Part 2 of the Interview with Colin Mustful, Publisher…

Part two of my interview with Colin Mustful, this time, his perspective as a publisher.  One thing he did not mention, is that he signed NYT bestseller, Alina Adams, author of Nesting Dolls for her book, My Mother’s Secret, which is for sale at his website here:  Look for a review on Readerly soon, I got my copy!

Thank you so much for letting me ask you questions for writers.  Lots of writers are interested in what it takes to be a small publisher or work with one, but don’t know anyone who is one.  You can share invaluable information to help writers succeed. 🙂

  1. Would you tell us a little bit about your background as a publisher?  What made you decide to become one, how did you get here?

It’s been a long journey that started when I finished my first novel in 2011. I had no idea what to do after I finished the first draft. I started submitting the manuscript to publishers, but I didn’t get any positive responses. Then, in the fall of 2012, I finally heard back from a publisher. They offered me an incredible contract and I was so excited that I signed it even though it required a $4,000 retainer. I didn’t know this at the time, but I had signed a contract with a Vanity Press. When my book was published in October 2013, I didn’t sell any books or have any events, and the press always wanted more money from me. It was an awful experience. 

But, I mention it here because I learned a lot of hard lessons from that experience. It was the catalyst I needed to learn more about ins and outs of book publishing. I used what I learned to self-publish two books. Then, I went back to school and earned an MFA in creative writing with a concentration in publishing. Around the time I graduated, I decided to combine my experience self-publishing with my educational background to start my own independent press.     

  1. What is the most challenging project you have worked on so far? What challenges were involved with it?

The biggest challenge for me has been digital marketing. It’s very easy to spend money on digital marketing, but it’s hard to get a positive return on investment (ROI). There’s a lot of strategy and research that goes into the various platforms and keywords for digital marketing and the best teacher is usually trial-and-error. Sometimes, even hiring an expert in digital marketing can backfire. It’s hard to find what works and it’s easy to spend a lot of money trying to find out. 

  1. You accept submissions from other writers and also indie publish your own books.  Could you tell us a little about how these two things are similar and/or different, and why you decided to do both?

When you self-publish your work, you’re running your own business. Essentially, there’s no difference between self-publishing and publishing. Being the publisher is just about taking control of the process. I can’t tell you how many times work has been rejected by agents and publishers. But now, in an era of digital printing and social media, there are less barriers to entry in publishing. I just decided to take advantage of that. It’s been an incredible amount of hard work to create a company and platform that people want to be a part of, but it’s been incredibly rewarding too. 

  1. Would you mind giving readers/writers an idea of how long the publishing process takes and what is involved between you and the writer?

It varies, but I would estimate that it takes 16-24 months from submission to publication. First, there is the submission process which takes a few months for me to review submissions and finally decide on what I want to publish. Then there’s contract negotiations which could take a day, a week, or a month. Once the contract is signed I insist on doing a developmental edit. This takes me about a month. In the meantime, I ask the author to gather as much useful marketing information as they can. Once I return their manuscript with my edits, it takes a month or two for the author to do a revision. After completing the editing process, we move to book design. This usually takes one to three months. From there it’s on to pre-marketing…things like sending out review copies and adding the book to NetGalley. Pre-marketing starts about six months prior to publication. Finally, in the last three months before publication we move onto heavy direct marketing. This means making announcements and asking our audience to pre-order the book. 

  1. What kinds of projects are you looking for in the future?

Anything and everything. As a small business, I’m always looking to grow and try new things in order to discover new audiences. And, I would like to play a role in sharing more diverse voices and stories with readers. It’s a complicated and significant issue in book publishing and one I’m trying to learn more about while facing many challenges involved in growing a small business. 

  1. What do you think is the most important thing for authors to know about getting their book ready to go out into the world?

Have patience. Find your audience, but don’t force your passion on others. Seek out and accept criticism and feedback. Be prepared for a long journey filled with setbacks and triumphs. But, practically speaking, get help. Find beta readers. Hire an editor or book coach. It will take hard work to get your book published and to make sure it stands out from the hundreds of other books published on a daily basis. But if you follow the process, you’ll succeed. 

  1. How can writers and readers find out more about  you and the books you publish?

We have a lot of information and resources available on our website at Writers and readers can also reach out to me via email at

Interview with author Colin Mustful

This interview is in two parts, because Colin is both an author and a publisher.  This week, we hear from Colin the author:

Colin Mustful is an independent author, historian, editor, and publisher. His writing helps readers learn and understand the complicated and tragic history of settler-colonialism and Native displacement in the Upper Midwest. He has a Master of Arts degree in history and a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. He is also the founder of History Through Fiction, an independent press that publishes high-quality fiction that is rooted in historical research. Mustful is an avid runner and soccer player who lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He believes that learning history is vital to understanding our world today and finding just, long-lasting solutions for the future.

