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The You I Never Knew was written, sold to a publisher, and edited…and then it was orphaned. In publishing, this means the editor who acquired it moved on while the book was in production. This is usually not the best news for a book,  because that acquiring editor loved the book and was its in-house cheerleader. The project was handed off to a new editor. This is a bit like getting a foster child you didn’t ask for.

In my case, it turned out to be a mixed blessing. They were right in the middle of designing the cover, and it looked like this:

cover never used on the you i never knew

the art i never used on the you i never knew

literary collection of stories

Now, this is a fine piece of original art. The design and layout are Image result for the horse whisperer nicholas evansreminiscent of both The Horse Whisperer and a Nicholas Sparks cover, so those are pluses. It also looks a bit like Annie Proulx’s Close Range.

Does this mean the cover is right for this book? Probably not. First of all, The You I Never Knew would be a paperback original, not a hardcover book, so the art needs to “pop” on the shelf in order to stand out. The colors of this cover are muted and the mood is chilly. It might work on a hardcover jacket, but it doesn’t look instantly warm and inviting, like a “feel-good” novel.

The new editor came into the middle of cover design, knowing nothing about me or the book. There was a bright spot, though. The new editor was the extremely smart Maggie Crawford, and she was the kind of foster mother the book needed–an experienced editor who understood the market for this book. She’d worked with many bestselling authors and had a fine eye for marketing women’s fiction. She took on the cover art issue with aplomb, and came up with this.

The You I Never KnewIt’s one of the least-relevant yet most commercial covers I’ve ever had. Here’s my analysis: Splashing my name on the cover in huge letters gave the illusion that this was a big book by a big author. The lettering itself–big, graceful block lettering–was reminiscent of the font used for blockbuster author Sandra Brown. 22 Indigo PlaceAnd of course, it capitalizes on the galloping popularity of the biggest novel of the ’90s, The Horse Whisperer. Cover Image

So I’m back on track, right? My new editor rescued the novel from obscurity and now all I’d need to do is kick back and let the sales roll in. Oh, and I’d be working with Maggie on the next book, brainstorming the plot and building on the success of The You I Never Knew. Right? Right?

NOT.

The lovely and talented foster-editor for this book was so lovely and talented that another publisher hired her away. By the time my novel was published for the first time, there was no one home. My calls were fielded by hapless assistant. With no in-house cheerleader, no marketing budget, and no PR, my book was destined to die of slow strangulation in that publishing twilight zone known as “the midlist.” If sales were poor, the publisher wouldn’t want anymore books from me, and my days as an author were numbered.

BUT.

I had a secret weapon, and that secret weapon was YOU. The You I Never Knew, aka READERS.

One of the great things about publishing is that readers don’t care what a book’s marketing budget is. They don’t care how it’s positioned on a publisher’s list or catalog. They care about the story. Not only that, when they like the story, they tell their friends. And their librarians. And their hairdresser. And the next thing you know, the book is a bestseller.

Against all odds, the first edition of The You I Never Knew made the USA Today bestseller list. Thanks to readers, the book is still in print, in a fresh new edition this week.

The You I never Knew 2016

The latest edition – in stores now!

The You I never knew-SP

the 2010 edition

 

 

 

 

What would you risk in order to get the one thing you truly desire?

dsc 0028

Susan at Ross Lake. Looking for a metaphor.

Seriously, what would you risk?

When I was an emerging writer in my 20s, trying to sell my first book, I risked a lot. I had a great life–wonderful teaching career, adorable baby, cute dogs, a house in the ‘burbs, good family and friends. Why would I take on the stress and struggle and uncertainty of a career as a novelist? It was a massive risk on many levels.

In practical terms, I was subjecting my daughter and myself to financial risk, because writing is about as stable as betting on horses. I also gave up social time with friends. I had to forego my book-a-day reading habit, entire series on TV (okay, not a huge sacrifice there) and forget sleep. There was at least one night when I stayed up all night working on my novel. I looked out to see the sun coming up, so I combed my hair, put on my lipstick, took the baby to pre-school and staggered off to work that day. (You can do stuff like this when you’re in your 20s.)

There’s something more than financial solvency at risk when you decide to publish a novel. The emotional risk is huge in writing. Even in a made-up story, you’re showing people your hidden self. Will readers think I’m Faith, the struggling single mom in Starlight on Willow Lake? The cheated-on wife in Just Breathe? Will they get a glimpse of me in the brash, emotionally distant Tess, or the the so-shy-you-want-to-slap-her Isabel? Or am I Annie Rush, the passionate, ambitious wronged woman whose world comes crashing down on her?

