His 11-year-old mystery novel was a flop, until his daughter turned it into a bestseller
A heartfelt TikTok video propelled Lloyd Richards’ Stone Maidens to the top of the charts
It took Lloyd Devereux Richards 14 years to write his first novel. But it was his daughter's 12-second TikTok video that finally turned it into a hit.
Richards, 74, wrote Stone Maidens on evenings and weekends, in between working a full-time job as a corporate attorney at a Vermont insurance company, and taking care of his children. When he finally published it in 2012, it only sold a few dozen copies here and there.
Now, more than a decade later, the mystery/thriller is No. 1 on Amazon's books bestseller list in both Canada and the U.S., beating out several powerhouses, including Prince Harry's memoir, Spare.
"I just can't believe it," Richards told As It Happens host Nil Köksal. "I'm so excited. It's just incredible. I owe this all to my daughter."
He took care of me and I want to take care of him.- Marguerite Richards
Marguerite Richards, 40, got the idea to promote the book on TikTok a few months ago, after her father finished his second novel.
"I feel really lucky because I had friends who didn't have dads. And not only did I have a dad; I had a really supportive, kind, sensitive dad who made me feel loved," she told Köksal. "That's what drove me to do this. He took care of me and I want to take care of him."
Growing up, Marguerite remembers she and her brother would watch their father at his little writing desk in the attic, working away on his labour of love. She admired that he never gave up on it.
The video, she says, is something of a "micro-memoir," in that it mirrors those childhood memories. She films her father from a distance while he sits at his desk, typing into a vintage computer with a massive, beige-coloured monitor. John Lennon's Beautiful Boy plays in the background.
"My dad spent 14 years writing a book," the video's text reads. "He worked full time and his kids came first. But [he] made time for his book. He's so happy even though sales aren't great. I'd love to see him get some more sales. He doesn't even know what TikTok is."
As of Thursday afternoon, the post had more than 9.7 million likes.
There's no formula for a viral video, but Marguerite credits the post's success to her dad's natural charm and authenticity.
"Rather than coming out and saying, like, 'Oh, you should read my dad's book if you like thrillers,' and kind of making it a book-focused video, I think I put a human story first," Marguerite said.
"Just by his appearance, you can see what a kind person he is. And so I think that those combinations of things … is what drove people to connect with it."
Lloyd and his daughter say they aren't yet sure how many copies of Stone Maidens have sold since the TikTok video. They're hoping to get the numbers from Amazon soon.
Writing in a cold attic
Stone Maidens — a whodunit in the style of Michael Connelly novels — follows an FBI agent as she attempts to unmask a serial killer in Indiana.
Lloyd started pecking away at it in 1998, after several years of researching crime and the legal system, and learning as much as he could about the craft of writing.
He'd work on his passion project whenever he had free time in an uninsulated attic where the temperature inside mirrors the weather outside.
"I'd wear a sweater and a hat and fingerless gloves, and I could see my breath as I typed," he said. "In the summer, by the same token, it would be so hot. But I have fans on me and fans on the computer, because those old computers, you know, they get hot and they can break."
He finished his first draft in 2009, and — after many, many rejections — found a publisher in 2011 with Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon subsidiary. When it finally came out in 2012, only a handful of copies sold.
"It was a disappointment. But I just felt that I accomplished something by sticking to it and getting an agent and getting my book published," Lloyd said. "I accepted that I might not sell very many. That's just the way life is, you know?"
But he didn't let that stop him. He kept writing, and just wrapped his Stone Maidens sequel, which is with his agent now.
"You just have to have a belief in yourself," he said. "I knew I'd make mistakes. I never wrote a novel, a book, before. I had to learn how to do that. I'm still learning."
'I'm happy to share my dad'
Until his daughter showed him the response to the TikTok video, Lloyd had no idea she had done this outreach on his behalf.
In fact, he didn't even know what TikTok was. During his interview with CBC Radio, he repeatedly referred to it as "Tick Tack" before correcting himself.
But the thousands of supportive comments on the app moved him to tears.
"I'm just overwhelmed by how wonderful and supportive the people are being there," he said. "It's just incredible to me."
Many of the comments centred around the visible bond between Lloyd and his daughter. Some people piped in with stories about how they'd lost their father. Others admitted they didn't have a good relationship with their dad.
"My favourite comment has been … 'I feel like he's my dad now too' ... and they're like, 'Thank you for sharing your dad with us,'" Marguerite said.
"It's so wonderful. I'm happy to share my dad with TikTok and anyone."
Interview with Lloyd and Marguerite Richards produced by Katie Geleff.