Guest Post: "The Long Life of My New Book" by Joan Schweighardt

The Last Wife of Attila the Hun is a sixteen-year project that is about to experience a third life in the publishing world. I wrote the first draft back in the year 2000. I was fortunate to have a well-know agent to represent it back then, but the consensus among publishers at the time was that a novel that featured Attila among its characters was “too dark” for most readers. I put the manuscript aside for a while. But when a friend called and told me she’d seen a movie about Attila the Hun and that he was portrayed as a halfway decent guy, I took my manuscript out and blew the dust off and started sending it around myself.

The next leg of the book’s long journey was in 2003 when I found Beagle Bay Books, a small indie publishing company. The owner, Jacqueline Church Simmonds, loved my book and published it with great care. She was a fabulous editor. She published it in hardcover with a beautiful jacket and she offered it to many reviewers and to magazines for various contests and even to foreign presses. I could not have been more pleased with the results this small press garnered for the book. It won Independent Publisher and ForeWord magazine awards, received lots of reviews, and was even translated into Italian and Russian.

Books don’t have a very long shelf life as a rule. The book sold well for the first year or so and then sales began to fizzle as new titles came in to replace older ones. Still, I was happy with my publishing experience. My only regret was that there was never any film interest in the book. We’ve had all kinds of movies based on ancient history or legends or combinations thereof, with male hero figures. Here finally was a story based on a highly intriguing but under-used segment of history and some of the world’s best loved legends—a true embarrassment of riches—with a very strong female hero figure to boot, and while I have always known the chances of any independently published novel finding its way to Hollywood are slim to non-existent, I had secretly believed that if the book was out there long enough, someone would realize that it would make a great film.

The next leg of the journey began a few years ago, when Jacqueline at Beagle Bay contacted to me to let me know that I could reclaim rights to the book because Beagle Bay was transitioning from book publishing to book packaging, and they would no longer be representing their previous titles. Knowing that it’s quite difficult to find a publisher who will handle a reprint, and being busy with other projects, I didn’t really imagine that I would want to expend the energy to try to find a new publisher. But then I happened to read a blog post by someone published by Booktrope, a publishing company I had never heard of before. I looked them up and discovered that they were fairly new and had a unique publishing model which had won them awards and investment dollars. Moreover, I read that they had a relationship with IPG (Intellectual Property Group) which represents books to the entertainment industry. And so I submitted by manuscript, and it was accepted, and having been provided with a new cover, new identification numbers, and fresh edits, it embarked on yet another leg of its journey, though this one was short-lived.

In spite of its trendy business model, Booktrope went under only a few months after The Last Wife of Attila the Hun was published. Their decision to close their doors hurriedly left some one thousand authors orphaned. I felt worse for the authors who had only just been published, or who were about to be, or the ones who had spent a fortune advertising, than I did for myself, because here my book had had a previous life. I had no plans to try to find a third home for it. But as it happened, a third home found me.

Before Booktrope went under I had been invited to do a podcast interview with C. P. Lesley, an author who is also one of the founders of Five Directions Press, which is a book co-op. She read my book as a prelude to our interview, and she liked it a lot and we wound up chatting on the phone post interview about writing and publishing  generally. I knew from our conversation that Five Directions is committed to creating a publishing model that is just right for these times. (In fact, Five Directions is at the forefront of co-op publishing and C.P. has been invited to sit on a Writers Digest panel with other well known people in the industry to discuss the co-op model.) Basically, each of the authors who is invited to join Five Directions must have a great book that all the other members really like and they must bring another publishing-related skill to the table. In this way each new book receives professional editing, proofing, layout, cover design, and even promotion from the other co-op members. And best of all, each author gets to keep whatever profits are made from sales. When Booktrope folded, Five Directions invited me to re-publish with them and of course I said yes.

So now The Last Wife of Attila the Hun Is experiencing a third life, and the third time is charmed, right? Does this mean that someone from the film world will finally discover it and ask me to write or co-write a screenplay? Probably not, but in the meantime I’ve developed two treatments—a one-pager and one at 17 pages with the requisite number of beats needed for easy transition into script—so whatever happens, I’m ready.


Title: The Last Wife of Attila the Hun
Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction with a Legendary Component
Author: Joan Schweighardt
Publisher: Five Directions Press
Purchase on Amazon

Two threads are woven together in The Last Wife of Attila the Hun. In one, Gudrun, a Burgundian noblewoman, dares to enter the City of Attila to give its ruler what she hopes is a cursed sword; the second thread reveals the unimaginable events that have driven her to this mission. Based in part on the true history of the times and in part on the same Nordic legends that inspired Wagner’s Ring Cycle and other great works of art, The Last Wife of Attila the Hun offers readers a thrilling story of love, betrayal, passion and revenge, all set against an ancient backdrop itself gushing with intrigue. 


Joan Schweighardt is the author of several novels. In addition to her own projects, she writes, ghostwrites and edits for private and corporate clients.



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