Carol Potenza Finds Success in Hearts of the Missing

Author's First Novel awarded Hillerman Prize

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“I was amazed that my story was chosen,” author Carol Potenza explained in an interview with the Matador Messenger when asked how she felt when she was awarded Tony Hillerman award she received for her book Hearts of the Missing in 2017. The mystery crime writer and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at New Mexico State University is also a first-time author for mystery.

Ghost and crime stories that she heard from her sister-in-law inspired Potenza to start writing mystery novels. “She’s a police officer on a Native American Indian Pueblo in New Mexico,” explained Potenza. 

Also, She loved to read murder mysteries. “I was reading one day and thought, ‘I can do that.’ So I tried writing a book. I learned how fictional stories are structured. I joined a writing group and a smaller critique group—and it worked!” Her book Hearts of the Missing was published by Minotaur Books in 2017.

Potenza began her foray into writing with a romance story, before shifting her focus to her mystery writing. “ I was still learning how to write a book. I saw this contest and thought Hearts of the Missing would be perfect for it, so I uploaded it to the contest online, pushed ‘send’, and it won,” she said when asked about the award.

When she learned that she had won she was excited and happy. “When the book was published and I did talks at bookstores and libraries and book clubs about it, I was terrified people wouldn’t like me or my book. But it got easier and easier. The practice helped,” Potenza explained.

Potenza found early financial success with Hearts of the Missing.“It did pretty good for a debut mystery and I made back my advance within a few months,” she explained.

“Eighty percent of first time authors don’t make back their advance, an advance is money paid to an author before their book is published. If the book sells enough copies, the advance money is ‘paid back’ to the publishing house with money made on sales. If the book makes a net profit over the advance, the author gets paid a percentage—usually 10-25% of the cover price. The rest is kept by the publishing house,” Potenza added

 “Hearts of the Missing as well as receiving some great reviews from the publishing industry, including the Library Journal. In fact, there is a website— Worldcat.org— that counts the number of libraries a book is in, and Hearts of the Missing is in 620 all over the world, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand,”  Potenza said in the interview.

Publishing books with a traditional publisher like Minotaur -which Mrs. Potenza has received her book published with- is difficult. “With a big traditional publisher, the author has to have an agent who will take your book to the publisher and ‘pitch’ it. If it is something the publisher thinks will sell and make money, they will buy it, but only a fraction of submitted manuscripts ever get selected and published,” Potenza explained when asked about publishing books.

“I finished the second book in the series, but my publisher did not buy it. It took me over a year to write it and four more months before they told me they did not want to publish it,” Mrs. Potenza stated when asked about her next novel

 Her agent, who has been in the publishing business for over twenty-five years, loved the story in the second book and is encouraging her to write a new series. “Rejection is not unusual in the publishing industry, and if you let it get you down or stop writing because of it, then you don’t grow as a writer or a person. And who knows? Maybe someday I will self-publish the second and third book in the series.” Potenza added.

Mrs. Potenza said that “The second book’s name was “The Third Warrior” and the third book was going to be named “Spirit Daughters”. Both were set on the fictional Indian Pueblo I created in the first book and had the same cast of characters and thrilling endings. The new books I’m thinking about writing are tentatively titled Trading in Lies” and “The Sting of Lies. All the books I write include ghosts, science, and murder,” she stated during the interview.

When she was asked about her favorite authors and how much she reads she stated that “I always have one or two books I am reading and a list of books TBR (To Be Read) on my iPad and stacked along the back of my desk. Right now, I have about twenty books in my TBR pile(!) My favorite authors are Jane Austin, Tony Hillerman, Louis Sachar, Kelley Armstrong, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and J.K. Rowling. For nonfiction, I like to read history. My favorite authors are Barbara Tuchman and Dan Jones.

Mrs. Potenza was also asked about her favorite books and authors. “My favorite authors are Jane Austin, Tony Hillerman, Louis Sachar, Kelley Armstrong, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and J.K. Rowling,” she stated.

Potenza has advice for teens who also would like to become published authors, “Read a lot and write a lot. Study how stories are put together. Humans are natural storytellers and the best stories—the ones we remember—have specific patterns and structures,” she said, “You can have wonderful raw talent, but you have to refine that talent with practice and learning. It takes a lot of practice and hard work to get good at it, and a huge amount of dedication to get great.” 

Potenza will be donating a signed copy of Hearts of the Missing to the Bernardo Yorba Library soon.===

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