CommitmentNow.com: The Book Lover is the story of two women: Lucinda Barrett who, alone and broke after her husband betrays her, sets out on a thousand mile journey to get her self-published novel into the hands of readers – one bookstore at a time; and Ruth Hardaway, a widow who has devoted her life to her independent bookstore. Both are strong, independent women whose relationship initially is based on a love of books. Did you set out to create a powerful female friendship, or was this something that developed as you wrote The Book Lover?
Maryann McFadden: Actually, I intended for them to be friends, that was a necessary part of the plot development. Yes, they are each strong and independent in their own ways, yet as with the best of characters in my estimation, each has flaws. Ruth, while gutsy in some ways, is timid in others. And Lucy, the writer, believes in her book and her work, yet is still riddled with doubts at times. They bolster and inspire each other throughout the story, and their friendship grows. And then…
CommitmentNow.com: The character of Colin is wonderful! How much research went into developing his character?
Maryann: I’m probably odd in that I research backwards. In other words, I create who I want the character to be, and then I do the research to find out if it’s realistic. I knew what I wanted Colin to be able to accomplish, to be this strong and incredible man, despite his handicap. It was truly amazing to find several real life Colin’s. There were 2 army veterans I interviewed at length, and both were totally candid about the most intimate details of their lives. Both, as well, were so inspiring.
CommitmentNow.com: The Book Lover is as much about books and those of us who love them, as it is about the characters themselves. With the increasing popularity of e-books and sound bites, and a decreasing number of independent book stores, do you think there’s still room for books and independent bookstores?
Maryann: Oh gosh, yes, I certainly hope so! I am a book lover! I became a writer at the age of 11 when I wrote my very first short story on my father’s old manual typewriter. I wanted to write because I loved to read so much, often a book a day on summer vacations. I’d lose myself in the stories and characters and knew without a doubt, “I want to do that!” The world would be a very sad place without books, and bookstores. Sure you can shop online, and in cases it’s a few bucks cheaper, but is there anything more wonderful than walking into a bookstore and seeing all the possible titles to dive into. And best of all, to have someone who has read so many of them share that with you? I know that for me and my reader friends, there’s nothing like a hand recommendation from one of our favorite booksellers. It’s a special relationship. And I think it’s a bit of an art form, and that it will survive but will have to change with the times, like everything else.
CommitmentNow.com: Like Lucy Barrett, you self-published your first novel. What lead you to self-publish?
Maryann: Yes, I did. I self-published THE RICHEST SEASON in 2006 after 5 years of rejection, although I think I outnumbered her 38 rejections! A lot of my publishing journey influences Lucy’s backstory.
I really believed I had a good book and after some soul searching I decided to prove it. I was in real estate at the time, and very successful, and thought, “If I can sell houses, I know I can sell this book!” And I did. After 8 months, during which I went from store to store, touring up and down the east coast, meeting with 40 book clubs in 10 states, and getting some great reviews, I finally landed a top agented who also believed in the book. She sold the rights to Hyperion Books in an auction, along with a second hardcover book to be written (which became SO HAPPY TOGETHER). Within weeks we had foreign deals and both novels went on to become Indie Next Picks and a Target Breakout Novel.
During that time I learned the bookselling side of the business. I already knew the writing side. And I knew I wanted to write a book that shows that magical, often perilous, journey of how a story begins in a writer’s mind and makes its way onto a store shelf, and into a reader’s hands. No one has told this story, so it’s unique. And of course it’s filled with so many people passionate about the book world, people who give up everything to follow their dreams.
CommitmentNow.com: How did your self-publishing experiences differ from Lucy’s? How were they similar?
Maryann: Both Lucy and I go from store to store to store, hoping to get booksellers are on our side. And while I show the occasional downside to Lucy’s journey, mine was a lot more tumultuous. But I think I showed enough in the story for the reader to get the idea that this is no easy pursuit and that people who write do it because it’s part of the fabric of who they are. No one gets into this to make a lot of money because the odds are so against it, especially these days.
What I really just touch on with Lucy is the journey with the agent. Mine was longer, and more dramatic. I nearly didn’t make the first meeting, caught in an ice storm, and then a terror alert at Penn Station Newark. My agent asked me to add a few scenes to the beginning of THE RICHEST SEASON, which I already knew I would do if I ever reworked it because after meeting with so many book clubs I saw an opportunity by adding the husband earlier.
Then my agent submitted to 10 publishers and within a week I met with some of the top editors in the world, something I originally wrote then cut from the book, because it was getting too long and I realized wasn’t totally necessary. But those were heady moments as the publishers were selling ME on why I should consider THEM!
CommitmentNow.com: What advice do you have for writers who are having difficulty getting their works published?
Maryann: First, take a deep breath and don’t take it so personally. This can be a brutal industry because the act of writing is so personal, no matter what you’re working on. Then, don’t be afraid to get more feedback. Yes, it’s all subjective, and no two people will respond to your work in exactly the same way, but you need to know that it is in the best possible shape possible, both content and grammar wise.
If you keep trying and just can’t get published, then explore your options. It has never been so easy, and economical, to get your work out there. In the end, as a writer, you simply want to be read! You can put an e-book out there for almost nothing and a print book for as little as $500 in most cases. But then, it’s up to you to do the marketing and promotion because no one will know about your book. That’s what I did successfully, because I explored every option and got myself on TV and radio and when I got knocked down I kept getting up and saying, well, what do I really have to lose? Believe me, it was not easy, but in the end, it worked.
I’ve helped many other writers launch their books now, both traditional and self-published and I’m nearly finished writing an e-book on marketing and promoting your book which I think will help a lot of aspiring writers navigate these turbulent waters, whichever route they choose.
Maryann McFadden self-published her first novel, The Richest Season, in 2006 after nearly six years of trying to get it published. Championed by independent booksellers, she soon found herself attached to a literary agent who believed her novel should be published. It sold at auction to Hyperion Books and an expanded version was released in hardcover in 2008. It was recognized as an Indie Next Pick and Target Breakout Novel. McFadden’s books have since been translated into German, Italian and Spanish. Her third novel, The Book Lover, debuted May 1, 2012, as an Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association. Her advice to aspiring writers with a dream is “Work hard, persevere, and believe!”
McFadden is also a speaker and writing coach, and loves chatting with book clubs. You can reach her at email@example.com.