I’m a fan and friend of acclaimed writing coach, Michael Hauge, who is fond of issuing this challenge to writers. Brace yourself. It might be the toughest statement you’ll ever make in your writing career:

FILL IN THIS STATEMENT FOR YOURSELF:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to be a

successful writer;

but don’t ask me to ___________________,

because that’s just not me.” 

Common responses to “…just don’t ask me to…” might be:

  • -quit my day job

    -walk away from a bad deal from a publisher

  • -tell my family to give me space
  • -follow somebody’s writing formula
  • -abandon somebody’s writing formula
  • -take a writing class
  • -reveal my innermost thoughts on paper
  • -write about deeply personal matters
  • -write about people who might recognize themselves in my book
  • -subject myself to criticism and rejection
  • -set a work schedule and stick to it
  • -learn to type
  • -YOUR OWN BLOCK OR DEMON GOES HERE: ____________

Your answer will reveal what you’re avoiding in order to protect yourself.

Some of you might be thinking, “Oh, it’s easy for you, an established author, to deal with these fears. You’ve already cleared the hurdles.” All right, you be the judge. Here are a few steps I had to take on my writer’s journey, and believe me, they were not easy. One year, I had to hock my beloved Juzek cello for money to live on. Another time, I failed to enter my book for the RITA Award because I used the entry fee for groceries. I had so many rejection letters from agents and publishers that I quit counting after 100, and actually papered the walls of a bathroom with the rejection slips. I endured skepticism, sleepless nights, people wondering why I was wasting my time writing stories instead of ________________. <–insert what your judgmental friends and associates would add here. You have to care more about your writing dream than you do about people’s opinions. Do you? Can you?

I dare you. Go!

 

 

I am on a working vacation. When you’re a writer, it’s not a contradiction in terms, because your job comes with you in your head wherever you go. So if you go someplace awesome, you’re still working. But trust me, it doesn’t suck.

First stop–Paris. I finished FAMILY TREE (coming in 2016) and started research on my next book. Here’s the Jardin de Luxembourg and it doesn’t look much like Paris but when I see beehives, I have to take a photo because, well, beehives.

paris-beehives

I love discovering strange shops that sell things like mushroom hunting knives. Here’s one on Boul’ St. Germain called Le Prince Jardiniere:

paris - le prince jardiniere

My amazing husband Jerry takes the best people-watching shots. Check out this French kid taking a selfie in Place des Vosges, aka the prettiest square in Paris:

paris-place des voges

Q: Why, oh why, did you leave Daisy twisting in the wind like that? Curse you! May you burn in hell! (But after you write Daisy’s story.)
A: WARNING. There are bound to be a few spoilers in my reply. If spoilers bother you, please don’t read! If you don’t mind the spoilers, roll your mouse over the hidden parts of the reply to highlight and reveal the text (I’ve written it in white font).
Oh, Daisy. When will you learn? We’ve been following you since you were a troubled child of divorce in Summer at Willow Lake, a pregnant teen in The Winter Lodge, leaving home in Dockside, a college student in Snowfall at Willow Lake, a career girl in Fireside and a busy single mom in Lakeshore Christmas.
And all we’ve ever wanted was for you to find your happily-ever-after.
You keep being pulled back and forth between Logan, the handsome, well-born father of your child, and Julian, the dangerous but adoring adrenalin junkie in search of adventure.
And now this! Somebody’s about to pop the question and we don’t even get to know which one, or what your answer is!
Argh! I could kill you dead right now!
There is no way everyone is going to love everything that happens to a character in a book. I just hope I can be true and fair to the characters and storylines I’ve set up.
It’s true that there is a major, major unanswered question at the end of Lakeshore Christmas. Daisy finds herself in quite a pickle. A delicious pickle.
The good news is, somebody wants to marry her.
The bad news is, we don’t quite know which somebody.
Do I know who dropped the d-bomb on the train platform? Yes.
Is it who you think it is? Probably not.
Disclaimer: Even though I do know how this is going to go down, I haven’t finished Daisy’s book yet, so it’s subject to change. Sometimes a story goes off in its own direction and I have no choice but to follow.
I have a title I really like: Daisy+Logan+Julian which doesn’t really give anything away. It’s a working title and my publisher tends to change them so I’m not holding my breath.
One thing I can promise: The book will be Lakeshore #8 (after the March 2010 release of The Summer Hideaway).

It’s Frustrated Reader time in my in-box. Definitely the most frequently asked question is this:

Q: Why, oh why, did you leave Daisy twisting in the wind at the end of Lakeshore Christmas? Curse you! May you burn in hell! (But after you finish Daisy’s story.)

A: WARNING. There are bound to be a few spoilers in my reply. If spoilers bother you, please don’t read! If you don’t mind the spoilers, hold down the mouse button and roll over the hidden parts of the reply to highlight and reveal the text (I’ve written it in white font).

