I started writing novels as a child and, of course, they were middle grade mysteries. Most of these mysteries were thinly veiled stories akin to Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden.
As an adult, I still loved reading in the middle grade genre. When my oldest child was a baby, instead of reading silently, I would read these stories to her—even though they were meant for older children. One particular book (and I won’t say which one) was so bad that I told my husband, “I can write a mystery better than this.” His response? “Well, you read enough books, you should be able to write one.” And that’s when I decided that my writing would be a career and not a hobby.
An interesting side note is that my youngest daughter loved that book I hated. The moral of the story is that there are many types of books for different types of people.
You’ve now published 3 books in your middle grade chapter book series. When did you actually start writing your first book? How long did it take to write your first draft?
I started writing Cream Cape and the Case of the Missing Hamster in 2006. The first draft was completed in several months. I edited and revised, a little—very little—for I had taken a children’s online writing class from the Writer’s Digest University. I used the Missing Hamster manuscript for the class and thought that meant I was done editing. I started sending the manuscript out. But based on feedback I received, I realized it needed more work—a lot more work so I decided to have it professionally edited.
How did you decide on an editor?
I selected The Editorial Department for my editing. I had read their book, Self-Editing for the Fiction Writers and thought they could help me (that was back when they had a children’s content editor—they no longer do children’s work). Over the next several months, I revised the story—a lot. Many writers have to cut scenes but I was the exception. I had to add scenes. And descriptions. And better characterization. I also added a red herring suspect. The only thing I kept from the original story was the plot—two sisters figure out who stole the class hamster.
Who encouraged you along the way?
I’ve not had a lot of encouragement along the way, probably because I would let people read my first drafts which I thought were great pieces of literature.
Seriously, though, my husband and kids are my encouragers. My husband encouraged me to spend the money to have the first story professional edited. The price was very expensive and all he said, “we’ll put it in the budget.
Prior to writing these children’s books, what was your publishing and writing background?
My writing background is eclectic. I’ve taken classes from the Writer’s Digest University—both mail-in and online. Back before everyone had the internet, I took their mail-in classes. My instructor would mail assignments to me and I would complete them. I’ve also taken online courses from them which are much easier than the correspondence courses. I highly recommend their classes.
I still use The Editorial Department for my adult novels. Jane is the go-to gal for them. She answers all my goofy questions and is an amazing administrator. She can read my mind on what services I’m looking for and points me in the right direction. And Betsy Tice White is an amazing editor. She has taken the time to understand what I’m trying to say and tell me how it’s not working. She’s the master working with a hack and I appreciate it greatly. My adult cozy, The Cat’s Last Meow, was edited by her. I love it more every time I read it. It’s passed The Missing Hamster on my best and steady seller.
Are you active in any writer critique groups?
I have a weekly critique group, Katy Kritique. Our motto is “family and friends will tell you they love it, we’ll tell you the truth.” And we’ve had a few tears along the way after hearing the truth. These ladies are incredible. I think my writing has jumped leaps and bounds from their help. We are a mix of traditionally published, self-published and small press.
I also participate in the yearly www.NaNoWriMo.org writing challenge. I love NaNo and believes it helps get the creative juices rolling. And to finish what I’ve started. It’s a wonderful program.
Your three mysteries in your series go from 100 to 160 pages. Why such a difference? Will the series continue?
I am a minimalist as a writer. I used to only write short stories. Tell the story and then get out. The Missing Hamster went from a 14,000 word first draft to 20,000 word finished product. As I’ve written more, I find that I have more story to tell. The Case of the Blue-Hair Heist, the third book in the series, has many suspects along the way whereas The Missing Hamster has only two suspects.
I do school talks and mostly speak to third and fourth graders. I have spoken to fifth graders as well. I see the series as complete but my children would like me to write more. My "to-be-published" list is very long. If I ever do continue the series, it will be several years.
The publishing company, Cypress Professional Group, PLLC is your company. How long have you been doing publishing?
In another life, I conducted continuing education classes for Texas Professional Counselors, Texas Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and Texas Social Workers. Cypress Professional Group was the publisher for those materials. Now instead of doing education, we do fiction.
Did you try the traditional route and send out to publishers and agents? What type of feedback did you receive?
I spent a year sending The Missing Hamster out to agents and publishers. I had interest from several agents but they eventually passed because “we have something similar in the works.” After a year of trying the traditional route, I had a polished manuscript and nowhere to send it. I sat on it for six months and in 2009 uploaded it on NOOK and Kindle. “Why not?” I thought.
