*Foretold ARC giveaway details at the end of this post.
Like all authors, until it happened, I wondered if I’d ever sell a book. We think it’s the mountain peak, the zenith. Upon arrival, we’re stunned to discover it’s only a plateau. You simply can’t see the next spires and headwalls, hidden by puffy clouds of dreams. Fun fact about mountain climbing: you can’t reach the true peak without going downhill again.
The same holds true for publication.
My book story, until 2015, was a mix of peaks and valleys: the exaltation of a debut novel, my first-ever stab to the eye, also known as a shitty review. The better moments when that same book ended up a RITA finalist, the romance genre’s pinnacle achievement.
Unless you hit the first-book jackpot, and a few authors do, it’s the third novel that truly tests an author’s publishing chops. You are no longer the promising debut novelist. If your sales aren’t mind-blowing, you’ll have reached the publishing mountain crevasse. The place where your books and aspirations are at risk. After my second novel, this is precisely where I found myself, teetering on a precipice.
I dug in; I got lucky. The wind blew the other way and the breeze brought a two-book deal from Montlake Romance. It included the manuscript my agent submitted—Ghost Gifts. At this point, I knew my publishing Achilles heel. I write around, like a college student that can’t settle on a major, the girl who wants to try all the Lip Smacker flavors. My books are not squarely pigeonholed: romance, women’s fiction, even thrillers. This six-lane freeway of genres is not what lures publishers into traffic. It doesn’t make them call your agent and say, “We want to sprinkle some contract fairy dust on her.” Not unless you also come with a dedicated readership that will follow you anywhere.
When Ghost Gifts (book three) did well—very well, in fact, I faced a fresh plateau and a question I did not anticipate: Did I want to be labeled a paranormal romance author? More to the point, did I want to write more Ghost Gifts books?
I’ll be honest. I never wanted to be labeled a romance writer. Even when you sell a bunch of paranormal novels, you tilt your head, wrinkle your brow, and say, “You really want me to write more ghost stories?” That’s not ungratefulness. It’s an inability to follow the drumbeat of publishing. But remember, every publishing peak is a plateau.
Then you look up.
I never thought I’d write about ghosts again. As a reader, paranormal romance is not my go-to genre. Yet this was the opportunity: Did I want to turn one book into three? Well, I might be stubborn, but I’m not stupid. Sure—I loved the characters in Ghost Gifts; I had fun creating Aubrey Ellis’s psychic gift. It seemed there was enough reader response and authenticity in my delivery to warrant more books.
Ultimately, it was the wisdom of New York Times bestselling author David Ellis who sold me on the idea and laid out options: 1) “Approach a series of books like the old TV series, Murder She Wrote, with each book as a caper, dedicated to a new whodunit.” Hmm… I’m unsure how deep my murder/resolution bag of tricks goes. I don’t know about this, David. What else you got? 2) “Have a series of books that, plot-wise, are independent of one another. Develop Aubrey within them, so the reader has two reasons to stay invested.” Sounds good, but that’s not enough. I’ll need more of a writing crutch. 3) “Third, each story plot-wise connects to the previous ones, kind of like Barry Eisler’s John Rain series. A death/murder in one book leads to something in the next book, maybe some cliffhangers from book to book… something almost standalone, where readers can jump aboard midstream.” Eureka! That’s it! That’s what I want to do!
Thank heaven for people smarter than me, a lengthy list indeed.
This brings us to Foretold, written in precisely the manner David suggested. The reader will learn, just as I did, what happens next in Aubrey Ellis’s life and the questions that inspired me: What if Aubrey’s psychic gift went beyond her ghost gifts? What if there were secrets and possibilities she never knew existed? What if book two ends in a “Holy Sh—” cliffhanger?
I had a grand time writing Foretold. Book three was even more fun, as well as challenging. I had to create and resolve the cliffhanger storyline before ever penning a word. So at the end of three books, what have I learned? Lots of things. But mostly, like a good book, I never saw it coming: who knew my mountain was so cluttered with ghosts.
*Watch for my upcoming newsletter where you can enter to win one of the last Advance Reading Copies of Foretold! Not signed up for my newsletter? You can do that right here.