It’s ironic that Lloyd Devereux Richards, JD’80, gained fame from TikTok, given the internet was in its infancy 25 years ago when he started writing Stone Maidens. But 11 years after the book had been published, TikTok helped the book grow exponentially in popularity overnight.
An attorney by day, Richards set out to write Stone Maidens with one goal in mind: He didn’t care how it got done or what happened afterward, but he wanted it published.
He finished his degree through the Maurer School of Law in 1980 and took a job as a law clerk for four years in the Indiana Court of Appeals. Then, Richards found himself headed to the East Coast for a job in Vermont. While there, he dwelled on his time in Indiana—or, at least, one specific event he couldn’t seem to let go of.
While in law school, Richards got wind of a series of incidents in which several young men and women—including someone he knew—were attacked while hiking in the woods of southern Indiana and went missing. The news stuck with Richards, and he eventually turned the thoughts swirling in his head into a crime novel.
For 11 years, the book sat published, gaining little attention from readers and garnering few sales for the author. But that didn’t stop Richards from following through with his passion. In fact, he recently finished writing a sequel to Stone Maidens, titled Maidens of the Cave, which is set to release in August 2023.
The sequel’s completion inspired Richards’ daughter, Marguerite Richards, to tell the world about her dad, even if Stone Maidens wasn’t a bestseller.
In February 2023, Marguerite made a video and posted it on TikTok.
“My dad spent 14 years writing a book. He worked full time, and his kids came first. But [he] made time for this book,” she captioned the 16-second peek at Lloyd’s writing space. “He’s so happy even though sales aren’t great. I’d love for him to get some sales. He doesn’t even know what TikTok is.”
Within 48 hours, the video had 15 million views, and Lloyd was the No. 1 bestselling author on Amazon. The IU alum has since sold more than 100,000 copies of Stone Maidens.
We caught up with Lloyd and Marguerite about their paths up to this point, how they’ve handled the newfound fame, and how Indiana and IU served as a backdrop to it all.
For those who haven’t read the book, what is Stone Maidens about?
Lloyd Devereux Richards: The book ties directly to Indiana, though I wrote it when I was in Vermont. During my time at the law school, there was an incident, or a series of incidents, involving several co-eds who were attacked in the forest and never found. I knew one of the victims, and in my work [as a law clerk], I had met one of the Indiana police detectives who was investigating the case.
Anyway, it was on my mind when I was in Vermont. I was in my mid-40s, and I decided I wanted to write a crime novel around these incidents. But the novel is purely fictional.
Describe your writing process.
LDR: First, I had to learn how to write a novel. There was a local writing school in Vermont, and I worked with a guy there who helped me with things like pace, character development, and how to weave together a book.
I had three kids at the time who were younger, so I worked nights and weekends around my full-time job trying to compose a story, and it took 14 years. I had to do quite a bit of research since I wasn’t around a police station and didn’t know a lot about forensic science. I also had to do quite a bit of research to understand the twinning bond—it’s a phenomenon that’s important in the book, but I’ll leave it at that.
Did you always want to write a book?
LDR: In law school, it was a grind just getting through the coursework, so nothing materialized for me in deciding to write a book until I was in Vermont.
Before I attempted this book, I did work on writing in general, trying to figure out how to tell some shorter stories. That’s when I first started to work with this college teacher. From what I picked up, I had more confidence in trying to attempt a crime thriller.
Did you do any writing while at IU?
LDR: I wrote poetry—not to publish, but just to enjoy. I shared some of it with people. Then, when I moved to the East Coast, I took a writing class at Boston University with a very good poet, Anne Sexton.
Relive the process of getting the book from your desk to a printer.
LDR: After I completed the book, my goal was to get it published. I wanted to know if my book was commercially feasible, so I tried to get a literary agent. They’re scattered around the U.S., but I focused on New York since I was in Vermont.
Back then, it was before the internet, so it was a bit more difficult than it might be today. If you wanted to be considered by an agency, you had to send no more than three chapters, and it was all done with physical documents, not electronics.
