Marsha Sandoval released her comedy mystery, Cat House: Adventures of a Real Estate Madam, in July 2013. Her character Niki Brooks is a luxury home real estate agent desperate to survive the Great Recession of 2008. She decides to think “outside the house” and reaches the conclusion that selling sex would offer a more steady income than selling foreclosed homes.
“I’ve been a real estate agent for 36 years,” Marsha said. “When the real estate industry imploded, things were scary and difficult. I heard about a real estate agent who had just served six months in a country club type jail for having a call girl business. I thought, ‘That’s how I can survive the recession.’”
Just to be clear, instead of starting a call girl business, Marsha wrote about starting one.
The Pantser Writing Method
She educated herself on how to write a novel. “I found tons of great material by other experienced authors and writing teachers,” she said. “I now know that I used the pantser method of writing – also known as writing by the seat of my pants.”
Marsh’a writing process wasn’t linear. “I’d think of something funny and write a scene about it. Then I had to connect all the scenes together.” That took two years.
Deciding to Self-Publish
At this stage of her life, Marsha didn’t think she had 10 years to go through the submit/reject process. She decided to self-publish, using the supported package offered by iUniverse, a subsidiary of Penguin Books.
“They guided me,” Marsha said. “They never pushed me or said ‘you’re doing it wrong.’ I got constant encouragement.” If Marsha headed down a non-standard path, the folks at iUniverse would inform her of the typical practice, and then step aside to let her make her own decision about it. She retains ownership of all the rights.
“I paid a fee to get help making it better, since I didn’t have any publishing experience. They gave me feedback on editing, length and the cover. They wrote the back cover matter and press release. When I was all done, they helped me format it, get the ISBN number, copyright and Library of Congress number. They took it to market for me on Barnes & Noble, Amazon and their own website bookstore.”
Marsha spoke of an author who had self-published on Amazon and sold 60,000 copies of her book. Her success attracted a traditional publishing house. They offered her an advance, took her book to market and helped her promote it for 30 days.
“After 30 days, they dumped her, and she still had to do everything herself,” Marsha said. “She dropped her contract with that publishing house. She didn’t see the value of selling the rights to her story to get little to no help. Neither do I.”
Her advice for others is to research what works for you. Find a group of writers, as she has done by connecting with the Desert Sleuths chapter of Sisters in Crime. She’s found that writers want each other to succeed. They give each other support and advice. And they’ll be valuable in the word-of-mouth aspect of promoting your published work.
“I have met such wonderful, helpful people who are as excited about my new career and writing as they are your own,” Marsha said. “If you are out there meeting people and getting involved in the writing community, you will find other writers who will help you.”
Her other piece of advice is to find joy in everyday life.
“My daughter discovered at 23 years old that she had an undiagnosed heart defect,” Marsha said. “She had open heart surgery in February 2013. I went through a lot of stress and got sick myself. I would go to this world I created around Niki Brooks. I had fun searching for things to make it funny. Finding happiness is a choice. I choose that choice.”
Marsha wears a bright blue plastic bracelet. When she feels herself going into a negative place, she snaps the bracelet and tells herself to get over it.
“Daily life is full of bad things – fear, desperation, disappointment,” she said. “Give yourself 10 minutes or an hour, and then get over it and move on.”