Oh, Daisy. When will you learn? We’ve been following you since you were a troubled child of divorce in Summer at Willow Lake, a pregnant teen in The Winter Lodge, leaving home in Dockside, a college student in Snowfall at Willow Lake, a career girl in Fireside and a busy single mom in Lakeshore Christmas.

And all we’ve ever wanted was for you to find your happily-ever-after.

You keep being pulled back and forth between Logan, the handsome, well-born father of your child, and Julian, the dangerous but adoring adrenalin junkie in search of adventure.

gettyimages.com

gettyimages.com

And now this! Somebody’s about to pop the question and we don’t even get to know which one, or what your answer is!

Argh! I could kill you dead right now!

There is no way everyone is going to love everything that happens to a character in a book. I just hope I can be true and fair to the characters and storylines I’ve set up.

It’s true that there is a major, major unanswered question at the end of Lakeshore Christmas. Daisy finds herself in quite a pickle. A delicious pickle.

The good news is, somebody wants to marry her.

The bad news is, we don’t quite know which somebody.

Do I know who dropped the d-bomb on the train platform? Yes.

Is it who you think it is? Probably not.

Disclaimer: Even though I do know how this is going to go down, Daisy’s book is full of surprises. As the story unfolded from my imagination, the twists and turns surprised even me. Sometimes a story goes off in its own direction and I have no choice but to follow.

I had a title I really like: Daisy+Logan+Julian which doesn’t really give anything away. It’s a working title and my publisher tends to change them so didn’t hold my breath. Ultimately, the perfect title emerged from lengthy discussions with my editor and agent: Marrying Daisy Bellamy.

One thing I can promise: There is an enticing excerpt from Lakeshore #11 in the back of the new edition of Daisy. Please enjoy the exclusive preview of Starlight on Willow Lake.

Step one – open shitty first draft.
2 print out in word draft mode, light colored ink. 3 put on extra
strong glasses and lamp. rewrite every single page until it looks
like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical
space for laying out the pages. clothespins are key. 5. type in
handwritten edits. 6. go back to step 2 and do it all again. lather
rinse repeat.

Step one – open shitty first draft.

Step two –  print out in word draft mode, light colored ink.

Step three – put on extra strong glasses and bright lamp. Rewrite every single page until it looks like it’s bleeding. Be aware that you might need a lot of physical space for laying out the pages. Clothespins are key. So are Post-It notes.

ugly stuff

ugly stuff

Step five – type in handwritten edits.

smells fishy to Barkis

smells fishy to Barkis

Step six – go back to step 2 and do it all again.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

everyone's a critic

everyone’s a critic

Barkis is not too subtle when he wants to go for a walk….

The secret? See below:

So after telling you about the process of writing a novel, I promised to talk about cover art. How does a publisher get that sucker all spiffed up and ready for the bookstore?

Oh, so carefully. Most publishers have an entire dedicated art department whose sole purpose is book design–the image, the fonts, endpapers, you name it.

Back when I was self-publishing, I designed my own.

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

bringing you bad books since the age of 8

p10603411

Art was not my forte, clearly.

Book cover art is the topic of endless and passionate debate among writers and people in publishing.

Because it matters so freakin’ much. It’s the reader’s first glimpse of your work. You’ve got a split second to grab her attention. And in that split second, you have to convey that a) this is YOUR kind of book and b) it’s a particularly great read and c) she should just ignore all those other books on the shelf nearby that are vying for attention.

How does a book get from the mess on my living room floor…

Barkis is bored. He just doesn't get it.

Barkis is bored. He just doesn’t get it.

…into the reader’s hands?

Buy a book from Wendy!

You need not just a beautiful cover, but the RIGHT cover. For example, this cover is beautiful:

Where's the romance?

Where’s the romance?

…but it doesn’t scream “sweep-you-away-historical-romance” the way this one does:

Sexy tiiime!

Sexy tiiime!

The Drifter reissue

They’re all nicely done, but guess which one sold the best? Yep, the one that looked the most romantic, dramatic and compelling to the reader most likely to enjoy that kind of book.

After the original edition of The Drifter was published, the art department took another look at what my books were about and what my readers love–romance, fantasy, passion. So my next book, THE CHARM SCHOOL, went through a major transformation. Here is the cover-in-progress:

I sent my editor a little thumbnail image from a book of clipart. I just thought it was pretty. The main character was a bookworm with a rich fantasy life, and this image made me think of her:

Clip art that inspired The Charm School cover

Thanks to my very smart editor, she got this sketch out of the art department, and I knew we had a winner on our hands:

sketch for Charm School cover

I was hoping it would turn into a pink valentine of a book because, well, we readers love pink valentines. And Lo:

Now, THAT's a cover.

