Grace Topping is a recovering technical writer and IT project manager accustomed to writing lean, boring documents. Now she’s a USA Today bestselling author of the Laura Bishop home staging cozy mystery series where she kills off characters who remind her of people she dealt with during her career. Learn more about her and her books at her website.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender
People often say they would like to write a book or that they are writing one. But statistics show that a whopping ninety-seven percent of people who start a book never finish it. Startling statistics. It made me wonder what enabled me to write a book and have it published and not end up part of the ninety-seven percent.
I don’t have outstanding writing talent, nor do I possess compelling stories that nearly write themselves. I spent a career writing technical manuals, procedural guides, and policy. All pretty boring stuff. And although that experience helped me develop a good sense of grammar and organization, it didn’t help move me into writing anything that required some imagination—especially writing murder mysteries. What if I had thought I couldn’t write fiction?
So what did I possess that helped me become a published author? I can only chalk it up to sheer stubbornness. I was like the character in the film, Galaxy Quest, who continually states, “Never give up, never surrender.” Once I decided to write a cozy mystery, I was just too stubborn to give up. What if I hadn’t been so stubborn?
I began my mystery-writing journey when I signed up for an online course on mystery writing through my local community college. The course required work, and I noticed as the course progressed how many people began dropping out. I kept at it and came out of it with a complete outline for my mystery. What if I had found the course too much work and quit?
With the outline, I had a road map for my story. It didn’t take me long to flesh it out, but when I finished the complete first draft and wrote The End, I only had 45,000 words. A far cry from the 70,000 words required by most publishers for a cozy mystery. What if I had decided I didn’t have anything more to add to the story and had given up?
So I brainstormed and thought of things I could add. Some of my ideas were pretty lame, but somehow I got them to work. I polished my manuscript and gave it to five friends to read and give me feedback. They were supportive and gave me suggestions on which to base changes. What if I had been reluctant to show my work to anyone or been discouraged by their comments and stopped there?
I kept learning all I could about writing novels, specifically mysteries, and attended several mystery conferences. I met other aspiring writers there and formed friendships. They encouraged me and offered to read my manuscript and provide feedback—this time from experienced mystery writers. I took their suggestions and started rewriting. What if I had been reluctant to attend a conference or had been too shy to approach other writers?
Having made strides in my writing, I joined professional organizations that support mystery writers, specifically Sisters in Crime (SINC) and Mystery Writers of America. Through SINC, I discovered an online chapter, the Guppies, that consisted of unpublished mystery writers helping each other to move ahead. They kept me going when I got discouraged. What if I had viewed myself as unworthy of being a member of a professional organization?
Throughout the intervening years, ten in fact, I learned much about writing mysteries. I revised my first manuscript thirty-eight times. What if I had stopped at version ten, twenty, or even thirty-seven?
Then I took the next hard step—querying agents requesting representation. I sent out queries, week after week, sometimes hearing no thanks, and other times hearing nothing at all. What if I decided I couldn’t deal with rejection?
No matter what, I didn’t give up, and when that call came from an agent saying that she liked my manuscript and wanted to represent me, I was sure glad I hadn’t. She sold my manuscript to a small publisher, and my first book, Staging is Murder came out—almost ten years from the month I completed that online course. It became an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Mystery and a USA Today bestseller. My second book, Staging Wars, came out April 2020. This past April, Upstaged by Murder was published.
So if you want to write a mystery or accomplish anything else, remember, never give up, never surrender.
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
Upstaged by Murder
A Laura Bishop Home Staging Cozy Mystery, Book 3
When professional home stager Laura Bishop enters a competition to become the next TV home staging star, she figures it will be murder—but she doesn’t expect it to include a body. As tensions rise and rivalries rage, a coded notebook flips the script and Laura’s on the case.
But she’s not alone. Her closest confidantes pitch in by sleuthing, eavesdropping, and even staging a sting to protect those near and dear. Yet she’s still corralling a runaway teen, sparring with a handsome detective, and handling the shock of her life with a blast from her past. All while creating a cozy cabin retreat fit for first place.
Amidst constant cameras and glaring lights, Laura tries to style the stage and pull back the curtain on a killer before her career—and her life—get cut.