John Hansen Historical Crime Fiction Novels

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What a sobering reality it was when I received my first quarterly sales report on my first book in December 2012. Online, less than a dozen were purchased. At the few book signings I could get, sales were much better, but still far from anything close to financial success. During the year that followed, the shock and disappointment continued even though through my publicist I had been on radio and television several times. Even after I wrote an essay for the Huffington Post at their request, not a single sale was generated after it was published. Were it not for those who asked me “what will you write about next?” and encouraged me to keep at it, I may not have continued writing. I decided to take a hard look at the struggle for success that successful authors encountered. What I found took at least some of the sting out of that first year of disappointment.

Edgar Allan Poe and Jack London are two of my favorite writers. Poe’s first book was self-published because he lacked name recognition. That was in 1827! Even after Poe’s works were published, after he pioneered the short story and detective fiction featuring Inspector LeStrade of the Paris Police, his works weren’t widely recognized until after his death in 1849. The income from writing was so sparse that he lived with an aunt for some time before he could afford his own home.

Jack London became America’s first millionaire author in 1906, which would equate to billionaire status in today’s currency. London wrote his story in third person in the novel, Martin Eden, in which he described bitter years of privation, writing essays and short stories for magazines, the steady stream of pink rejection slips from editors, repeatedly hocking his typewriter and bicycle and taking mind-numbing labor jobs to pay his bills, until eventually, one accepted article led to another, which led to best-selling books and celebrity status. At the pinnacle of success, Martin Eden, a bitter, angry man, took his own life.

Fast-forward to modern times. The late Ann Rule, the most famous and successful true crime writer of our time, was my friend since the early 1980’s. We met when I was a police detective and her writing career was on its way to the top when her book about her personal relationship with serial killer Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me, became a national best seller. I knew Ann previously wrote articles for detective magazines under the pen name Andy Stack in her early years but I didn’t know the whole story. For this blog I called to ask about her early struggles for recognition and success. The price she paid for her success was at least as painful as what either Poe or Jack London suffered: Ann wrote articles for detective magazines for five years before her first article was accepted by True Detective. She was single and supporting herself and five kids at the time. “It was painful, but we made it,” she recalled. I asked Ann how she survived, since it wasn’t from writing. 

“I was a door-to-door survey taker, leaving products for people to try; I would call or return and interview them,” she remembered. “One of the weirdest jobs was giving Rainier beer to men in their homes and then watching and taking notes while they drank. It was scary at times,” Ann laughed. “By not giving up after years of rejections I paid my dues as a writer. The rejection forced my writing to improve and it paid off in the end.” It did indeed. After years of writing detective magazine stories, a long string of best-selling nonfiction crime thrillers followed. Over thirty years later, all of Ann’s books are still in print, here and in many countries outside the U.S. 

An important tip I learned from other successful but less famous authors is to know who our core reading groups are and concentrate on reaching them, rather than take a shotgun approach to marketing. I applied this principle to my historical crime fiction series, The Bluesuit Chronicles, from the start, and guess what – it’s still an uphill climb, I can see the hilltop from my desk now.

John Hansen