Mystery Writers Learn Hard Lesson
Posted on December 28, 2020
Tim Woodward’s new columns will alternate with previously published “Woodward Classics” for the duration of the pandemic.
All writers dream of seeing their books in print. It’s never been easy, and in today’s publishing world it’s more difficult than ever.
Ken Scherer and Ted Bohlman learned that the hard way. Their efforts to get their book printed are a study in frustration. They never gave up, though, and today their book is a reality.
Scherer and Bohlman, both of Boise, are the authors of “The Sixth Angel,” a murder mystery.
A couple of years ago, they asked me to read and critique their manuscript. I thought it was as good as some books I’ve read by well known mystery writers. If you’re a book lover and didn’t get the book you wanted for Christmas, you might want to consider it.
Scherer is a salesman at Boise’s MacLife store. Bohlman is a retired physician and a longtime customer there. He was the one who came up with the idea for the book.
“I enjoy reading murder mysteries,” he said. “It’s the same thing that attracted me to being an internal medicine doctor – problems, clues, solve the problem. I thought there had to be a mystery with a twist no one has thought of, and I was able to come up with one.”
That was nearly four years ago. Bohlman knew Scherer had previously written and self-published two books, so he approached him with his idea.
“He told me the plot, and honestly I wasn’t that interested in working on it,” Scherer said. “Then Ted had some health problems and had to retire early. I thought, ‘how long is he going to be around? Maybe I’d better do this.’”
The result is, in Scherer’s words, a book that “brings the Old West forward in modern times.” Set in Burns, Ore., in the 1980s, it’s both a mystery and a love story featuring an Old West-style sheriff and an eastern reporter who moves west seeking a simpler way of life.
“We wanted a small town surrounded by a large geographic area,” Bohlman said. “And it just kind of fit as a little town where you could have someone like a handsome sheriff in a Louie L’Amour story and where crazy things could still happen.”
Crazy things as in a murder that proves to be the latest in a series of murders, an unlikely romance between a stoic, small-town sheriff and a big city reporter, and an ending you don’t see coming until, well, the ending.
Why the 1980s?
“We chose the ‘80s because there were no cell phones, radio reception was poor and you couldn’t just put the facts in a computer and solve the problem,” Scherer said. “It made solving the case more challenging.”
Maybe not as challenging as trying to get the book published. That was throw-the-mansucript-in-a-fire challenging.
First, the prospective authors needed an editor. The one they hired kept the manuscript for three months.
“She tore it apart,” Scherer said. “We rewrote it incorporating her ideas, which was a lot of work. It was too long, so I took out about about 20,000 words.”
The editor charged them $4,500.
Then they needed an agent.
“You have to have an agent because a publisher won’t talk to you without one,” Scherer said. “We submitted letters to something like 170 agents over six months. Only four of them answered. Agencies get something like 650,000 requests a year, and they just don’t have the time.”
One of the four agencies that did answer “thought the book was well written and a good idea,” he continued. “They liked it, but they didn’t think they could sell it.”
“I don’t know what the formula is. I don’t know if you have to write about sex and zombies or what. … If you write to publisher and ask them what they didn’t like about your book you won’t hear back from them.”
How frustrating was that?
“On a scale of one to ten, about a 9.9. We got to a point we thought we had pretty good book and no one wanted it.”
After months of trying and being stonewalled, they decided to publish the book themselves through Amazon.
“Amazon has made it ridiculously easy,” Scherer said. “You download a publishing tool, upload your manuscript and it organizes the books into chapters. You do type fonts and sizes and push a publish button that spits out a file. When you create the book, you upload the file and Amazon does all the work from there except the cover, and I designed that myself.”
“The Sixth Angel” is available on Amazon and from Scherer at the MacLife store, 10523 W. Overland. Audio versions are available on Amazon, Audible and Apple. Soft-cover books are priced at $10,99 ($10 at MacLife), the kindle edition at $2.99. The book was published quickly, easily, and eventually might make them a little bit of money.
“When you consider the time that went into writing it and the time working with the editor and trying to get an agent, it might come out to about a nickel an hour,” Scherer said.
Still, they have their book at last. And they’d have had it sooner and with less frustration if they’d self-published in the first place.
For would-be writers facing the obstacles of the traditional publishing world, it’s something to consider.