  1. What would you most like readers to know about your books? 

My books focus on a complicated and tragic era of United States history when Indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their homes through federal Indian policy and settler-colonialism. I’m particularly interested in what happened in the Upper Mississippi River Valley and Great Lakes area because that’s where I was born and now live. Specifically, my books, such as Fate of the Dakota and Resisting Removal, examine the U.S. – Dakota War of 1862 and the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850. My goal—my passion—is to discover why these events happened and what we can learn from them. I’m also interested in how this tragic history contributes to the world we live in today and the role I play in perpetuating its legacy—for better or for worse. 

  1. What advice would you give to writers that you wish you had gotten earlier?

You’ll need help. Find writers who have done what you want to do and learn from them. Accept criticism and advice and be willing to pay for expertise when you need it. 

  1.  What is some advice that you think writers should ignore?

Just don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing your goals. Listen to them, take what you can, but then move on. Every author’s journey is unique. You’ll get where you want to go if you just keep working at it. 

  1. Where can readers find out about you and your next project?

Readers can learn more about me at my website, The best way to keep up with what I’m doing is to subscribe to my monthly newsletter which readers can do here:

Book Review: The Bangalore Detective Club by Harini Nagendra

I had the privilege of interviewing Harini for the Read Like a Writer Podcast recently and her interview will be available to listeners in March, in anticipation of her new book, the second in the Bangalore Detective Club series.  

I listened to her debut novel on Audible and found it great fun.  It is a well plotted cozy mystery, set in 1920s India and besides solving a murder her heroine is also battling race and gender inequity.  I do love a Christie style mystery and Nagendra does not disappoint here.  Kaveri, our amateur sleuth, is a woman of education, somewhat a rarity, who also benefits from a loving arranged marriage to Ramu, a local doctor.  They are newlyweds, sort of, having recently officially begun their marriage, though it was arranged previously and they were already technically married.  

At a fancy dress party, the first victim falls and the chase begins. Kaveri decides she must do all she can  to clear the name of a woman of ill-repute who is being blamed and shamed, so she puts her mathematically logical mind to the task, with the help of an older woman who serves as her mentor and is also teaching her how to cook.

It is a fabulous ride through a time and place that Nagendra brings alive on the page for readers.  I am already looking forward to the next book!

PS—there are recipes in the back of the book.  Yay!

Revising is also a Life Skill

It’s time for a true confession.  I recently had to revisit a long held opinion about something and change it.  I know!  Some of you already know that I was a school librarian for a number of years.  In the course of my work as a librarian, I was fortunate enough to attend many conferences.  Second true confession, I love going to conferences.  They are like a candy stores of ideas, but I digress.

When John Green wrote his first few novels, before The Fault in Our Stars, he was a big deal to librarians.  We love great YA writing, and he is a great writer.  So I was excited to see him on panels and in presentations.  Well, I don’t know if it was because he was being guarded by agents and conference VIPs, or if it was because maybe he is a little shy and socially awkward, or maybe I was just having an off day, who knows, he came off as very full of himself whenever I saw him speak.  So, I started avoiding his presentations at conferences.  

I just didn’t like him.  I liked his books, and I even started watching his Crash Course videos, because our AP teachers used them in class, but I just couldn’t warm up to him as a person. I hung on to that first and second impression I had of him being kind of arrogant.

Well, fast forward to one of my recent  morning runs.  I sometimes listen to Guy Raz’s How I Built This and the guests for an episode were John Green and his brother Hank, the Vlog Brothers. I grudgingly decided to listen.  I was curious about their business Complexly, you can probably guess why…

I am so glad I did.  I learned a lot of things about John Green that I never knew, like for instance that it takes a whole team to make those Crash Course videos and they donate most of the profits from their businesses to charity.  Suffice it to say, I had to revise my opinion of John Green.  It turns out, he is actually a great guy who suffers from some anxiety, so maybe that’s why he seemed arrogant the first few times I saw him.  It was early in his career, so who knows.  The point is, I had to revise my thinking about something when I received new information that challenged my beliefs.

So, it is true we all have to revise our opinions occasionally, but what does this have to do with writing?  Everything.  Sometimes when we revise, we have to throw out a whole lot of stuff.  Stuff we might be attached to.  I was pretty attached to my opinion of John Green.  I like being an outlier, so I liked thinking that I wasn’t swayed by his epic writing talent and extreme popularity, I was DIFFERENT. But when I learned more facts, I decided I was wrong and that my opinion had changed.  

