The book is done. Now it must be marketed. ARCs sent out for review, queries for interview, guest blog appearances, podcasts, radio, and most recently for me, Tubi TV (whatever that is). This is followed by promotions. The appearance of the author at events such as bookstore signings, readings, library presentations, and the culmination of that groundwork preparing for interviews in all sorts of various mediums.

The evolution of a book passes through the stages of idea, research, writing, editing, marketing, and promoting. And then what do we do? Write on.

About the Author

Matt Cost was a history major at Trinity College. He owned a mystery bookstore, a video store, and a gym, before serving a ten-year sentence as a junior high school teacher. In 2014 he was released and began writing. And that’s what he does. He writes histories and mysteries.

Cost has published four books in the Mainely Mystery series, with the fifth, Mainely Wicked, due out in August of 2023. He has also published four books in the Clay Wolfe Trap series, with the fifth, Pirate Trap, due out in December of 2023.

For historical novels, Cost has published At Every Hazard and its sequel, Love in a Time of Hate, as well as I am Cuba. In April of 2023, Cost combined his love of histories and mysteries into a historical PI mystery set in 1923 Brooklyn, Velma Gone Awry.

Cost now lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Harper. There are four grown children: Brittany, Pearson, Miranda, and Ryan. A chocolate Lab and a basset hound round out the mix. He now spends his days at the computer, writing.

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1 Response to The Evolution of a Book by Matt Cost

  1. Kate Flora says:

    Great to read, Matt. I love reading old newspapers, and you are so right about the ads. Next time you can write about the dangers of falling down the rabbit hole of research.

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