My Inspirational Regency romance was just released this month, Ane, from Harvest House. The big news about this book is that it's a full-bodied Regency with 19th century innocence, yet it's coupled with a smart heroine and a fresh infusion of a Christian worldview. It's called, Before the Season Ends, and was originally self-published. Harvest House will be releasing the sequel in April, too, (The House in Grosvenor Square).
That's right, you originally self-published this story. Since being picked up by Harvest House Publishers has the story changed?
This edition has an extra chapter, but essentially the story is the same. In the self-published book I had a lot of people mention they'd have loved to get more of a peek at what happens to “the Paragon” when he is away from London towards the end of the book. (I can't say more without giving a spoiler.) So I added a chapter showing his experience, and that was a great deal of fun, and readers will love it. I also found from doing further research that I wanted to make the “language of faith” more accurate to the time period, so I did edit the way the heroine talks about her faith.
Every novelist has a journey. How long was your road to publication? Why did you choose to self-publish your book originally?
I queried two publishers and one showed interest and then decided against publishing it. I went to self-publishing immediately, because I'd heard a lot about it, and I was very confident about my book. I also like to have a lot of control over my projects, so this was a natural decision for me. Importantly, though, I prayed about it, and felt I had a green light from the Lord. I was ready to focus on my writing, and ready to get my message out to readers. So, I figured, why wait?
Do you ever bang your head against the wall from the dreaded writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
I do something else. If I can't write a scene for a book, I can always write an article. I can update my blog. I can't really force a scene when it isn't coming; I find that getting busy and doing something else is the best thing I can do for the book and for me (rather than beat myself up). One thing about having an online presence today is that there is never a shortage of tasks to be done, including a great many writing tasks.
Since I write historical (regency) romance, there are always tons of subjects I can research and write about, putting them into articles for my ezine, or out there on the web. I've also noticed over time, by the way, that when I'm physically active it gets my brain moving! If I'm too sluggish to be creative, I'm too sluggish, period. I need to move and do something.
Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. What's the most difficult part of writing for you?
I think for me the biggest challenge was to believe that I could write a novel in small increments. As a mom of five, four of whom are still home year-round (one is in college), having frequent interruptions is a fact of life. Writing takes a concentration so deep so that when I first started doing scenes, I would find myself getting woozy after standing up. I was shocked at the level of exertion it took to use my brain that hard, I guess!
It happens less now—I guess I've grown accustomed to it. And I've learned to appreciate those small blocks of time. Ten minutes in a waiting room can yield a part of a scene I couldn't get done at home. Every little bit counts. I don't despise small beginnings. There are times when I'm in a deep level of involvement with a story or a character, and then getting interrupted can be very annoying; but I'm getting better all the time at picking up where I left off, no matter how deeply I've got to dive to get back into the character or situation.
For people like me with busy households, this is a must-have ability. I believe it can be the difference between completing that novel or not. (There are times my kids come to me and have to repeat a question three times because I'm so deeply into dialogue or a scene that I actually don't hear them!)
How do you climb out?
If I do get stuck at some point in the plot, I may let it sit for a time until my imagination catches up with where I'm at in the writing. I also exercise—as I said earlier, for some reason, when I am physically active, my brain gets going in a way that doesn't always happen when I'm sitting with my laptop before me.
Swimming and doing the treadmill (walking) almost always result in wonderful new ideas I just can't wait to get on paper. Sometimes, I've even had to stop walking and run to the pc just to get the idea down so I don't forget. By the way, I always pray for the right idea, too. There is no better writer than God.
The second “nifty” way to solve a plot (or other) problem in a book is to let it sit awhile without reading it. When you come back to it after a long enough interval (as long as you can give it) solutions just present themselves. I find the same thing happens to me with crossword puzzles—if I'm stuck, I put it down and when I come back to it—even an hour later--the word is there. So the key is, give yourself permission to take a break.
Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?
I used to share a study with my husband. We were literally a few feet apart, him at work on his pc, and me at work on mine. He gets lots of calls from his NY office, though, and they are LOUD; I finally took a bedroom that had been my grandmother's, (while she lived with us; unfortunately, we lost her two years ago) and made it into my study. I had to wait almost two years after her passing to bring myself to do that, because it was “her” room, and going in it made me cry my eyes out.
But now, having taken it over, I can sit before a nice big window with a country view, close my door on my husband's loud conversations with the office, and barricade it when the kids won't leave me alone!
The good thing is that I can write just about anywhere if I have to, but I prefer being alone and having lots of time. (I started a book once with a toddler climbing all over me, going across my lap, while I struggled to keep my paper straight. I've written dialogue on napkins in restaurants, or scene ideas on a newspaper I was reading. But my day to day writing is at home in my adopted “office.”)
What does a typical day look like for you?
