Blog, Publishing, Romance

Tips on being a romance writer

I don’t have ALL the answers, but here’s what I’ve learned about being a romance writer.

Being a romance writer does require creativity. But, just like any other job, it requires some work. Here is what I’ve learned during my journey as a romance writer:

  1. Do the research.

    Romance researchNo, I’m not suggesting you do THAT kind of research. Surely you know enough about sex to get through a rough draft of sex scenes. And if you don’t, just fake it till you make it, like you did with that one boyfriend who thought the clitoris was a kind of dinosaur. What I’m suggesting is basically a professional form of eavesdropping. Observation and attention to detail are your best friends as a romance writer.

    Study couples—how they interact, how they speak, their body language, how they fight, and most importantly, how they make up. Take notes (discreetly) in your phone of phrases or actions that resonate with you. But don’t go too far. You don’t want to be that person dictating the scene in a coffee shop like a nature documentary narrator. The people around you are your greatest inspirations. Use them. You may even interact with them. If things go further than that, remember to use protection and at least offer breakfast in the morning. Yeah, baby!

  2. Grow some balls.

    Become your book characterThis is figuratively, of course…because…eww. I mean that the publishing world can be a tough place. If you’re a timid introvert who would rather die than socialize and promote yourself, this is going to be difficult. Of course, romance writers are notorious for living in their pajamas for days at a time—greasy hair pulled up in a knot, surviving only on peanut butter crackers and room temperature coffee—so that they can make deadline.

    But there comes a time when you have to put your big girl panties on (and pants too—sorry not sorry). You have to become that outgoing, social butterfly you’ve always avoided. If you have to, create an alternate persona for these times. Make her anything you want her to be, like a character from your book. Let her wear glasses or sexy underwear, whatever works. You’re the author; write your character’s personality. Inside, you can still be the hot mess that you’ve always been. But outside you’ll need to be a bad ass, confident writer with a tough veneer and a killer vocabulary.

    Once you’ve mastered this technique, it will also come in handy when you’ve got to face your five aunts who read your books and want to discuss blow job techniques over Thanksgiving turkey and green bean casserole.

  3. Don’t ever apologize.

    Love your smutMany times, the romance genre is dismissed as fluff. “It’s just smut,” they’ll say. When my first book was published and I told people I was a writer they would ask, “What do you write?” I would always look at the floor and mumble “romance novels,” in a quiet voice that was contrite and begging not to be judged. Right away this sent the message that I was insecure about what I wrote. That wasn’t the case at all! But our misogynistic society told me to be ashamed of romance, and so I played my role perfectly. Until one day, I realized… “I published a book! No, wait! I published THREE books! That is nothing to be embarrassed about!”

    There was a whole epiphany that followed with lots of internal monologue. There may have been dancing, a chorus of “I am Woman,” and maybe a crotch grab or two. I knew there was nothing to apologize for. I am proud of my books. I work hard. I invest time, heart and soul in everything I write. And it took me a while, but I know now that no one can tell me how to feel.

  4. Be original.

    Be a romance writerSomeone once told me that there are no original ideas anymore. I call bullshit. Sure, art inspires other art, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t original. A lot of things happen in real life that readers would be quick to call out as “unrealistic” in a novel. That’s where things get tricky. Keep your stories fresh and inventive. Find a balance between what works for your characters and what works in the world you’ve created. Sure, there are tried and true (and predictable) formulas that work for some authors (cough-Nicholas-Sparks-cough).

    But what works for one book writer, doesn’t necessarily work for you. If your story is reminiscent of others, then find a unique way to tell it. Don’t ever, ever, ever write to create a bestseller. Just when you think you’ve written an amazing new release of what’s trending now, the trend will change. Then you and your novel are left behind. Plus, if you’re writing just for the money… you’re in the wrong business. Most of us still have our day jobs. Basically, write for you!

  5. Make friends.

    Romance writers networkIt is a great time to be a romance writer. The romance genre is filled with authors of every race, sexuality, gender, and background. It’s so easy to find people to connect with. With the wide world of social media, it is easer than ever to stalk—I mean befriend—your favorite authors. Of course there are divas who exist in every profession. But I promise, most of us are super nice.

