Jamie McGuire: The Best-Selling Author on 'How I Did It'


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I didn’t want to be a writer; growing up in a small farm community in rural Oklahoma, it never occurred to me that I could. Writing was for intellectuals, Ivy League graduates—not me. I dreamed of being a famous singer, a pet adoption agency owner or a marine biologist who rocked a wet suit at Sea World.

The day I told my best friend Beth about a story that had been simmering in my head for five years was the first day of the rest of my life. Beth insisted I sit down and write, so I did. Chapter after chapter arrived in Beth’s inbox, yet she always begged for more. I obsessed about the story, so much so that my not-so-enthusiastic friends began grumbling to each other, wishing I would stop talking about that damned book. This work in progress, Providence, consumed me. Eleven weeks and 184,000 words later, I typed: The End.

Check out previous installments of our 'How I Did It' series with Barbara Freethy and Jonathan Evison.

The manuscript on my computer would be the next Twilight. I was sure of it.

I researched as much as I could about getting an agent—from writing a synopsis and a query letter to following agent blogs. I sent out 15 queries, and 14 rejection letters came back. The last, however, was not a rejection. Agent Jennifer Jackson offered me advice, encouragement and steered me in the right direction. Providence’s word count was enormous for a debut novel, so she suggested I cut it in half or break it down into two volumes. In hindsight, I wish I had done the latter. Instead, 60,000 words met their demise. After completing the revisions, I sat down to write my second round of query letters.

I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to.

McGuire Beautiful Disaster Instead, I decided to write a different story—something less paranormal, something more like I used to write when I was in high school. I titled the new book Red Flag and, without so much as an outline, began typing. Seven weeks later, Red Flag became Beautiful Disaster. The plot wasn’t as intricate as that of Providence, but it sure was a hell of a lot of fun to read.

A couple of months later, I decided to self-publish Providence but struggled with figuring out the right approach. Ebooks weren’t something I knew much about, so I focused on print. That first year, I might have sold 300 copies. I also became friendly with self-published author JR Rain and he didn’t mince words: If I didn’t format my book as an eBook and upload it to every digital retailer I could find, I was nuts.

I began writing Providence in January 2009 and published it as an eBook a little more than a year later. In the first two weeks, I sold 17 copies. The next month, I more than doubled that number. For the first time, I realized I could supplement my income with my books. Readers began asking for the sequel, so I started Requiem. Almost a year later, while in the editing stages of Requiem, I thought about Beautiful Disaster. Even though the plot wasn’t as elaborate, I thought that this offbeat contemporary romance could still find an audience. In May 2010, I uploaded Beautiful Disaster to Amazon. I sold a few copies that month. In June, I sold even more. In July, I sold over 6,000 copies.

Beautiful Disaster was never advertised, nor was it part of an Amazon Daily Deal or promotion. But word of mouth was strong and it all began with a single fan, who mentioned Beautiful Disaster on an Amazon romance forum. I watched my sales numbers rise, then plateau, and then rise again. This cycle played out over and over as my readers took the time to share their excitement for the book. Even a negative review spurred readers to buy the book—so they could see for themselves if they would feel the same.

Month after month, the book I never intended to publish climbed the charts. A year later, Beautiful Disaster finally broke Amazon’s top 100 and, soon after, hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. Sales picked up dramatically on Barnes & Noble as well.

Soon producers and foreign publishers began to contact me on Facebook, and I knew I needed an agent. EL James connected me with her agency, Valerie Hoskins Associates, and I spoke with Rebecca Watson for the first time. Publishers began contacting Rebecca and, three and a half years after writing the first sentence of my first novel, I was published through a big six publisher, Atria Books, and the film rights were optioned by Warner Brothers.

The success of Beautiful Disaster isn’t my doing at all. The readers are the foundation for Beautiful Disaster’s success. It was the readers’ love for a story that pushed it through the top soil and into the sun. They are the reason I can stay home and write full time, and the reason Travis will now get a voice in Walking Disaster. I owe everything to them.

Jamie McGuire is the New York Times bestselling author of Beautiful Disaster, Providence, Requiem and Eden. She and her husband Jeff live with their children just outside Enid, Oklahoma with four dogs, four horses and a cat named Rooster. Please visit JamieMcGuire.com.

Author photo courtesy of Trisha Johnson.



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