Queen Anne resident Sue Lee just published her first book, “Nerd Girl.” It’s a not-so-classic office-romance novel marrying her love of Microsoft and her neighborhood.
After more than a decade at Microsoft, Lee left to spend more time with her young twin daughters. Her husband still works there, and she’s contracting for them now. When she left, the indie publishing industry was taking off with huge successes like the “50 Shades of Grey” romance series.
“It felt like the right time,” Lee said.
Lee always liked writing, but it took about six months after she left to nail down an idea and decide she was going to write.
“Every free time I had — when the kids were asleep, and I was going for runs or whatever — I just started coming up with these ideas,” Lee said.
Her idea was to create an office-romance novel about her former workplace. The novel had to encapsulate what she calls the “Microsoft subculture.” Before she knew it, Lee wrote a 60-page outline, and then the real work began.
Once she began writing, Lee was obsessed. She wrote every chance she got, jotting notes into the notepads she carried with her.
Microsoft, its employees and its business structure serve as a huge inspiration in the book. Some of the characters are inspired by people she knows. The jobs are real jobs, even some she had herself.
After Lee left the company, she got questions about Microsoft all the time, “so I knew there was some sort of intrigue.”
Lee sees her target audience as people ages 25 to 50. She thinks people who are younger and older would still enjoy the book, but it will be most relatable to people who are building their careers.
Writing a book based on your workplace sounds scary for most, but it gave “Nerd Girl” a realness.
Lee’s main character, Julia Hayes, is 29 and so successful in her career at Microsoft that Lee calls her “Nerd Girl.” But she’s not successful in love.
Microsoft employees, including Lee, will be able to relate to Julia’s personality ticks, Lee said. She’s the “classic Microsoft woman” because she’s structured, anal-retentive, a bookworm and fairly conservative.
Her love interest also works at Microsoft.
“For someone who is very local, they’ll get a kick out of it,” Lee said.
Legally, Lee couldn’t call the company Microsoft in the book, so it was renamed to Megasoft, which she shortens to MS.
“So it’s totally fiction, and yet so much of it is the general framework is real,” she said. “I didn’t take any jabs or anything. It’s a very positive reflection of the company.”
Lee has lived on Queen Anne for the last 13 years, and she loves the neighborhood. “How can I not bring it into the book?” she asked.
Julia lives in Queen Anne, and each character’s last name in the book is named after a street name in Queen Anne.
“Whenever I tried to think of a name, I’d literally look at a map,” Lee said.
The characters also all visit real places in Queen Anne. Betty’s, Le Reve and many other neighborhood hot spots are featured in the books. One of the supporting characters is a teacher at Catherine-Blaine K-8 School in Magnolia.
In some of the initial reviews, people have told Lee the conversations and the characters feel really real.
“That’s one thing I’m really proud of,” she said. “I think it’s a really realistic story.”
The book has love scenes and may make one blush, but it’s not “50 Shades of Grey,” Lee said. It’s realistic, lighthearted and heartwarming. Julia is a character people want to root for.
A growing industry
Lee wrote for a year. Then she started looking into publishing. She went the independent publishing route because it was faster and “there are so many people finding so much success with it,” she said.
To be successful in indie publishing, it’s important to have a good editor and cover designer and to learn how to market oneself.
Lee used indie book editor Erin Roth. She was on Roth’s waiting list for about eight months. Roth started as a freelance book editor a year ago, when she left her job at a science museum to stay home with her children.
Roth only takes about three or four clients each month, but the Rochester, N.Y., native’s already booked until mid-June. The rise of the indie industry is great, she said, because everyone can write and publish. It also means “a lot more weeding through junk to find those gems,” she said.
Roth, who holds journalism and English degrees, said she’s different than many other indie editors because she edits for content, too. Most books take about two weeks to do two rounds of editing: “Nerd Girl” and its 388 pages took longer.
“Sue was awesome to work with because her book was different,” Roth said. “It’s not the cookie-cutter romance.”
Julia is a little dorky and nerdy. There’s “dorky, inner monologue” that makes the book entertaining, Roth said.
The eBook version of “Nerd Girl” is now being sold at various big online retailers like Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iBooks. Lee would like to get the paperback version in those big retailers, too, but for now, she’s targeting local bookstores, like Queen Anne Book Co., who is stocking it.
“For a while, I was terrified of putting myself out there,” Lee said. “It’s not only my work, but it’s a lot of my perception of the neighborhood and the company. But, you know, now that it’s out there, feedback has been so positive. People are getting a kick out of the whole Microsoft thing.”
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