    Those who have been in the business for a while are almost always willing to offer advice or answer questions. It’s rare to find such a large group of women who empower and encourage each other so freely. You will find a reliable network in the romance writers’ community. Build your tribe and work to be a contributing member. These are friendships that will last a lifetime.

  6. Have fun.

    Romance writers' partyLastly, don’t take everything so seriously. Writing is a job, but it is an exciting one. It is something that makes you giddy when you sit down and get to spill your brain onto a keyboard. It grants us a high, an adrenaline rush, just to be doing what we love. And if it doesn’t, then you’re not doing it right.

    Learn about my next sexy adventure in Chaos and Control.

 


Season Vining is the author of romance novels, lives in the dirty South, has sriracha in her purse, needs more shoes, and doesn’t give a shit about the Kardashians. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Novel, Publishing

What a difference a year makes

One year ago, today, my life was irrevocably changed. In the past 365 days, one question has been asked of me more than any other. How did it happen?

Everyone’s journey to and through publishing is different. I’m not sure we can even define a standard process anymore. From seasoned writers who’ve struggled for a decade to land that book deal, to writers new to the craft who have it fall into their laps, there is a unique story to be told. Here is mine.

sweet-valley-high-282As with most things, it all started with my mother. She is an avid reader, always working through three or four books at a time with no favoritism to any particular genre. She’s been keeping a log of her books since she became pregnant with me. It’s a binder with a handwritten numbered list on looseleaf paper separated alphabetically. At the age of fifty-eight, her count is up to 4,085 books. She encouraged me to read and what girl wants to disappoint her mother? I read the childhood classics, and school-assigned books, plus every copy of Sweet Valley High and The Babysitters Club series. Even then, reading was building the foundation for becoming a writer.

I first started with writing poetry around the age of ten. I wrote about flowers and nature, things that I found beautiful and that could be praised in short lines of prose. As I grew, so did my vocabulary and my attention span. The teenage years were the darkest–as they usually are–and it was then that I developed a knack for painting pictures using words. The poor tortured soul of the misunderstood high school student opened her wounds and bled onto the paper, or at least that’s what it felt like back then.

As an adult, I continued to read, driven by the desire to find specific kinds of characters and original plots. It was this search that led me to pen my first full-length story. I searched for what I wanted, and when I couldn’t find it, I figured I’d try writing it myself. After completing the first story, more tales were suddenly begging to be written. The more I wrote, the better I got. The better I got, the more I enjoyed it. The more I enjoyed it, the more I wrote. It was a cycle of storytelling and inventing characters that came to me like a slow motion Baywatch lifeguard. Now, when I look back on those first stories, I cringe. They’re a mess of purple prose and misused words, but I still take pride in what they represent–a beginning.

When I completed my fourth full-length story, I sat back and examined it more closely. I thought to myself, This is a great start, but it could be so much better. So, I rewrote it. I brought in friends who gave feedback. I rewrote it again. I joined a local writers’ group and shared it with them. I rewrote it again. I attended workshops, read instructional manuals, and practiced my craft every day. Then, I rewrote it again.

jwcIn April of 2012, I attended the Jambalaya Writers’ Conference in Houma, Louisiana. Though I never dreamed of publishing this story, I was eager for feedback from a professional. I was lucky enough to grab the last available appointment to pitch my manuscript to a literary agent. She was a tiny woman with gray hair and a smoker’s voice from New Jersey. She was blunt, but friendly. I was terrified.

I sat in the small room and, after a shaky introduction, began my verbal pitch. Two sentences in she began shaking her head. “No, no, no. Nobody wants to read about an unlikable main character,” she told me. I backpedaled and tried to redeem my protagonist, but it was too late. Instead of suffering any further humiliation, I asked if she could just read my query letter. She agreed. I slid the piece of paper across the table like it was a ticking bomb and tried to keep the tears at bay. After about a minute, she looked up and smiled. “This sounds great. I’d request the manuscript if it was long enough.”

This interaction led me to reexamine my novel. I edited, revised, rewrote, deleted, and rearranged it for almost an entire year. When this was finished, I found myself sick of the story and the characters. I wanted to kill them off in a horrific fire, but somehow resisted. I took a step away from the manuscript and let it marinate for a couple months. I didn’t look at it, touch it, or edit one word during this time. One evening, I hesitantly reached for it and began another read through. When I finished the last page, there was a whirlwind of unfamiliar feelings swarming through my head. Pride, satisfaction, and the undeniable knowledge that I was a writer.

