Balboa Island isn’t too shabby a place to live if you are banished to the colonies as I was. As a result of my divorce I had to agree to live in America with our three children. Chance brought me to this small island that is part of Newport Beach on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the ritziest coastal town in Orange County, California.
A virtual village, quaint and stunningly beautiful, Balboa is a place where nothing untoward ever, ever happens. Several of the beach “cottages” are stylish mansions with yachts bobbing at private docks and everyone goes to bed at 10 p.m. When I lived there crime was non-existent except for an occasional purloined bicycle. In short, the perfect setting for a murder or two.
I’d spent decades as a journalist and investigative reporter in foreign countries. After ghostwriting a crime novel for a Beverly Hills financier who never read books but wanted his name on one I decided I liked creating crime fiction. I’d developed a series character for him hoping we’d continue, and I was paid, to boot. But he declined, thus I plunged into writing my own first mystery.
A terrorist plot seemed the most shocking event to wake up the Balboa islanders but after meeting many authors who were writing violent, brutal thrillers I changed my mind. In my bones are the books of Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell. M.C. Beaton and P.D. James whose gentler murders fit more into the solve-the- puzzle, cat-and-mouse games I prefer rather than the graphic police procedurals and PI books so popular in the U.S.
Like most authors I bring personal experiences to my work and I wanted to establish a strong series character so I flew my amateur sleuth, Tosca Trevant, from Cornwall and dumped her onto Balboa Island where she grumbles about the lack of rain.
I asked my friend, poet and professor Pol Hodge in Redruth who teaches Cornish, for a supply of Cornish cuss words for my main character. He sent two pages of unbelievably descriptive and naughty ones – just as well the translations aren’t too precise -- and I got to work on plot and setting.
After the book was polished I paid a professional editor to give it a look. He said I’d broken most of the Rules of Writing a Mystery; I had not followed The Formula publishers insisted upon; and that I was too free-wheeling with my character’s humor. He suggested I should start all over again. Fat chance.
Next, there was the dreaded Perfect Query to be created. Queries to agents must be specific, beautifully shaped, and, again, adhere to their golden rules as posted on their web sites. This time I paid great attention, followed the submission guidelines, reluctantly whittled my query prose down to the required three paragraphs, and made up a list of unsuspecting agents.
There must be five thousand of them in America. The list was so lengthy I went to sleep reading it. I finally got it down to 60 agents after spending weeks checking each of their websites, a time-consuming exercise but no way around it. I queried six simultaneously. I’d already talked to two agents – at $50 a pop - at writers’ conferences, which are so frequent here one’s bank balance is constantly depleted.
No takers. I queried 45 of the 60 before giving up. Many sent me form letters of rejection, two asked for chapters before telling me No Thanks, and several never answered at all. It was depressing but my fellow writers urged me to keep submitting. So I next tried the small presses that can be approached directly without an agent. However, a few of those too have strict rules – no violence, no cruelty to animals, no swearing (Oh dear), and no sex. That last bit was easy. I was British, after all.
After three editors rejected me the next on my list was Mainly Murder Press. Frankly, I fell in love with the name. It stated exactly and honestly what it published, and was on the East coast where all the big publishers were located, a fact that appealed to my snobbish instincts. MMP only produces 12-15 books a year and its site stated “Absolutely No Submissions Until Late Spring.” Gosh. It was only January and I was impatient. Then I thought, well, it may be January on the East Coast but I was in Southern California and the daffodils were already nodding their lovely heads. I sent my query in, claiming that where I live it was already late spring.
The very next day MMP asked for chapters, then the full manuscript, and one week later I’d signed a 3-book contract. They thought my book was “wonderful”! All of their editors and beta readers ( a new term to me) loved “Digging Too Deep,” and I was in heaven. I liked the book cover design although I requested the flag of Cornwall be added unobtrusively somewhere; the font was fine, and I waited anxiously for their digital ARC I was to send out to reviewers.
MMP do not promote nor send ARCs out themselves except for Untreed Reads, but it does distribute through Ingram, which was peachy, I thought. This publisher also does not give author advances but pays standard royalties and mails catalogues to 650 independent U.S. bookstores, and to 4,000 public libraries.
Alas, the ARCs arrived barely a week before the paperback was published. Most reviewers refuse to accept such tardiness so I missed out on many reviews. However, I did my best. I thought that the bookstore on Balboa Island would orders dozens of copies. Ha! I took the book in, asked them to stock it, and said, May I please have a book signing here?
Again, I’d done everything wrong. I was told by the bookstore manager, No, no, you have to create some buzz first! So I called a couple of local editors I knew. After they reviewed the book in their newspapers I took the clippings to the bookstore, thrust them into the owner’s hand, and said, “Right. Here’s your buzz.” Still no interest in stocking my masterpiece.
Nevertheless, I lined up more signings. One of the most enjoyable was at the annual Gathering of the California Cornish Cousins, a sly move, I admit, but I sold a lot of books. Thinking outside the box, I also joined the Cornish-American Heritage Society whose annual meeting includes a Cornish pasty-tossing contest.
So, while I am still ghostwriting biographies for a living I have managed to publish two crime novels and am working on the third in the Tosca Trevant series. After all, I have only used up nine Cornish cuss words.
Jill's Website: jillamadiomysteries.com
Jill's Website: jillamadiomysteries.com
Jill Amadio is from Cornwall, U.K. but unlike her amateur sleuth she is far less grumpy. The second in the award-winning Tosca Trevant mystery series was released this month. A reporter in the U.K., Spain, Colombia, Thailand, and the U.S., Jill writes a column for Mystery People, and narrates audiobooks. She lives in Southern California where her protagonist cusses mildly in the Cornish language while brewing tongue-curling mead.