Author Lloyd Devereux Richards of the BookTok hit Stone Maidens & the just released sequel Maidens of the Cave (Harper Collins, William Morrow imprint)
Editors Note: I’m grateful for Mr. Richards’ important tip. Who do you know who makes BookTok videos? If you are a BookTok videographer, we’d love to talk with you.
Mobilize Readers with BookTok
By Lloyd Devereux Richards
I wrote my first novel Stone Maidens during after-work hours and on weekends, when I was a full-time attorney in Montpelier, Vermont who had three school age children. I knew nothing about writing a novel, but I drew inspiration from my own experiences. When I was in law school, there were several unsolved murders of coeds in southern Indiana’s hardwood forests near where I first worked as a law clerk for an appellate judge. I happened to know one of the female victims, a survivor of a vicious attack, and I met with the Indiana police detectives investigating the case. Motivated by the vicious attack on my friend, I set out to write a crime novel.
I had no previous writing experience, so I worked with a teacher at a local creative writing school who helped me to learn the many aspects of writing a crime thriller, including plot and character development, pace, the mechanics of weaving back story into the front story, and effective dialogue. I did quite a bit of research on police procedures and forensic science by ordering texts and using the Internet.
Even though I had a fulltime job I was fanatical about pursuing my creative writing. I made every mistake that a person can while learning how to develop the story and keep the reader’s attention. Writing my first book, Stone Maidens, took me 14 years working nights and weekends. I wrote in a ‘cold attic’ here in Vermont, so-called because the second story ceiling of the house was heavily insulated but the attic space itself was not. I wore fingerless mitts and a heavy sweater, sitting hunched over the keyboard, typing while exhaling frosted breaths. In summer I typed on, with three fans aimed squarely on me and one fan directly on the IBM computer so the hard drive wouldn’t fry. For 14 years I worked this way, from 1998 to 2012.
For an unknown writer to secure the services of a literary agent is a daunting process, especially since there were no agency websites to electronically submit chapters to when I’d completed Stone Maidens. I had to send out chapters by the U.S. Mail, including a self-addressed, stamped envelope, paying $6.50 in postage for each, to various agencies. Over the next six months, almost all of them rejected me. My mailman was not a big fan of mine, having to deliver piles of returned envelopes containing rejected chapters to my doorstep.
Until one day, I received a phone call from Elisabeth Weed, a literary agent in New York City. She loved my writing and the book. I not only had an agent, but Elisabeth dug in and edited the entire manuscript with a sharp pencil.
When Stone Maidens finally published in 2012, it sold reasonably well in its first year, but soon sales declined and then practically disappeared. Nevertheless, I was so pleased to have successfully published a novel. I had an idea for a sequel and began writing, although Stone Maidens was no longer on anyone’s radar. I worked on Maidens of the Cavefor six years, fully enjoying the writing process again. I completed it last summer, when monthly book sales of Stone Maidens were often zero. I didn’t care. I loved figuring out the twists and turns to Maidens of the Cave.
Around that same time, my daughter Marguerite, who also lives in Montpelier, Vermont, said she’d like to make a TikTok video. I didn’t know what she meant. This past winter I finally agreed to let her record while I was taking notes and writing correspondence in my attic lair. Several days later she phoned me to come to her condominium. She wanted to show me something. She evidently had a TikTok account, which I knew nothing about. I’m sort of a technophobe luddite.
Marguerite scrolled through her iPhone, showing me hundreds upon hundreds of praiseworthy comments from people on TikTok who loved reading Stone Maidens. Sales skyrocketed. I was stunned. Elated. It was beyond belief. Within a matter of days, the TikTok was viewed by more than 47 million people! That 15-second video made my bookStone Maidens the #1 best seller of all books on Amazon in less than a week. The outpouring of praise from the TikTok community gave me tremendous hope and inspiration. It meant that all these young people were reading books. In a month’s time, Stone Maidens sold over 100,000 copies.
My daughter continues to make TikTok videos with me throughout the release of my sequel Maidens of the Cave, which was published by HarperCollins on August 1 under the William Morrow imprint. I still cannot believe how meteoric the impact of TikTok is in the sale of both Stone Maidens and now Maidens of the Cave. The Booktok community is worldwide, and it is a powerful audience of enthusiasts who I love to connect with, all thanks to the encouragement of my intelligent loving daughter Marguerite. I’m very grateful to her for encouraging me to put myself out there and try different methods of connecting with readers, and I encourage other aspiring writers to do the same.
Born in New York City, Richards worked as an attorney in Vermont and raised three children. Previously, he served as a Senior Law Clerk for an Indiana Court of Appeals judge, researching and writing drafts for dozens of published opinions, including the appeal of a serial killer sentenced to death and subsequently electrocuted.
Before practicing law, Richards traveled extensively through Europe, Africa, and Central America, journal writing and bird watching. He enjoys hiking, writing poetry and sketching pen and ink drawings. He lives with his wife Cameron O’Connor and their two dogs in Montpelier, Vermont.