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story.lead_photo.caption Author: El Dorado native and mystery/romance novelist Niki Benton Smith, author of “Nightingale” and “The Last Dance,” holds up two of her novels during a book signing held in 2018 at The Spot.

By Michael Shine

Staff Writer

For Junction City author Niki Benton Smith, there has always been two main fascinations in her life: creepy things and writing.

The trilogy she’s now self-published was a chance to bring those two things together. The series takes place in the fictional town of Crafton where Smith’s main character, Samantha who is a registered nurse, has premonitions and uses them to solve mysteries.

When her protagonist was 13 years old, she had a classmate who went missing and she had a premonition of where his body would be found. She skipped school and found his body. She narrowly escaped prosecution because authorities thought since she had all the details, she had to be the killer.

The third book was recently released on Amazon and Smith said she’s done with these characters.

“My characters started getting on my nerves,” she said. “They didn’t really want to do what I wanted them to do and they kind of wrote themselves. That got on my nerves too. I’ve been kicking around an idea for a different book. It’s still in the mystery genre, since I like the creepy stuff, but it’s not like this.”

Like her protagonist, Smith is also a registered nurse, which has helped provide inspiration and stories for her books including some of the elements of the job making their way into her writing.

“Writing is something I’ve always been interested in, but it doesn’t pay the bills until you’re famous,” Smith said. “I like nursing. She’s not the ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ‘Oh I’m in love with a doctor’ kind of nurse. I didn’t like the way that nurses were portrayed in stories that you see on TV because it’s false. Mostly if you ask a nurse ‘Did you want to marry a doctor? Did you want to date a doctor?’ They’ll almost throw up on your feet.”

After Smith wrote her first book, she sent it out to several agents and publishing companies for five years, only getting silence or what she called nasty replies back, so she decided to go for self-publishing.

“I decided that I didn’t really think they were reading it,” Smith said. “I’d gotten independent people who didn’t know me, didn’t know anything about me, didn’t have anything to lose by saying they didn’t like my book or did like my book to read it and they all had positive feedback. So I devised this way to know if they even opened it, this was back when you sent out a printed copy in a box.

“I would get it back and get ‘Oh, you’re a great storyteller, but it’s just not for us.’ The last one I got back, I could absolutely tell it hadn’t even been opened. I knew they hadn’t read it. So I gave up on it for a minute. My husband asked me, ‘Well, why don’t you self-publish it?’”

Self-publishing is basically where an author doesn’t go through an agent or publishing company, but does all the work, such as marketing, on their own. However, this also means there isn’t an agent or publishing company taking part of the profits like there is with traditional publishing.

Smith said one of her concerns with self-publishing it was that no company would touch it after she did, but her husband pointed out that they weren’t touching it anyway.

She found a freelance editor online through Absolute Write, who was a retired English professor and published it online through Amazon’s Create Space.

“He taught me a lot about writing,” Smith said. “Not only did he tell me what my mistakes were, but why they were mistakes so I could correct them. Apparently, I used commas way too much so he kind of stamped that down. I looked up all his credentials and everything and it turned out that he was actually an editor. He offered to edit so many pages for free as a sample of how he does things. If I wasn’t happy with it, no big deal. We built a great relationship.”

Smith said the process of using Create Space was easy. The website gave step-by-step instructions “almost in crayon” she said.

While the Create Space program offers authors assistance besides just making the physical book or ebook available through Amazon, Smith opted to find her own editor and create her own book covers as a way to save money. She said she ended up paying nothing through Create Space and only paying the editor she found on her own.

“They have an excellent cover creator,” she said. “I found this image for the first one online, it was free, I didn’t steal it. (The second cover) was actually a picture I took so I was able to use some of my own graphics. My 12-year-old took (the picture used on the third cover) because she loves everything creepy as well and it fit with the story. You’re able to use your own images if you have your own images you want to use.”

When going through the Create Space, Smith said she didn’t have to buy any of the books when she first set them up to sell. She said those who use it get a percentage, which depends on how wide the distribution is.

“They keep up with it, they keep the records, and you get your royalties every month,” Smith said. “You don’t have to order a specific number of copies.”

Smith said she’s not about to quit her nursing job to become a full-time author, but the books are selling decently.

“I broke even,” she said. “That’s what counts.”

Michael Shine may be reached at 870-862-6611 or mshine@eldoradonews.com. Follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook @MichaelAZShine for updates on Union County school news.

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