LUCY BURDETTE: It seems like ages ago that I first met SW Hubbard (aka Susan)--I had just had my first mystery published and Susan's was coming out the following year. We became fast friends and mutual writing-admirers, and have seen each other through many career ups and downs. Today I'm delighted to have her visit JRW with news of a new book, ANOTHER MAN'S TREASURE, and some insight into bobbing to the top of the publishing riptide.Welcome Susan!
FEATHER THE CLUTCH
SW HUBBARD: Twenty-six years ago my husband attempted to teach me to drive a standard transmission. This undertaking had all the elements of good suspense fiction: plenty of conflict, mounting tension, hair-raising close calls, sudden jolts, and finally, a cryptic message from the frantic hero.
“Feather the clutch! Feather the clutch!”
This rather oblique advice didn’t help me, and I’ve been driving an automatic ever since. However, I do understand how to shift gears, not as a driver, but as a writer. When I began writing fiction, I didn’t know squat about genres and markets. Innocent that I was, I just sat down and started writing the kind of book I liked to read: a traditional police procedural set in a small town, with a detective who spends more time talking than shooting.
Ten years of work produced TAKE THE BAIT. In a nifty stroke of luck, my manuscript crossed the editor’s desk just as Pocket Books was expanding its mystery line, and I landed a three book deal. Three years later, in a less nifty stroke, Pocket decided to scrap its mystery line, and my series lived no more. I took the news with equanimity. After all, once I had broken into the rarefied world of traditional publishing, how hard could it be to get another contract?
“Write something different,” my agent advised. “There’s no market for traditional mysteries.”
Full of hard-won knowledge, I considered my options for producing a best-seller. Go bigger and add some crimes against humanity? Go woo-woo and add some undead? Go zany and add some madcap escapades? I tried them all and couldn’t get past 50 pages and some really convoluted synopses. Finally, I shifted from police procedural to romantic suspense, from a third person, male point of view to a first person female point of view, and from a murder-driven plot, to a character-driven story about a woman whose life is changed by a long-ago crime. A novel emerged, devoid of terrorists, or vampires, or screwball criminals.
My agent called it a personal journey thriller. I liked that description! I wasn’t aware it was a sub-genre, though. Apparently, neither was the rest of the publishing world. Every editor who read the manuscript loved it, but alas, none of them could buy it. Because they didn’t know where to “place”it. Or how to market it. Or how to guarantee it would make a ton of money.
Despair set in. Should I go back and weave in some wacky vampire serial killers? I know all about sub-genres and markets now. I know all about revision. But one thing hasn’t changed. I still only want to write the kind of book I love to read. ANOTHER MAN’S TREASURE is that book. It’s got a heroine who’s funny, and brave, and stubborn, and a nervous wreck at cocktail parties. It’s got some good guys who screw up and some bad guys who try to do the right thing. It’s got a scroungy mutt named Ethel.
What it doesn’t have is a traditional publisher. Just me, in a new role as author, publisher and marketer. You can read the first chapter here.
Oh, and 26 years later, I think I finally know what “feather the clutch” means. It means do that thing that I can’t really tell you in words how to do but when you’re doing it right you’ll feel it and that sickening grinding sound will stop and you’ll sail along in the direction you want to go.
I still can’t drive a stick. But I can feather the clutch.
(Susan will be stopping in over the day today to answer your comments and questions...)