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Imagining Hope: An Author’s Revival


Deanie HeadshotOne thing writers are good at is making up excuses for why their books don’t sell or why their careers stalled out or why they’re not into being commercial but REALLY want to “create art.”

Soooo…I guess if I say my career crashed and burned–at least in part–because a low-level credit aide at a major New York publishing house embezzled millions of dollars in order to support her lavish lifestyle, you’d think I was making it up, wouldn’t you? After all, it’s what novelists DO.

And it does sound kind of far-fetched, even for publishing.

Think again. 

Of course, at the time, I knew nothing about any of this. One thing I DID know about was that I was being caught in what one publishing executive referred to as “the Wild West days of mergers and acquisitions in book publishing.”

My seventh thriller–and first hardcover–“Ordeal,” was just hitting the stands in June of 1997, and it was the book that promised to catapult my career into bestseller territory. My editor had called it “the perfect suspense thriller.” My agent had managed to garner more than six figures for it–including foreign sales to Germany, Japan, Great Britain, and Australia–and it was being shopped around Hollywood by the William Morris agency.

And then, my publisher, Penguin-Putnam, merged with another house, and all hell broke loose. My editor left, my publisher left, the editor hired to replace my editor left, and within a breathtakingly short period of time, I was what is known in the book biz as an “orphan,” and the results were as catastrophic to me in career terms as being orphaned would be in emotional ones.

According to the New York Times, in the article linked above, the publisher found itself in the hole some *163 MILLION* dollars. To recoup losses from the merger and from the supposed embezzlement, the publisher adopted a “slash and burn” strategy, culling HUNDREDS of book contracts from authors whose work was not yet being trundled into mega-bookstores on trolleys.

My next book, which was already under contract, “Tightrope,” was due to be released one year later as a hardcover, to coincide with the paperback release of “Ordeal.” Instead, “Tightrope” was published as a paperback original (in spite of my contract). It took me *eleven months* to get my editor to finally pay me for that manuscript, and then, they offered me TEN TIMES LESS for my next book, “Torch,” as they had paid for “Ordeal.” Needless to say, it was financially devastating to our family, as both our kids were in college–or soon to be–at the time.

With that, my career was effectively ended. Over the next ten years, I tried EVERYTHING to revive it, changing genres, writing under pseudonyms, writing with co-authors–you name it, I did it. My last book, “Faces of Evil,” was a true-crime I wrote in conjunction with someone else. We were paid an advance of $5,000, which we split down the middle, less the agent’s 15% commission.

I thought my writing life was pretty much over, after that. I took to blogging–as writers do–and became a political activist. My kids graduated college and went on with their own careers and lives. My work as a suspense novelist, with ten published thrillers to my credit, receded into the background of my life, as if someone else had lived it.

And then…a miracle happened: E-books were invented!

In no way had I ever imagined books actually being read someday the way people read books on episodes of “Star Trek.” Neither had the publishing industry, which reeled from the shock and may never recover.

My daughter, Jessica, saw an opportunity for me.  She contacted my literary agent, Al Zuckerman, and has been working with his crack staff at Writers House in New York.  We sent them the paper copies of the books, which they forwarded to a company called Aptara, who handled the electronic conversion.  While this was going on, we found and hired a fantastic graphic designer to create new, original, covers for us.  GraphicXDesigns ( ) did incredible work for us, and we highly recommend them.

We sent Writer’s House all the appropriate Metadata (ISBNs, publisher name, short description of the book, etc), and once the Aptara files were gone over for typos and corrected, the staff at Writer’s House posted my first three novels to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo as EBooks.

Any author can hire a company to digitally convert their work to E-Book formats, on their own.  Any author can find and hire independent editors, cover designers, and copyeditors.

Having access to Writer’s House helped us wade through a lot of the chaff and gave us advisors to help make the best decisions for us.  But any author can get their work up an available for readers to discover.

It’s a whole new world, and I am very excited to be a part of it.

Eventually, we will also publish–for the first time–original books that I’d written but that fell through the cracks during what I call the Lost Decade. And I’m working on a memoir about that and the many other experiences that have given me such an adventurous life. To be published as an e-book, of course.

During the bleak years of that Lost Decade, it never occurred to me that there might actually be hope for my work in the form of something that had not yet even been invented. I simply could not imagine it.

There’s a lesson to be learned in that:  We can never know what lies around the next bend in the road. All we can do is keep on striding forward, and never give up.

For more information, or to find Deanie’s books online, click HERE.


About Deanie Mills

I have led an unexpected life. Grew up in the city, married a cowboy and moved to a remote west Texas ranch. Raised my two amazing children in the country with horses and dogs and cats and wild animals, but at the same time, traveled the country researching crime novels with law enforcement officers of all types and speaking to writers about our craft. An independent and unabashed feminist who opposed the Iraq war, I still stayed married for more than 30 years to the same wonderful man and sent my son to fight with the Marines in Iraq twice. Both my kids are strong and independent too, and remain my biggest fans; they are the accomplishment of which I am most proud, even after publishing eleven books. My daughter pursued her craft, acting, in London, New York, and now, L.A. And I’m still married to the same sexy cowboy.