"We have the evaluations back on your murder mystery," the managing editor told me over the phone.
"And?" I gulped and held my breath.
"And the readers feel it's a little dark."
Ya think? The story was about a serial killer. That sort of ensures that the story will be dark.
Turns out that wasn't the primary issue. House on the Hill had been out just a couple of months by this point. "And here's the thing," she said. "Your historical is doing really well."
I hadn't known that.
Another thing with being published that people don't usually know: you're often in the dark about sales. I get a statement twice a year, in February and in August. Those are the only times I ever see sales numbers. HOTH came out the first part of February, so I'd get my first statement on it in August. The call was early April. I was months out from having any clue how well my book was selling.
This time I had gotten one clue that it was doing better than my other two books had, but it didn't come from Covenant directly. A newspaper reporter from Logan called for an interview, and one of her questions was how I felt about the book selling out of its first printing in just a few weeks.
I sat up. It what?! Cool! That was news to me. The reporter had gotten that information from Covenant, but they hadn't told me.
So I knew that much when the managing editor called. I guess selling out of my first printing in less than a month was highly unexpected for them. In a happy way, of course.
When I got my royalty check at the end of the summer, the news was somewhat confirmed.
With book #1 I got that microwave.
With book #2, I bought these adorable stools for my kitchen counter, stools I still love:
Then with royalties from HOTH, I bought something that looked like this:
So, yeah. In comparison, the royalty check was quite a bit bigger, which mean I sold more, which meant I hit a readership nerve somewhere along the line.
Back to that spring-time conversation, though: "We feel like you're good at the historical thing, and we'd like you to ride the wave." While they didn't outright reject the murder mystery, they said they wanted to "shelve" it indefinitely.
At first I was irked. I'd spent a year on a useless manuscript. But then I saw they had a point. I already had three very different books out. If my next one was totally different from them, my readership would get dizzy.
In a sense, publishing creates an author brand. I can list a bunch of authors, and immediately you know what "brand" they represent:
- Stephen King
- Danielle Steele
- John Grisham
- James Patterson
- Nicholas Sparks
Did my readers have any clue what they'd get when they picked up one of mine? Not really. And putting out a murder mystery next would only muddy already-murky waters.
Here I was in the same predicament I'd been in after LWY: I had nothing else ready to submit. If I wanted to have another book published without a 2-year (or more) gap, I'd better hit the keyboard, and do it hard.
(Lesson for aspiring writers: commit to a genre early on!)
So, problem: What the heck should I write next?!