Maybe you’ve gotten some tough feedback about something in your story not working.  But I am DIFFERENT, you say to yourself.  Maybe you are, but is there a chance something really  isn’t working and needs to be revised?  Is it possible that you need to throw out some much beloved scenes because they don’t advance the plot, even though you love them? 

It’s hard to let go, but it is also freeing.  Letting go of something means having the ability to hold onto something else.  I can let go of thinking John Green is arrogant and hold onto the love I have for his books and videos, and his mission to keep educational content forever free.  Teachers need all the help they can get!

What can you let go of in your current WIP? What can you hold onto?

Want to Figure out how much to write each session to hit your writing goals?

Get your own copy of the calculator here.

Know when to quit…

Reading this book about knowing when to quit combined with a podcast about how to build your writing habit got me thinking.  Do you know when to quit?

I don’t mean you should quit writing.  I mean quit doing something that keeps you from writing.  Just like our main characters, we have choices.  When we choose one thing we don’t choose another thing.  

So maybe in order to make writing time, I don’t cook a recipe for dinner that takes an hour.  I cook something that will be ready in thirty minutes and use the other thirty for writing. Or I quit washing my hair every day;  I get some dry shampoo and use that 20-40 minutes to write instead. You might decide to quit doom scrolling on social media or playing Wordle, or any number of things that you don’t really care about and use that time to write your novel.

There’s another way to look at quitting in the context of writing. Sometimes we do things that “seem” like we are writing, but we are not writing. Like doing extra research, all the time.  Don’t get me wrong, I love research and I think it is important, but quit trying to get the setting perfect before you let yourself begin writing the story.  Write, and if you get to something you don’t know, put a “TK” in the text and keep going.  Highlight it or put a comment, whatever you need to do to come back to it later.  In my own writing, I will put something in all caps like AAA, so that when I am editing later, I see it.

If your main conflict isn’t working, or you need a new inciting incident, quit the one that is holding you back and create a new one. Quit the outline that no longer works or the subplot that seems cliche and make something better.

Knowing when to quit one thing and pivot to another is the part of the art of attaining big goals.  You can’t do all the things—choose the ones you want to do and do those!

Sometimes when you quit something that isn’t working, you give yourself the gift of time and freedom to choose something that does work.

Cause and Effect is Your Friend

I have been working with authors for a while now.  One of my favorite things to do is a manuscript review.  Lots of coaches don’t like doing them, but I love getting the complete picture of the work so we can take it apart and figure out how to put it together in revision that will make it a wonderful novel.

One of the most common issues authors have is a break down in the cause and effect chain of their novel.  It becomes a series of events.  This happens and then this happens, and then this happens. Once you  have a draft and you are looking at it, think about how your main character will move through the story and experience character growth.  Each action/decision needs to CAUSE what will happen next. If you take this down even further, in each scene, there should also be a cause and effect chain.  Something happens in a scene that causes something else, that leads to conflict, then resolution.  It happens over and over again in a novel, both on a micro and a macro level.  

One of the quickest ways to check yourself on this is to write your novel synopsis.  If you can write a synopsis in which each plot point logically leads to what happens next, you probably have a pretty good chain of cause and effect.  If you can’t or if it falls apart after the first 10% of the book, it may be time to have a rethink.

Reach out if you think a Manuscript Review might be just the thing you need to get your novel on track this year. You can sign up to chat with me about your book.

Book Review: Trust by Hernan Diaz

This book is fantastic.  It is historical fiction that is also literary and it contains so much fodder for great discussions.  I hope you and some friends will read it and discuss it.  It will be featured in an upcoming episode of the Read Like a Writer Book Club podcast, so stay tuned!

The structure is challenging, but stick with it.  The novel is written in four sections, of which the first one is a novel within a novel.  Even this novel within doesn’t follow the “rules” of genre fiction.  There is no inciting incident, no escalation, etc.  There is a plot, but it is an interior plot with exterior consequences. The second section is a partially completed memoir by the supposedly real person that the novel was about.  The third section is the story of a woman who, as it turns out, knows the whole truth, or as near to it as anyone in this book can.  The fourth section is the missing journal of the wife of the person whose memoir is in section 2.  Don’t worry, it all makes sense when you read it. 

Trust has been on tons of best of lists and it totally deserves it.  The writing is beautiful, but the message is also clear and vital and relevant.  Just to give you an idea, here is a quotation.  This comes from the third section, when Ida becomes the secretary for Andrew Bevel, the ostensible main character, though I would argue Ida is the main character of the novel.  She is taking dictation from him as he wants to write a memoir about his life to rebut what he thinks is a slanderous novel written about him and his wife (the first part of the novel).  She is reading over the pages and editing them.

“But reading these pages, it seems that more than vindicating Mildred [his wife] he wanted to turn her into a completely unremarkable, safe character—just like the wives in the autobiographies of the Great Men I read during that time to come up with Bevel’s voice. Put her in her place.”  page 300.