I returned to the same conference in 2013 with my manuscript and query letter in hand. I was ready to pitch, push and pimp my story to anyone who would listen. After arriving, I learned that all the sessions with editors and agents had been filled and I was out of luck. While disappointed, I vowed to make the most of my day by attending sessions and learning all I could. I also entered my first page into an anonymous reading to be critiqued by a panel of experts at the end of the day.

I sat through presentations on marketing, self-publishing, how to get an agent, and the do’s and don’ts of querying. One of these sessions was led by Rachel Ekstrom, a literary agent with the Irene Goodman Agency. After the presentation, I introduced myself and asked if I could give her my query letter. She kindly agreed. With the exchange of a single piece of paper from my hand to hers, my pitch was over, my opportunity passed. Though I knew she would be busy and overwhelmed with other authors, I was confident in my query and hoped for the best.

photoAfter a jambalaya lunch (because what else would they serve?) and keynote speaker, I attended a practice pitch session with NY Times Bestselling author, Heather Graham. She spoke about what to do and what not to do when selling your book to an agent. And then, she asked for volunteers. I stepped onto the stage with her and introduced myself. We had a conversation about my unique name and promptly jumped into our roles of agent and author. Heather asked questions and I answered. I pitched the hell out of my story to this admired author and a room full of fellow writers. By the end, they were all smiles and applause.

The last session of the day was the anonymous reading of first pages. Those who turned in their work, and some who didn’t, sat in a room and listened as a page was read and then the panel of experts critiqued. This panel consisted of two editors from St. Martin’s Press, two literary agents, Heather Graham and a very opinionated local bookstore owner. The first few critiques seemed to take forever and I found myself worried that they would run out of time before getting to mine. As the hour passed, that mindset changed into “Oh dear God, I hope they run out of time before getting to mine.” A majority of the the pages read received bad or unfavorable critiques. These comments varied from “I’d work on your pacing” to “I’d never continue reading this.” With each page that was read, dread sank heavy in my gut and I wanted to flee the room.

Finally, when time was almost up, Heather Graham stood at the podium and read the first few lines from my novel. Everyone quieted and listened, giving it the same attention as those before it, while I held my breath and tried to reign in the urge to vomit on the library carpet. When the last sentence was read, there was a moment of complete silence where I was left teetering on the edge between my validation and rejection. I don’t remember who was the first to speak, but soon they were all singing the praises of my page. It was surreal and thrilling, and though it was anonymous, one look into the audience could have easily identified its grinning author.

After the conference, there was a wine and cheese social on the roof. As I sipped my plastic cup of Cabernet served off of the reference cart, I felt untouchable. After two glasses, I built up the courage to approach Rachel Ekstrom, again, and let her know which page was mine. She surprised me by remembering my name and said she would definitely take a look at my query letter. I then noticed that the two editors from St. Martin’s Press were available. I introduced myself to Rose Hilliard and thanked her for the kind things she said about my writing. She wanted to know more about my book and suddenly, all my preparation, all my work and dedication to this project converged into a perfect casual conversation about graffiti writers, tattooed boys and a dangerous love. I left that evening with Rose’s email address and a request for my manuscript. Life was good.

Rachel, Season, Rose

I emailed Rose my novel Monday morning. I’d heard rumors about the publishing industry and how everything takes longer than the rest of the world, so I didn’t expect to hear back from her for a while. Two days later, on an average Wednesday afternoon, I received the mother of all voicemails. It was Rose, and she loved, loved, loved my book. I must have listened to that message eight times before I could even comprehend it. With shaky fingers, I wrote down her number and returned her call.

Turns out, talking to Rose was a breeze. She gushed about my story, my characters and all the little details that made my manuscript special. I really felt that she connected with the story the way I intended. There’s no greater feeling.

Rose couldn’t offer guarantees at that point, but she was pretty sure they’d be making an offer. She asked if I had an agent. I told her I did not, but that I’d queried Rachel at the conference. Rose volunteered to contact Rachel on my behalf. She forwarded my manuscript with instructions to READ THIS NOW. Six days later, I received a phone call from Rachel, offering representation with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Of course, I accepted. That same day, St. Martin’s made their first offer.