I used self-addressed, stamped envelopes, paying $6.50 in postage for each, and I kept sending my pitch out to agencies. It was rejected summarily by all of them for five to six months.
Then, one day, I got a phone call in the spring from an agent who said, “I love your writing, I love the book,” and that was that. She had some suggestions of small changes, so we worked together on it and then submitted it to various publishers. It was rejected the first year, and it took another year before we could place the book.
There were plenty of opportunities to say I got it done and found an agent and could put it aside, but I really persevered because I wanted to get it published, and we did.
Why did you write a sequel if the first book wasn’t popular?
LDR: I finished a sequel last summer despite the first book not selling well. I worked on it for six years. I enjoy the process [of writing a book]. It’s something I like to do and how I like to spend my time.
How did you feel when Marguerite posted a TikTok video about your book and it went viral?
LDR: I was stunned. I was very, very happy. It was incredible. Every author would want to be in this situation. I couldn’t believe it, and I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know anything about TikTok.
I’m very grateful for everyone, all the comments from people who have read Stone Maidens and loved it. It’s really given me tremendous hope for our country, too, that all these people are 18 to 25 years old, and they’re reading books.
Marguerite, at what point did you decide you were going to post on TikTok about your dad and Stone Maidens?
Marguerite Richards: It was last summer. He had just finished writing the sequel. Knowing people didn’t read the first book, I thought I’d make a video. He was always so positive and didn’t care about not having sales, and it was really inspiring for me.
Why did you choose TikTok?
MR: I love TikTok, and I know it’s a good community-building app. There are a lot of readers on #booktok.
I jokingly said I was right, but I obviously didn’t think this would happen. I have a small account—I’m not a TikTok influencer by any means—but I do like making small videos.
I like consuming TikTok too, and I know it’s a good place to connect. That’s sort of what I was thinking when I did this, not knowing it would be this successful.
What was it like knowing seeing your dad become the No. 1 bestselling author on Amazon?
MR: I posted the video on Feb. 7, 2023. I checked on it a few hours later, and it had like 200 views, which isn’t viral by any means.
When I checked again the next morning, I saw it had jumped to 700,000 views overnight. I actually started crying. My dad also had over 2,000 followers, and by the end of two days, he had 100,000 followers.
It all happened so fast, at break-neck speed. I held off on telling him because I wanted to see if he saw something on Amazon, but it had been 11 years of nothing happening, so he wasn’t really monitoring sales that closely.
Two days later, my video reached 15 million views, and he was No. 1 on Amazon, all in less than 48 hours.
Now, we’re starting to process things better. But at first, we just couldn’t process what was going on. It all was happening so fast. The media was getting ahold of every point of contact he had—cellphones, landlines. We weren’t sleeping from all the excitement and energy.
We know this is like lightning striking. This just doesn’t happen all the time. I feel so amazing and honored. It’s the best feeling to be able to do this for your parent who’s always been so loving and supportive of you. It’s like a dream.
Rapid Fire with Lloyd
Where is your favorite writing spot?
LDR: In the attic. It’s a cold attic, and in the winter, I wear fingerless mittens and a hat, but it’s my space. It’s quiet and allows me to think.
What’s your favorite writing snack?
LDR: I have a real penchant for date bars. I also like peanut M&Ms.
What time of day do you do your best work?
LDR: In the morning, though I’ve certainly put in a lot of late nights.
Name a book you always recommend to people.
LDR: A recent writer I’ve gotten into, Jane Harper, wrote a book called The Dry that won a big award in Australia.
How do you reverse writer’s block?
LDR: I try to write with an unconscious mind. It’s all about freeing it up. I don’t know when it’s going to come to me, so I carry a pencil and a fresh pad of paper in my cargo pants and beside my bed. Sometimes at night, I’m woken up and my mind is rolling through a scene. I don’t want to forget it, so I write it down. I’ve got pencils and paper all over the place.
This story is part of our IU alumni author series, Novel Ideas.