Isn’t this what has happened to women, and others, all throughout history? The men, usually men, usually white, usually rich, get to decide what gets told. Wait until you read the last section of this book, you will love it as much as I did.

Here are some discussion questions for your book club:

  1. What did you think about the structure of this novel?  Do you think it would have been as effective written another way?  Why or why not?
  2. Who do you think the main character is?  What evidence would you use to make your case?
  3. What similarities and differences do you see between Helen and Mildred?  Between Rask and Bevel?  Why do we feel compelled to name the men by their surnames and the women by their first names?
  4. What about Jack?  What was his purpose in the story?
  5. If you were casting a movie, who would you cast as each of the main characters and why?

You’re reading a fancy book, why not have a fancy cookie with your tea?

Recipe:  Fig and Cherry Cookie Pies 

Adapted from the NY Times


3 cups/408 grams all-purpose flour, 

¾ cup/92 grams confectioners’ sugar

¾ teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/256 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

3 large egg yolks

5 tablespoons/75 grams heavy cream, plus more as needed


½ cup/82 grams loosely packed chopped dried figs, hard stems removed (about 6 dried figs)

½ cup/80 grams dried sweetened sour cherries or cranberries, chopped

¼ cup/38 grams raw or roasted almonds

3 tablespoons/41 grams dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons Kirsch or other cherry liqueur

1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (from 1 orange)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)


1 cup/123 grams confectioners’ sugar, sifted

½ teaspoon almond extract

3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream



Combine the flour, confectioners’ sugar and salt in a bowl. Add the butter and rub with your fingers until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the egg yolks and cream, and stir with a fork just until the dough starts to come together. Add more cream if necessary, but stop before the dough is too wet. Form it into two disks and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 2 hours.


Combine the figs, cherries and 1¼ cups water In a small bowl and microwave for 1 minute.  Stir well and let sit while the dough is chilling. Transfer to a blender and add the almonds, brown sugar, rum, orange zest, cinnamon and salt, and pulse until you have a relatively smooth paste.  You may use a hand blender.  It will be very thick, don’t let that scare you.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working with 1 ball at a time, roll the dough out to ⅛-inch thickness on a very lightly floured surface. Use a 2¼-inch cookie cutter or a glass to cut out circles. Transfer the circles to the prepared baking sheet. Scoop about a scant 2 teaspoons of filling onto half of the dough circles. Brush the edges of the filled circles with a bit of cream and fold over making a half circle, gently pressing the edges with a fork to seal. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (If the dough becomes too soft, pop it into the fridge to firm up before continuing.) You can reroll and cut the dough scraps one time.

Chill the pies for at least 30 minutes. While the cookies chill, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush the top of each cookie with cream. Bake until they’re golden and crisp, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely.


 In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, almond extract and 3 tablespoons cream. The icing should be spreadable. Spread a bit of the glaze on each cookie Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for a month. These keep wonderfully at room temperature.

Mystery and Thriller Round up for 2022

It is time for year end lists!  Here’s my list of favorite mysteries and thrillers I read in  2022.  NOTE—I read these in 2022, some of them were published earlier…

Each of these are a great mini-masterclass for mystery writers, too. Each does a wonderful job of keeping the reader curious, building suspense, but without frustrating the reader. Several of them are also playing with form, like epistolary or traditional historical.  If you want to write a great mystery or just get lost in one for a while, these are all excellent choices. All of these titles are in our shop in the footer.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

An excellent use of the epistolary form, and just a fun mystery with a load of crazy characters who will keep you guessing.  Definitely recommended for Cozy fans…

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Domestic Thriller by the current Queen of the Genre in my opinion.  So many family secrets…but somehow all loose ends are explained and tied up at the end.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

Need a book that will make you stay up until 2 AM?  Look no further.  This apartment building is creepy and so are the people who live there…

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

You’ll laugh, you’ll tear up, you’ll love every moment you spend with the gang. One of the most fun things about Osman is the observations he makes about the world through the eyes of his characters.  Surrender to it and you won’t be sorry.

Apothecary Melchior and the Mystery of St. Olaf’s Church by Indrek Hargla

English translation by Adam Cullen, English version published by Peter Owen

A finely plotted traditional medieval whodunit.  If you’ve been wishing for a new Father Cædful, try Apothecary Melchior…

Fatherland by Robert Harris

Gritty, alternative history mystery set in the Berlin of a partially victorious Third Reich.  The Cold War looks a little different and the Americans under President Joe Kennedy (mobster father of John, Ted, and Robert) is cozying up to the fascists. The book is simply fantastic and also a little frightening because of the way Harris understands human nature.