I hate to admit that the word “typical” doesn't really work for me. Alas, I'm a free spirit, which means that what I do one day doesn't mean I will do it the next, even if it worked. I do, of course, have a few “rules,” though. I start the day by driving my 6th grader to her Christian school; when I get back, it's coffee, my Bible and a notebook. There is not a single day that I don't get into the Word and not take notes. I have a zillion little talks, or devotionals, if you will, based on my daily reading. I also pray at this time. I often have my five year old on my lap while I'm doing this, but that's okay.
I do a quick check of my emails, and, if I didn't do it the night before, I make a list of what needs to be done that day. This is where the “typical” disappears. Depending on what my list looks like, I either stay at my desk writing, answering emails, following up on leads, contacts, writer's lists, or researching; OR, I hit the list with activity, like getting laundry going, preparing packages to mail, or starting dinner early.
My high schooler has online classes, so I just need to make sure he gets started; and my kindergartner has some standard things to do when we're done with her “school.” My other kids are not being homeschooled this year. All day long I refer to my list to keep me on track, and there is nothing I like better than to have every item crossed off by the end of the day—though of course that doesn't always happen.
Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?
In general, I write more than I need and later have to cut back. (I have 68 pages of what I call “out-takes” for The House in Grosvenor Square.) I don't use a word count, but I may set a goal of one chapter a day or two chapters for a busy week. Other times, I don't think in terms of chapters at all, just events.
I may break an event down into four scenes, say, and so my goal for that day will be to get the whole event on paper. In other words, finish the four scenes. Life changes so rapidly with the children, that for me, a hard and fast writing goal just wouldn't work. And, I focus on results, not time spent. Instead of, “Now I'll write for three hours,” I say, “Now I'll have this or that happen to a character, or, 'I'll show a different side to this person.” When I have accomplished that goal, no matter how long or how short a time it took, I feel satisfied.
Briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision.
Well, I haven't written dozens of novels, yet, Ane, so I'm not sure if I've fully nailed down my best “process.” But I will say that my stories usually start with one powerful scene, which quickly branches out as I fill in all the details of the world these people (whom I've created) live in.
First, the one scene has to really grab me—if I don't feel it strongly, it won't spur me on to create the rest of the world that story needs to become a book. But that's how they start for me. I get an idea of one thing that's going to happen, and why, and then I just flesh it out, and tease out the characters and their secrets—and, next thing you know, there's a whole book going!
What are a few of your favorite books (not written by you) and why are they favorites?
Most of my favorites are by 19th century authors. I love Dickens, Austen, the Brontës (oh, the drama!); but also Pearl S. Buck, and Rumer Goddenk, and Georgette Heyer. For a completely different sort of reading, I like the James Herriot books (they're so funny!). I also love historical biographies, and research books on various periods of English history. I'll read about almost any king or queen; I like to feel that I'm taken elsewhere in a book, but I have to really believe it. The Good Earth remains a perpetual favorite of mine simply because I feel as though I know what it's like to live in China during that time when I've read it.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?
That writing equals (pardon the crudity, but this is exactly how I heard it) “butt in chair.” It's so easy to remain active and to be continually doing things. To just sit down and stay down and write can be as hard as being still before God is. There are times when it's easy, and there are times, many of them, when it's not. In both cases, the best advice is to do it anyway.
What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?
I wish I'd known sooner that I could make things happen by being bolder. Otherwise, I'm still early in my novel writing career, so I expect I'll still be learning a lot, but I do wish I'd had my first book professionally edited before I published. It humbles me to no end that the book has a five star rating on Amazon, despite some “new writer” traps I fell into.
It was a blessing for Harvest House to pick up my self-published book, giving me the chance to get back into the manuscript and take care of those things (with my editor's help) for the new edition. God is so good! I also wish I'd known that you don't have to know the end from the beginning (only God does); in other words, it's okay to start a book with just one scene or one chapter plotted out.
How much marketing do you do? What have you found that particularly works well for you?
I always have an eye out for marketing opportunities. I don't believe any book has to be limited to anyone else's idea of what the “shelf life” should be. Even if brick and mortar stores pull your title, unless it's out of print, you can always drive sales to online stores or directly to your publisher.
I actually give presentations and a workshop on this, Ane—How to Market Your Book Online for Success—and in it, I talk about many different methods that work, each in their own way. But for new writers or those new to marketing, I would say that the two most effective elements in a campaign are going to be book reviews and reader testimonials. Why? For the simple reason that people will trust them. You can talk about how wonderful your book is until you're blue in the face, but when other people say it's wonderful, it's more believable.
Of course you need a website to post those reviews and testimonials on, or at least a blog—but again, the best thing you can do is get good reader responses and publish them where readers will see them.
Do you have any parting words of advice?
Network with other writers. Don't be shy. Believe in yourself and the gift God has given you. Check with Him, first, that this is your calling. If it is, give it all you can. You owe it to God and to yourself to do nothing less. If there are things you can't do, find the resources you need to learn what you need to learn, and then use that to improve your work.