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April 7, 2017

Making a living at Happily Ever After

Story by Terri Harber Photos by Doug Barker

ThreeBooks

A few years ago, Stephanie Hoffman McManus, 26, was operating a bakery and cake shop in her hometown of Hoquiam. Now she’s attracting attention for a different skill — writing love stories.

She has found a career niche writing “New Adult Romances” — a fairly new publishing category that caters mostly to female readers between the ages of 18 and 30. The term was coined by St. Martin’s Press in a call for novelists to address a market for something a little more mature than the established “Young Adult” category. The themes often include leaving home, embarking on careers and emerging sexuality.

Some of the topics she explores in her writing include loss, depression, abuse, poverty, young pregnancy, single parenting, cancer, war and PTSD. Such struggles not only provide compelling drama, but allow her to shine a brighter light on issues that need society’s attention.

She also enjoys stories about redemption. Her favorite is the Beauty and the Beast tale about a handsome prince made ugly by a spell. After he stops manipulating the beautiful young woman of his dreams to try to make her love him, she sees him heartbroken, realizes she loves him and her love breaks the spell. The attractive pair live happily ever after.

She took up writing as a career about two years ago. “My parents are both big readers, and from an early age we had books in our hands,” she said.

She’s been able to make a profit from novel writing since her first one became available on Amazon.com in April 2014. Some readers purchase hard copies, but most of her novels are sold as e-books. Hoffman McManus credits a good portion of her success to Amazon. She used it to distribute her first novel electronically so friends and family could access “Finding Ever After,” which she started in late 2013. People she didn’t know started reading it and her fan base began to form and grow.

“I let a couple of my friends read it, and they encouraged me to put it out there,” she said. “In the first couple of months it sold thousands of copies. I realized ‘I can do this.’”

Hoffman McManus has completed eight novels and has others in the works. Like most writers in the category, she doesn’t have major publishing houses promoting her books and has to do the marketing herself.

She uses blogs that promote independent authors, social media and more traditional personal appearances. Altogether self-publishing has spawned what Hoffman McManus described as “an explosion” in the field.

While Amazon made it simple to sell one’s own writing, it also caused the market to become saturated. “It’s hard to make yourself stand out,” she said.

She sold off most of her assets related to the bakery, called The Recipe Box, and her parents, both successful business owners, helped her become financially free to move on to her writing career.

Hoffman McManus said she was encouraged to take a career risk and do something that makes her happy.

DSC_9560The first book, “Finding Ever After,” sold nearly 10,000 copies in its first three months. She said her latest offering, “Anywhere But Here,” might surpass the first quarter sales of her first novel.

She is raising her 8-year-old son, Skyler, who she adopted about five years ago, she said. Her parents served as his foster parents for three years before that.

“I was really happy to take over. I just kind of fell in love with him,” she said of the boy.

She works mostly from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. while he’s in school. In addition to writing, she works on marketing, promotion and other matters related to her business. It allows her a good amount of time to spend with Skyler because she can adjust her work schedule as needed to accommodate his needs and activities.

The book promotion sometimes means small giveaways such as bookmarks, lip balm or free e-reads. Photographer friends have taken the cover art for many of her novels and she is involved in the cover designs.

The cover for her first novel was shot behind the 7th Street Theatre in Hoquiam: a nighttime scene in a rainy alley and a pair of sky-high heels left behind, along with a tiara and a pearl necklace. It’s an image that brings to mind a darker version of Cinderella’s flight from the prince as the clock struck midnight.

“Even though I’m doing well with this, I can’t justify spending a couple hundred dollars for a photograph or a cover,” Hoffman McManus said. “I need to make sure this is profitable and not just an expensive hobby.”

Hoffman McManus has spent most of her life in Hoquiam. She only left to attend two years of culinary school in Spokane, where one of her four brothers lives. She is the only daughter of the family.

“I was always outnumbered. They were louder and more outgoing,” she said. “I was the quieter one.”

Her brothers were also fairly protective of her — especially once she started dating.

Though some of her male characters might do things or have experiences similar to those of her brothers or other men she knows, none of the characters in her books are based solely on anyone, Hoffman McManus stressed. But she did create a male character who is a musician and two of her four brothers are in that line of work. One of them helped her write a song included in one of her books.

Hoffman McManus said she might end up living in Olympia or Spokane at some point, but she doesn’t envision a life outside the Evergreen State or far away from her loved ones. She also wants to buy a house for herself and Skyler and they recently moved in with her parents so she can save for it.

“My long-term plan is to just keep writing and telling stories that mean something to me and will hopefully mean something to my readers,” she said. “…While giving my readers the happily ever afters they crave.”

An excerpt from “Anywhere But Here”

“Can we just freeze time?” I asked softly. It was getting later in the afternoon and pretty soon I’d have to leave. I still had homework I’d been putting off all weekend and tomorrow was Monday, which meant I’d avoided it as long as I could. 

He didn’t say anything, just gave me a squeeze and stroked his hand over my hair and down my back to let me know he was feeling it too. After another minute he broke the quiet. “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?” 

“I don’t know.” 

He leaned up on his elbows and looked down at me. “You don’t know? Come on, if you could be anywhere but here, where would you choose?” 

“What’s the point of this?” I asked, amused. 

“It’s a game. Just close your eyes, picture yourself somewhere, the place you want to be most, and tell me where it is.” 

I humored him and closed my eyes, letting my mind take me wherever I wanted to go. Then I opened them. “Right here.” 

He laughed, “I don’t think you understand this game. It’s called anywhere but here.” 

I pushed myself up onto my knees and sat back on my legs. “You told me to close my eyes and picture myself anywhere I wanted. I did. The only thing I see is you. The place I want to be most is wherever you are.” I leaned forward and dropped my hands to the blanket, bringing us nose to nose. “And you’re here, so I’m exactly where I want to be.” 

The last word wasn’t even out of my mouth before he dragged me to his. I fell in a heap on him, and then we were laughing and kissing. 

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