Thursday, July 10, 2008


I never planned to be a writer. I wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew. But now that I’ve had over 50 books published—including THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK—I can’t imagine doing anything else.

If you’re a writer, you’re well aware there’s something festering inside you that must come out on paper—and it’s not just your grocery list, as well written as it might be. At least, that’s what it’s like for me. So after giving up a promising career in sleuthing to become a mother, I began to write.

My first works were non-fiction, based on topics of interest to me at the time. Since I’d just given birth to my first child, I was hungry for anything that had to do with babies—what to feed them, how to play with them, what to do with them all day long. After checking the bookshelves and finding little more than Dr. Spock’s tips on diapering and drooling, I realized there was a gap in the market that need filling. So with my background in Early Childhood Education and Special Ed, and my “vast” experience with my new baby, I realized I was practically an expert in this wide-open field of parenting.

With dreams of quickly typing up my first book, choosing a prestigious agent who would get me an advance large enough to pay for a summer home near Disneyland, and watching my publisher get me on Oprah (or at least Jerry Springer), I wrote a proposal. I figured, why write the whole book in case it doesn’t actually sell. Without an agent, that first proposal for a book called HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS saw every publisher from Acme to Zero. I rapidly collected enough rejection slips to paper my “summer home.”

Just about the time I’d given up hope of selling the book, I got a phone call from a local publisher interested in buying it. After doing a joyous happy dance, accompanied by more visions of glamorous pub parties, multi-city book tours, and carpal tunnel from signing so many autographs, reality quickly set it. The advance would barely pay for the cost of my paper. My name would be in a size two font. And my request for a sizeable publicity budget would become the publishing house joke.

Still, I had my first book. Published. By a real publisher. With my name on it (in a size two font.) Meanwhile, I’d learned a lot about the publishing business in the process. I learned that I needed an agent to help me find the right publisher for the book (and avoid posers like iUniverse and Alibris). I needed an agent to get me the best possible contract (I was so grateful to be published, I would have paid the publisher!) Most of all, I needed an agent to help me plan and manage my career (otherwise I’d still be writing SON OF HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS, BRIDE OF HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS, and so on.).

So after 30 years in this business, I still love it. There’s nothing like the high you get when your agent says, “I sold your book!” Likewise, there’s nothing like seeing your “baby” in print for the first time. But I consider myself a working author. I still don’t have a summer home. Not even a yacht. But my advances and royalties, while not even close to Stephen King’s, have paid for my kids' orthodonture, their college education, and a new patio for my husband. (According to my agent, 80% of advances are under 20K. I’ve also heard that most writers make less that $4,000 a year!)

Since my first advance was so low, I’m grateful for whatever amount my agent can get me above that. And I know how the business works—it’s slower than watching ink dry—so I try not to call my agent every day “just to check in.” I spend that time working on my next book while waiting for that exciting phone call. I also know I’m going to have to rewrite that proposal several times to make it perfect, find a “platform” (whatever that means), and create a realistic marketing plan that doesn’t use up my entire advance. And I know that when my book is published, my editor isn’t going to fly me to New York for lunch, rent billboard space announcing my latest title, or get me on The View, let alone Jerry Springer.

But like I said, I’d rather do this than anything else—solve crimes, host parties, play with kids. I can do all that and more—on paper. And with my last advance, I finally bought myself a roadster.


Blogger 2ndheartmom said...

You got a roadster!!! Is it blue?!? This post is great - realistic and appreciated. I go back and forth on whether I want to "be a writer" or just write. "Being a writer" is risky and hard work and demanding - just writing is fun and convenient. Still haven't figured it out - but this post is helpful...

July 15, 2008 at 9:39 AM  
Blogger Penny said...

Thanks for your post! I've had a series of roadsters, beginning with a red Austin Healy Sprite, then a blue MG, then a while Miata, and now a pumpkin orange Mini Cooper (Nancy's second favorite color.) Keep writing, and feel free to email me if you want to chat more about the craft.

July 15, 2008 at 9:52 AM  

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