Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Loss Leader

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." - Earnest Hemingway
© Marta Stephens, 2017 all rights reserved

Years ago, my publisher couldn’t understand why I was nervous about the release of the second book in my Sam Harper Crime Mystery series, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT. I’d worked very hard on it and was confident it was the best I had written up to that point in time, still, I was nervous.  The best way I could explain how I felt to her was by comparing my first novel to a loss leader. You know, the items store managers use to lure or lead customers into their store and sell at a price below its market cost to stimulate other sales of more profitable goods or services. Let’s say a store manager displays 2-liter pop bottles just inside the door for the ridiculous price of $.50 each. He or she will certainly lose money on each bottle sold but will make up the loss from all the other items customers will buy. The old, “Well, while I’m here, I might as well buy…” The strategy is, if customers liked the pop, they won't think twice about paying full price for it next time they shopped.

Maybe not the perfect comparison, but in many ways my first published novel, SILENCED CRY, was a loss leader. At the core of things, everything about my first novel was new to me. I’d never been through an editorial or publishing process. I didn’t know the first thing about book promotion or networking. In fact, the entire process was a completely new  experience.  Although I wouldn’t say I was clueless, I certainly didn’t foresee or anticipate any risks that might come along.  I was a virtual known so if something went terribly wrong—if the book turned out to be a complete failure, only I and a handful of people would know about it. Even fewer would remember it weeks later.

The two most critical things this first novel would determine was whether my writing was marketable and would it create a demand for my work. As it turned out, SILENCED CRY received great reviews and was a successful debut novel. However, by the time my second novel, THE DEVIL CAN WAIT, was ready to go to print, I had certainly become a bit savvier with good reason to worry. This one had to be better. While the main character, Sam Harper, is focused on tracking down a serial killer, all the other characters are consumed by the knowledge of a curse they believe is at the heart of the murders. The plot is a mix of suspense with a bit of the supernatural woven through it for good measure.  Would the traditional mystery lover love it? To my relief, the novel was very well received and was the recipient of the 2009 bronze IPPY. In this case, my “loss leader” had created a demand for book two.

Now, fast forward to the present time. Ironically, I’m reviewing THE DEVIL CAN WAIT and plan to re-release it in a matter of weeks. I’m just as curious now as I was then about reader reaction. It’s been nearly ten years since the book’s original release and I’m not only reaching out to my current readership but hope to also appeal to a new audience. That will always be the greatest challenge.

I pray I have several more novels left in me yet know that with each new release I will bleed and the same questions will roll around in my head. Questions that only time (and readers) will answer.


Marta Stephens is the author of the Sam Harper Crime Mystery Series and SHROUD OF LIES, a Rhonie Lude Mystery. Stephens, a native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, lived in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s but has called Indiana home since the age of four. For more information about the author and her works, visit

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