Behind the Scenes: Finding Zoe
I'd never been able to get into paranormal anything (that includes wizard and witch books). Give me romance, give me comedy, give me a dead body, and I'm a happy reader. So imagine my surprise when I sat down on November 1st (Nano), ready to write a cozy mystery when all these paranormal elements began to sneak into the story. Before I knew it, Untitled Project was about a shy girl who sees dead people. Well, she sees one dead person. Willie MacIntosh, a ninety-something year old man who looks thirty, has a strong opinion on her wardrobe and her love life, and he wants to know how he died.
Almost 90K words later, and I had a novel. Not just any novel, I had a paranormal cozy mystery (and now I love witches and wizards). I pitched the idea to my agent, who pitched the idea to editors at a few conferences. No one was interested. Then I pitched the idea to GHP, who publishes my Cambria books. Gemma liked the idea, but she wanted so many changes that I'd have to rewrite the book.
In short, here is what I heard from everyone in the biz:
Readers will think Zoe is too young
Readers will think Zoe is too sheltered
Cozy readers don't want books with leading men (Willie)
Readers want more thrillers and less humor
The "I See Dead People" storyline has been over-done, readers won't like it.
Readers don't want a "coming of age" type of character.
Readers want witches not mediums.
Readers want...basically everything but this.
I've developed a thick skin over the years. You have to in order to survive in this business. I didn't take offense to the criticism. Not in the slightest. I was puzzled, though. I'm a reader. I love books. At any given time you can find three paperbacks on my nightstand and my Kindle is almost full. I, as a reader, would read a book about a shy girl who hilariously stumbles upon her gift of being able to speak to the dead. I, was a reader, want something different. But then again, I wrote the book.
At the end of the day, I had three options: trash the project, make ALL the changes and sell it to GHP, or I could self-publish.
I'd never thought about Indie publishing. I have five children, two dogs, three cats, a mountain of laundry at all times, and I basically run a taxi service for my children. Taking on writing, editing, and publishing sounded like a stupid task to take on. At least that's what most people told me.
BUT, I believed in Zoe. I believed in the story. Sure, it wasn't your typical paranormal cozy, but what if these marketers who knew what readers wanted...didn't know what ALL the readers wanted? What if the readers are ready for a fun paranormal mystery about a girl who spends her nights reading hot romance novels and her days solving murders with the help of ghosts?
I decided to go for Indie. The editor who worked on my first Cambria book was available. While she worked on book one, I wrote book two with the intent of rapid releasing. RR was another big leap of faith. What if all the marketing geniuses were right? What if the book tanked? Then I'd be stuck with a series. Yikes.
I was nervous. SO NERVOUS. I'd made up my mind that if the reviews were horrible I would unpublished the book and pretend it never happened. My fabulous agent made me even more nervous when she suggested that I use a pen name as to not ruin my career. A great idea, but it was too late. The book was already up for pre-order.
At exactly 5:00 AM on release day, I woke, grabbed my laptop, went to my office, sat down, said a prayer, took a few breaths, ate a Snickers, smelled some oil, meditated (well, I tried), had a panic attack, sniffed more oils, ate more chocolate, rubbed more oils all over me, and by 6:30 AM I was sufficiently full and nauseous and you could smell me coming from a mile away.
No more procrastinating, it was time to look at the sales. I had one eye open and my finger on the mouse and...
"Such biting wit! I could seriously see this as one of those slap-stick comedy movies."
"What a simply delightful paranormal cozy!"
"Oh my, I wasn't sure I would like this book, but I did. I could not put it down until I had read every single line."
"This book is over the top hilarious."
"This is the funniest book I have ever read in my life!"
"The incongruity of Zoe and Willie is still making me laugh!"
Making a Medium was live, and it was selling, and the readers loved Zoe as much as I did. Within hours it became a #1 bestseller. Imagine that. Looked like readers didn't just love witches and wizards--they loved mediums, too.
What I learned from this experience was that I need to believe in myself, trust my ability to craft a story, and that eating Snickers before sunrise isn't good for the gut. I still love traditional publishing. There is something beautiful about being part of an agent/publishing house/editor/author team. I don't see myself ever going fully out on my own, but this certainly was a fun experiment.
And I have my readers to thank. <3
Lost Souls Lane Fast Fun Facts:
Fernn Valley is made from all my children's first initials. (Fisher, Emma, Ryder, Noah, Natalie).
I picked the BMW i8 for a very specific purpose that will be revealed in book 8.
I read a lot of books written by Mediums. Do Zoe's gifts work exactly as a real mediums do? No.
This is fictional. I take creative licensing. But I learned a lot!
Originally, Mike was in book one, but I cut him because Zoe wasn't ready yet.
I know exactly how this series will end and it's going to be epic.
I'm writing a spin-off using characters that will be introduced in book five.
The titles are based on binge worthy shows. Making a Murderer, The Good Place, The Marvelous Ms. Medium, Stranger Things, The Handmade's Tale.
I struggled with the cover. Typically, I don't like cartoon covers (even though all my books have them). But I knew the genre, and cartoon covers are what was selling. The nice part about traditional publishing is they do all the cover design for you. I'm not a graphic designer, as evident below in my first mock-up.
I sent this to a cover designer and she sent this back:
BIG improvement. :)
From the "Hilarious" (Huffington Post) bestselling author of the Cambria Clyne Mystery Series comes a new laugh-out-loud cozy mystery with a paranormal twist...
My name is Zoe Lane, and I see dead people.
Well, I see one dead person. Willie MacIntosh, a ninety-something-year-old multi-millionaire, who looks thirty, has a demanding personality, a strong opinion on my wardrobe and my love life, and he wants to know how he died.
The problem is, there were a lot of people who wanted Willie MacIntosh dead, and it's my job to figure out who the killer is. At least, I think it's my job. This whole medium gig is new to me. What I do know for sure is digging around in a dead stranger's life, especially when there's a multi-million dollar inheritance on the line, is a dangerous business.
If I'm not careful, the next dead person will be me.
You can get the book here.