In early 2019, I was bored. Now, don’t get me wrong. I had a wonderful life and was immensely blessed. So why did I feel so dissatisfied? I chided myself for feeling that way and was ashamed to even say it out loud because I knew they would think I was a spoiled brat. I could hear them saying, “What do you have to be dissatisfied about? You have a great job, a wonderful family, you just built your dream home.” And they’d be right. So, I kept on doing the daily grind; work, come home, eat dinner, watch tv, go to bed, then get up and do it all over again. One Saturday after binge-watching British mysteries all day, I was looking for something different, so I booted up my Kindle app and started looking for something interesting to read. One of Kathi Daley’s books in the Zoe Donovan series caught my eye and I was hooked. I had never heard the term “cozy mystery,” but I soon realized that it was the type of mystery I had always been drawn to. I grew up watching Perry Mason, Columbo, Hawaii Five-O, Rockford Files, Murder She Wrote, and countless others with my mother and grandmother. I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a bookstore and saw an actual section labeled Cozy Mystery. I was like a kid in a candy store. By summer, I was spending every spare minute I could find reading. The more I read, the more I thought it might be fun to try writing one of my own. I’d never written anything in my life that I wasn’t forced to write in school. I’d never even had a desire to. But this sounded like fun and I challenged myself to do it. I didn’t tell anyone. For months it was my little secret. In the beginning, most of it was written longhand in a spiral notebook. I felt like Elizabeth Farmer in one of my favorite 80’s comedies, Funny Farm. When I finished my first rough draft, I mustered up enough courage to tell my family and asked my mom and daughter to read it. They immediately suggested I should try to publish it. I said they were nuts. But the more I thought about it, I decided to do a little research and discovered self-publishing.
And the rest, as they say, is history. Of course, Potluck and Pandemonium bears very little resemblance to that first rough draft, originally titled One Foot in the Graveyard. But thanks to family and friends willing to give honest feedback and a welcoming group of writers in a few Facebook groups, I got it transformed into something with which I felt confident.
Now, why did I tell you all this? Because I began this journey at the age of 57. I would give anything if I had found this new passion years ago, but here I am and I’m loving every minute. Well, maybe not every minute, but I’ll get to that.
I know that at 57, there are many, many people who are very tech-savvy, but I wasn’t one of them. I thought I was, but I soon had a rude awakening. I had been in the same job for over 25 years, using a computer daily, but I only used a limited range of programs and software and believe me, I was an old dog who didn’t like new tricks. I had no idea where to start with the actual publishing process. Formatting, cover designers, editors, beta readers, marketing, social media platforms, paid advertising, websites…my head was spinning. What had been fun up until that point, was turning into a nightmare. The only other author I knew locally invited me to coffee. She introduced me to another author who immediately volunteered to help me in many areas. This person wrote in a different genre, but offered to edit and format my book for free, design my website and social media pages. She also told me I would never make it if I didn’t have W, X, Y, Z, and a million more things. I had a full-time job and didn’t know how I would ever learn to juggle all of this, but reluctantly, I agreed, because again—she was my only source of information. I was overwhelmed and I can’t tell you how close I came to never clicking the publish button on that first book.
After she did the editing and formatting, not only did I discover that the formatting was all wrong, but she also kept my files for weeks and didn’t respond to emails. After trying to format it myself, I ended up sending it to my cover designer in the UK who was kind enough to do it quickly in order to make the deadline for the January 2020 release date.
I immediately began having second thoughts about this new hobby. I needed to take a step back and breathe. I joined a few Facebook groups focusing on publishing and some that were specific to cozies. That’s when I realized I had been given bad information. I wish I’d known in those first few stressful months, what I know now. And that’s what I’d like to pass on to you. This applies to anyone beginning from scratch with no clue what you’re doing, but especially, I think, to those of us Boomers and older. Unless you have been working in an occupation requiring day-to-day use of technology, you may, like me, realize you aren’t as tech-savvy as you thought you were.
- Find a knowledgeable editor. A professional who is familiar with fiction and dialogue editing would be best. You may have a friend who offers to edit, but make sure they know the difference in a term paper and a page of dialogue between characters.