Now, THAT’s a cover.

Flowers, purple foil, generous endorsement from iconic romance author. It even had a peek-a-boo window with a glimpse at the illustration inside. And although the real Isadora looked like this:

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

Isadora, the main character of THE CHARM SCHOOL

…she got a makeover for the cover art. This image is inside the front cover. It’s known as a “step-back.”

ready for action

ready for action

I’m proud to say, The Charm School was my first national bestseller. The book got good reviews, won some awards, made some best-of lists, but I credit the sales to the right cover on the right book. 

Oh, and here–with apologies to the redoubtable Erik Larson–is my nomination for the worst book cover ever. On one of the best books, ever.

Foreign edition of Erik's iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

Foreign edition of Erik’s iconic work, Devil in the White City, with unfortunate cover art.

One of the questions I get most frequently is “How many books are in the Lakeshore Chronicles series? In what order should I read them?”

Brrr!

Today’s plan: Stay inside where it’s warm and curl up with a good book.

You can read the books in any order because each book is a complete novel unto itself, but if you want to go chronologically (and if you’re a fan of the Daisy Bellamy storyline, I recommend this), it’s

1. Summer at Willow Lake
       (a) “Homecoming Season” (a novella in the anthology MORE THAN WORDS: STORIES OF COURAGE)
2. The Winter Lodge
3. Dockside
4. Snowfall at Willow Lake
5. Fireside 
6. Lakeshore Christmas
7. The Summer Hideaway 
8. Marrying Daisy Bellamy 
9. Return to Willow Lake
10. Candlelight Christmas
11. Starlight on Willow Lake

How many Lakeshore books will there be? Well, here’s a hint:

Wheelchairs on Willow Lake cartoon

(This glimpse into the future comes to you courtesy of the multitalented Suzanne Selfors.)

I was a storyteller before I could speak in fully formed sentences, or write words on paper. I know this because I have the kind of mom who tended to save things she deemed important—like a toddler’s markings on an old church collection envelope, or stick-figure drawings featuring imaginary characters. This is how I know that all my stories have always been about the same thing—an ordinary girl, facing extraordinary circumstances, whether it’s a kid up a tree with Bad Things after her…or a lonely young woman who suddenly discovers a family she’s never known.

But that’s just the spine of the story. For me, the magic happens when I discover just the right setting and tone for the story to unfold. I created the town of Archangel, in glorious Sonoma County, as the setting for THE APPLE ORCHARD, because I wanted to evoke that golden, sweep-you-away quality that comes over the reader as she sinks into the world of the story.

Besides the setting, my favorite aspect of this story is that often, the key to the present is found in the past, sometimes deeply buried. As Tess, the main character, uncovers the hidden dramas that have brought her to THE APPLE ORCHARD, she uncovers her own heart’s desire.

BIG NEWS: THE APPLE ORCHARD (have I mentioned the title enough?) is 50% off when you preorder from Barnes&Noble on April 3 and 4 only. So grab a copy for yourself, and maybe order an extra for your mom, your BFF, your local library…I do love a sale!

Susan Wiggs

Pre-Order The Apple Orchard today!

Susan Wiggs - The Apple Orchard

Today is the official pub day of Return to Willow Lake. I’m so grateful to all the readers who helped make it a bestseller in hardcover. Now, paperback fans will find it in stores. You can also find the book in audio and digital formats, and in lots of different languages.

The hardcover edition was published during an exciting time in my life.

And I’m excited about the paperback, but for me, there’s something bittersweet about the publication of this particular book. When I first conceived the story, I knew I would be dealing with some big issues

Join Susan on Facebook

Just out in paperback

. However, I didn’t know how personal the central issue would become for me.

One of the storylines in the novel involves a young woman returning home to help her mother through the ordeal of breast cancer. Now, on the eve of the paperback publication, I’ve discovered that one of my best friends has just been diagnosed with cancer.
Loretta is a wife, a mom, a sister, a friend. She’s facing the fight of her life.

So in addition to the dedication in the printed book, I would like to unofficially dedicate the paperback edition to my beloved friend, Loretta. She’s sharing her journey on a blog, and I’m so proud of the courage and humor in her writing, and in the responses from her friends and family. Here’s a link to her most heart touching post. Keep the Kleenex handy. You’ve been warned.  http://blog.lorettastanton.com/?p=114#comments

This is my donation to a grass-roots movement to help a beautiful friend & neighbor in her battle against cancer. Learn more about this insane swim-around-the-island, and see photos by Pete Saloutos here: http://www.armsaroundbainbridge.com/

what’s on my mind right now:

Join me on Facebook. You won’t be sorry.

I tend to spontaneously give stuff away to readers and libraries. Join the fun here. Really.

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