I sold a lot of Cream Cape and the Case of the Missing Hamster through Barnes & Noble NOOK. It’s unheard of now because I never promoted it. And sold it for the unheard of e-book price of $7.95.
When I wrote the second book, I knew it had to be self-published. Then I entered a contest with my adult cozy, The Cat’s Last Meow. It didn’t win, but I had an edited manuscript so why not self-publish as well? Now I self-publish exclusively. I enjoy the freedom it provides. Not a lot of money up front, but I’m working on that.
What are some of the promotions that you’ve done for the book that have been the most successful?
Goodreads has been the best online promotion I’ve done. In person, the school visits are the best.
I’ve found when I make a personal connection with people, they are more open to trying my books. I’m on twitter, but I only occasionally tweet about my books.
I’m also in a marketing collective, The Space City Scribes. We are a collection of small press and indie authors that do author panels at libraries and sell books at indie and other festivals. We try to pool our resources, see what works and what doesn’t. They are a great group of ladies and I’m learning a lot from them.
How did you go about finding an illustrator? Do she work strictly from your text or did you give her suggestions of how you want the story to be done?
I cannot remember how I found Dee Densmore-D’Amico. I do remember doing lots and lots of research. She is an amazing artist.
I remember researching several illustrators online and contacting them. And I’m sure I looked through the SCBWI web-site on their children’s artists. I think I also browsed deviantART.com.
Dee is an amazing illustrator and very professional. And because she is awesome, between books one and two, she increased significantly in popularity—as did her cost. With self-publishing on a tight budget, I had to make the difficult decision to not use her for the third book. I really struggled but, finally, decided to change the covers of the first two books to match the third. I kept her illustrations for the interior of the first two books. The paperbacks are black and white whereas the e-books are color.
What has frustrated you the most in putting these books together?
The most frustrating thing in publishing is that so many people think $3.99 or $4.99 for an eBook is too expensive. My time writing, editing, hiring a professional editor, artwork, and marketing are a few of the costs that go into making a book happen. Tight budgets and slowly recouping the money are all part of the game. For me, free or $.99 just isn’t a feasible sales price for an eBook.
A pleasant surprise is that I am pretty good at making covers. I buy stock artwork and design all my covers now. And I love doing it.
What do you know now about publishing you wish you had known sooner?
Publishing is constantly changing. I’m not sure any prior knowledge would have helped me. In fact, if I had been more knowledgeable about how the system works, it might have scared me from self-publishing in the first place. I’m enjoying learning as I go. And, boy, is it a learning curve.
What advice would you give someone who wants to write children’s stories?
Sit down... Write... Write some more... Finish... Revise... Feedback... Edit.
More feedback... Don’t argue with the feedback... Analyze it—helpful, not helpful, bizarre.
Edit again... Polish... Repeat the entire process.
What is the writing best advice you’ve been given?
When I was in fourth grade, Jane Yolen came to my elementary and spoke. She said to always stop writing in the middle of the action. If you stop at the end of the action, you’ll never go back. If you stop in the middle, you’re constantly thinking about what happens next.
I’ve always tried to follow her advice and it’s worked for me.
How much time daily do you have for writing?
My typical day Monday through Friday:
9 a.m. Writing/editing
11 a.m. Lunch
Noon Writing/editing until about 2 p.m.
Designing a cover or formatting:
10 p.m. Artwork/Formatting until about midnight or 1 a.m.
I’m not sure why but I must write in the morning and design covers or do artwork at night. Wednesday is my critique day so writing is a bit shorter.
What message would you like parents and children to take away from your books? What future plans do you have for writing?
In my children’s books, I wrote them without the typical “get rid of the parents in middle grade novels” mentality. I included the parents (1st and 2nd books) and grandparents (3rd book). The girls still solve the mystery but I have a team approach to the entire family. The parents are more than just window-dressing.
And I would like kids and parents to enjoy the books. I'm a hack—I write to entertain. I like humor. I love mysteries. I want the reader to finish the book with a smile.
I have two novels coming in late 2014. One is a historical horror (“run, Quincey, run!”) and another cozy, Sliding into Murder (“batter-up, oops, she’s dead”). I also have two sci-fi short stories being published in the Tides of Possibilities anthology by the Houston Writers Guild. This is also Fall, 2014.
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Visit me online at www.MandyBroughton.com or on twitter @MandyBroughton. I’ll talk to anyone who will listen in 140 characters or less.