- Cover designer. With book one, I had zero budget. Since this started as a secret hobby, it’s not like I had money to throw into the project. Research the genre. Look at hundreds of top-selling cozy mysteries and see what style you are drawn to. Then research cover designers, look at their websites, and ask a few of them for quotes. This is the one place you cannot skimp. If you’re going to spend money on anything, let it be this.
- Beta/ARC readers. Every author has their own process and way of using beta readers. I started out with friends that read a lot of fiction and especially mysteries and asked for their feedback. Then I began asking for other readers in Facebook groups to join my team. You can decide how many opinions you want, but just make sure you have eyes on your book that you can trust to give you honest feedback and not try to spare your feelings. My college roommate is an avid reader, and she bleeds all over my books when I send them to her. She’s very honest and makes excellent suggestions/corrections.
- After the debacle of book one, I committed to learning to format my own books. You can always pay someone to do it for you, but I wanted to have the freedom to make changes and updates when needed. I did not want to be dependent on another person. There are many options out there, some more user-friendly than others. I chose Draft2Digital. It’s straightforward and you don’t have to be a computer genius to use it. I format both my ebook and my paperback with them. It’s free and easy.
- Social Media. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’ll never be successful if you don’t have an account on every social media platform available. Start where you feel comfortable. I live on Facebook (even before writing), so I’m totally comfortable there. I also frequented Instagram, so I created an author account there. I don’t do Twitter. I don’t do Pinterest. I don’t have a separate Facebook profile for my author name (another thing I was told early on was a must). I have a business page linked to my personal profile. I have a very simple website. I don’t write a blog. You don’t have to be “all things to all people” and don’t let anyone convince you that you do.
- This one took me awhile. I built a simple one that came free with my website domain account, but to be honest, it looked pretty sad. After a few good months of sales profits, I decided to hire a personal assistant, or PA, to help with that and various other things. She has been a huge help in so many ways. This is another focus for 2021 is to build my mailing list. If 2020 taught us anything, it was to expect the unexpected. Nothing in the business world is safe. Collecting email addresses and communicating with your readers through your newsletter is the safest way to know you are building your reader contact on a solid base. If you only connect with your readers through social media, you run the risk of being at the mercy of those who control the data. Collect those emails!
- Ads/Marketing. Yikes! This one has been, and still is, a killer for me. I’ve taken several free and paid online courses on how to master Amazon and Facebook ads and I’m still clueless. I threw a lot of money down the toilet with Amazon ads for a few months before I realized it wasn’t getting any better. Right now, I am relying on boosting a few Facebook ads, Book Funnel promos, and other paid promos. I have participated in several book hops and Facebook events that helped grow my mailing list exponentially. Now that my subscriber list is bigger, I participate in Newsletter Swaps with other authors regularly. It’s free advertising and gets my books in front of a whole new set of readers. One of my goals for this year is to work on a reasonable marketing plan that won’t clean out my bank account.
These are just a few of the things I’ve learned since I “accidentally” embarked on this amazing, sometimes frustrating, but never boring journey. Since I published my first book in January 2020, I’ve released five more in the series, as well as two novellas. I still have to pinch myself to realize that there are people out there (besides my Momma) who will pay their hard-earned money to read what I write, and I will be forever grateful. I never want to take my readers for granted. Two years ago, you would never have convinced me that I would be writing mystery novels. I wish I’d discovered it sooner. What’s my advice to anyone with even an inkling of interest in giving it a shot? Just do it. Put something on paper. You never know where it will lead.
A Sweetwater Springs Southern Mystery: Book 6
Publication Date: March 4, 2021
As mother of the bride, Glory wants her daughter’s wedding to be a day she’ll never forget. But when Glory’s address is found in the pocket of an unidentified body in a car crash, her biggest nightmare becomes reality. The past has followed her to Sweetwater Springs and it’s not going away without a fight. Can she solve the mystery and maybe even her husband’s two-year-old cold case murder in the process? Glory, Momma, a few of the new in-laws are working against the clock to discover the truth before wedding bells toll.
S.C. Merritt is the author of the Sweetwater Springs Southern Mystery series, including a prequel novella to the series entitled, Sideburns and Suspicions which is FREE to subscribers to her monthly CozyLetter. Get updates on new releases and more by clicking HERE.
She and her husband live in Mississippi, along with miniature Schnauzer, Izzy. When not writing, she loves to travel and dreams of living in a tropical locale someday.