Monday, October 06, 2008

October 2008 Selection: The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

This month's selection is The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden. Join us on Monday, Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Barnes & Noble in Carolina Place Mall to chat with the author about her breakthrough novel. To RSVP, please e-mail me at

To read more about our selection, read the interview I did with McFadden when she visited Charlotte in July.

Breakthrough author
Self-published author turns story into mainstream success

Some authors put all their drama and intrigue on the page. But for Maryann McFadden, the author of “The Richest Season,” the story of how she became an author is worthy of its own book. This former public relations and marketing professional, who took a twenty year detour as a real estate agent, has written of the most unputdownable books of the season.

“Season” tells the story of what happens when a dutiful wife whose husband works in corporate America dares to dreams about what her life could be now that her kids are grown up and have gone off to college. Faced with an empty nest, Joanna Harrison decides to leave her comfortable life in a New Jersey suburb to discover herself in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. There she discovers depths she had forgotten she had and her life, her husband’s life and the life of the woman she takes care of will never be the same again.

McFadden is clear; “Season” is not an autobiography. “I don’t think a woman has to leave her husband to find herself,” she said during a stop earlier this month at Park Road Books. “But I do think there is immense value in leaving the routine of your day-to-day life so you can pull back and get a grander vision of what your life could be.”

But it was McFadden’s life as a real estate agent that inspired her character’s dilemma. “I remember being with a client and their 4-year-old son was screaming and crying because he didn’t want to move,” McFadden said. “That what made me realize that there was a dynamic here that was worth exploring and a story we had not heard before.”

Rich back story
How the book came to be is another story worth telling. After her kids had grown up she decided to pursue her Master’s degree to teach but it was a writing course that rekindled her passion in the craft of putting words to paper. “Soon I wondered why I ever left writing to begin with,” she said. “I was back in love and had rediscovered a part of myself that I had closed off while I was raising a family.”

“Season” started off as a short story but turned into a 120-page thesis. She tried the traditional route of getting an agent to represent her work to a publishing house to no avail. Finally buoyed by questions of fellow book club members who asked her when she was going to publish and her 50th birthday looming in the near future, McFadden decided to self-publish her book. “Having been in PR I knew what it would take to build buzz around a book,” she said. After a self-financed book tour up and down the east coast, and events with bookstores and book clubs, within seven months an astonishing 2,000 books were sold.

Another key component in her success was getting independent booksellers on the “Season” bandwagon. “Once I read it, I knew I could hand sell it to anyone just based on the story,” said Frank Burlson, a 26-year veteran of Park Roads.
McFadden says she secretly hoped that having been denied the traditional publishing route, she could come in through the back door. “One night I was watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and I said, I’ve got to reach out to agents again’ so I put everything I had done – how many copies were sold, how I marketed the book, reviews from booksellers – everything!” she said. “I e-mailed it to a handful of agents. By the morning I was asked by a top agent for an exclusive.”

The agent asked her to pump up the first chapter and make Joanna’s husband a more prominent character earlier in the book, which was feedback readers had given as well. Soon many of the top houses were in a bidding war for the rights to her novel. McFadden signed a two-book deal with Hyperion Publishing, owned by Disney. McFadden is touring the country, selling the book which she calls “the expanded version” to many of the readers who loved the book the first time around. She’s also working on a second novel, tentatively titled “So Happy Together” which is a story about the sandwich generation.

After the entire struggle, McFadden is serene and sanguine. “After years of effort I can’t believe how lucky I am but this has always been my dream, and I can’t believe I get to live it.”

Want an autographed copy?
Park Road Books has a limited number of signed editions at their store at 4139 Park Road. For more information, visit Or buy your copy at booksellers everywhere and bring it with you on Oct. 20.

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