Perfect on Paper
An author self-publishes her way to success!
“Beer goggles are a lonely girl’s cupid.”
And so begins the mantra of Waverly Bryson after she’s dumped at the altar in Maria Murnane’s debut novel, Perfect on Paper. This humorous story is the tale of Waverly’s efforts to get over the breakup and get on with her newly unexpected life. She suffers through cringe-inducing dates with the help of her amusing yet supportive friends as she tries to figure out if her high-powered job in sports PR really is the perfect job. A new crush adds intrigue along the way as she puts the pieces of a broken yesterday together to create a brand-new tomorrow, one that may hardly be perfect but that’s definitely just right.
What sparked the idea for Perfect on Paper?
Maria Murnane: I guess you could say about eight years of working and being single in San Francisco was what really motivated me to write this book. It just got to the point where I had so many funny stories running around in my head that I needed to do something with them. But I was working full-time and never really had the time, and I didn’t know exactly what the plot would be.
Then one day I quit my PR job because I just, well, hated it, and I literally had no idea what I wanted to do next. So I bought a ticket to go to Argentina by myself for a couple of weeks. And after two weeks, I loved it so much there that I decided to stay for a year. I got a job playing semipro soccer (random, but fun), and after I’d been doing that for a few months, I realized that if I was ever going to write a book, that was the time. So I just started writing and writing and writing, and eventually I had the first draft of what would eventually become Perfect on Paper.
Each chapter incorporates a ‘notecard’ in the beginning. How does that play into the theme of Perfect on Paper?
MM: The Honey notes represent a lot of what the book is about – funny and not-so-funny observations about how many things can look great on paper, but that’s about as far as their perfection goes. I used to complain a lot about how there are no good greeting cards for single women, so I thought including them in the book somehow would be a good idea, and then they sort of took on a life of their own.
How long did it take you to write Perfect on Paper once the idea struck you? Any roadblocks in the process?
MM: I wrote the first draft in about four months and spent about another 10 months total after that rewriting. When I would hit a roadblock and couldn’t think of what to write next, I would just go back and edit what I’d already written.
Is it true that your dad is your PR guy? How did that come about?
MM: Yes, that is true, and my dad is SO GREAT. The way it came about is a long story, but here goes. After I finished the first draft of the book I came back from Argentina and was lucky enough to sign with an agent pretty quickly. She told me my book was “the one” she’d been waiting on for years, and that mine was the funniest voice she’d heard in ages. She was pretty sure we’d get a two-book deal, so needless to say I was VERY excited. At that point everything sort of seemed like a dream come true. I thought maybe I would even be on Oprah!
But then my agent shopped it to all the major publishing houses, and the reply was pretty unanimous – more or less what everyone said was “this book is very funny and entertaining, but it doesn’t have a unique-enough hook to stand out from the crowd … so sorry, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.” Apparently the chick-lit market was WAY oversaturated b/c of the success of Bridget Jones, and publishers had bought a ton of mediocre manuscripts that didn’t go anywhere. As a result they were cutting back on that type of book right as my agent was contacting them – just my luck. It was sort of like trying to launch a dot-com right after the bust. [[a new pets.com is alive and kicking, and we’re in the middle of Web 2.0, so…]]
So, after that rejection, which was brutal, my agent told me she’d really done all she could do for me and basically gave me the boot. I cried for about three days, and then spent about six months rewriting the book to give it a stronger hook. Then I went to a writers conference and pitched it myself to seven publishing houses, and they all said it sounded great and wanted to read it. So I was so excited again and sent it to all of them. After a couple months I finally heard back from all of them with more or less the same story: Great read. Great writing. Great dialogue. Great humor. Doesn’t stand out enough for us to gamble on, though – sorry.
So once again I was crushed. More tears. Did I mention I’d been living with my parents all that time because I wasn’t making any money? Try doing that in your 30s and see how many dates come knocking on your door. So add “broke,” “dateless” and “living with parents” to “crushed,” and that was me.
Anyhow, I didn’t know what to do at that point, so for about six months I did nothing and left the book sitting on my computer and started doing freelance writing for technology companies to start earning a living again. Then one day my now 72-year-old father (perhaps the nicest man on the planet) sat me down and handed me a book on self-publishing that he had read, along with a little plan he’d written for what I needed to do to publish on my own. He told me he loved my book and that I couldn’t let it go, so he was going to help me publish it myself. It nearly made me cry.
SO after about another six months of thinking about it, I was finally ready to self-publish, so I researched my options, found a designer to do the interior and cover for me, got my friends to proofread the manuscript, had a family friend do my photo, wrote the back cover copy and then finally submitted it to a print-on-demand company for publication.
And then a few weeks after that it was on Amazon, and word seems to be getting around that it is funny and definitely worth a read – yay! So, to FINALLY answer your question, since I have no formal publisher, I’m doing all the marketing on my own, and my dad is helping me. Because I worked in PR for so long, I’m teaching him the ropes, and he is doing great. We joke that he is my unpaid administrative assistant and that I need to double his salary. (I bet if I start calling him my PR guy after this interview, he’ll want me to triple his salary.)
What likenesses do you share with your main character, Waverly? How are you different?
MM: My friends all say that reading Perfect on Paper is like listening to me talk for 320 pages, so that should answer the question! I like to say that Waverly Bryson’s life is essentially my life – if my life were more exciting. Personality-wise we are very similar (I am always making random observations like she does and tend to stick my foot in my mouth a bit too often), but in other ways we are very different. My family situation is a good example of that – my parents have been happily married for nearly 45 years and are extremely supportive of me, and I have two sisters and a brother who are awesome, as are their spouses and kids. Waverly sort of missed out on that, but I felt it made the story more interesting to make her an only child with a less-than-perfect relationship with her dad.
What was Waverly’s worst date in the book? Did you take any real-life examples to create Waverly’s dating scenes?
MM: Her worst date? Hmm, that would be a good question to put to the readers. And, yes, sad to say that most of those were ripped right from the headlines of my life.
If you could have one wish for Waverly, what would it be?
MM: Probably that she be a bit more like her friend Andie, who isn’t really based anyone in particular from my life – I guess you could say Andie’s the friend I’ve always wished I had, someone who seriously doesn’t care at all about what anyone thinks about her. Sometimes I wish I could be more like that.
Is there another “misadventures of Waverly” in the works? When can we expect to see that?
MM: A lot of people have asked me if I’m going to write a sequel – everyone seems to want to know what happens to Waverly! I would love to write another book, so we’ll see. But my first priority is getting Waverly’s first misadventures picked up by a publishing house – so, to all you readers out there, please spread the word! (My Web site is mariamurnane.com, and I can be reached that way if anyone would like to contact me about how to help me do that.)