After four days of what I like to imagine as hardcore, cutthroat, wild and crazy negotiations, Rachel called with an offer that we couldn’t refuse. In her, I’d found a cape-wearing professional, a fearless advocate, and a down-to-earth girl whose smiles can be heard through phone signals stretching from Manhattan to Baton Rouge. There were chirping birds and double rainbows and soft, purring kittens with tiny ringing bells. Okay, maybe not, but it was still spectacular. Two weeks, to the day, after meeting these ladies at a small writers’ conference in the middle of a Louisiana swamp, I had a three book deal with a considerable advance and a team of people who believed in my writing.

Whatever notions you believe in, be it fate, luck or destiny, know that none of them can take the place of hard work and a great story. In a capacity that I never imagined, I am now a full-time writer. This means little more than sitting my butt in a chair and typing words all day. Sometimes my words make sense, sometimes whole pages are dropped into the Trash icon of my MacBook. I take breaks and occasionally venture outside my writing cave, because what greater inspiration and story research can we find than the interesting and complicated world we live in.


 

Beautiful AddictionsBeautiful Addictions was released in ebook form by St. Martin’s Griffin on January 28, 2014. The print edition will be released June 10. For those of you who enjoy the freedom of audio, Beautiful Addictions will be released by Audible on May 13.

Beautiful Addictions, Novel, Publishing

What I’ve learned about publishing so far…

Summer rolled in, and with it came scathing temperatures and almost daily thunderstorms. For me, it also brought a few lessons about the publishing and writing process.

Soon... ish.Soon. The word soon in publishing generally means three to four months. In an industry where it takes a year for a manuscript to become a novel on bookstore shelves, I suppose this makes sense. Though it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach when you’re experiencing soon for the very first time.

Rough Draft. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve written a rough draft, so imagine my surprise when I finished the first version of Book Two only to find that it was terrible. After a mini freak out, a Route 44 Diet Coke from Sonic and a bag of pretzel M & M’s, I was able to talk myself off the theoretical ledge. Of course the rough draft sucks. Of course it doesn’t compare to the finished manuscript I just finished editing. I put my heart and soul into that rough draft, but the rest of the recipe has not been added. Blood, sweat, tears, battle wounds and a sacrifice of personal hygiene must all be applied to that rough draft before it can grow into something I’m proud of.

cat beardDistractions. I write a sentence and then think, “Is that realistic? I should research that.” Then I proceed to my favorite search engine where I ask a simple question and get 600,000 simple answers. This leads to that, leads to something else and before I know it, I’ve been looking at cat bearding photos for an hour. I’ve learned of software that helps with cutting out distractions, but since I have zero self-control when it comes to this, I find turning off my modem and hiding my phone works just as well.

Twitter. As far as writers go, Twitter is the motherland. It is so easy to post follow me, buy this, read that, enter this contest, or check out my review in less than 140 characters. There are authors who strictly post self-promotional things. These get a bit boring and I find myself skimming over them. It garners an “I only want to talk about me” vibe that is off-putting. Other authors do well by mixing their “buy my book” posts with links to helpful articles or fun facts about reading and writing. These are my favorite. Lastly, there is the author that doesn’t need or doesn’t care for book promotion. They want to use their thousands of followers as a collective BFF to share things in their personal lives, photos of their new puppy or even political rants. I can’t say I blame them, because when’s the last time you had over 10,000 people in one place who actually want to hear what you have to say?

Overall, it’s been a fun three months since landing my book deal. I’ve learned so much about the process and have so much still to learn. I look forward to the journey and I’m glad that you guys are coming along with me. Write on!

Beautiful Addictions, Novel

Delivered and Accepted

It was silly of me to fear revisions. With a detailed list of changes, additions and subtractions, it almost felt like one of those dreaded word problems on the SAT’s. If Character A leaves at 4 p.m. on a train headed toward New Orleans and Character B drives his 1967 Impala to the 7-11 for some cigarettes and a frozen burrito, how many freckles does Zac Efron have? As it turns out, making the changes were very easy. Most of the edits fell in place naturally and made the story tighter (industry term for deleting unnecessary bits). I finished the changes in just a few days, read over the manuscript one last time and sent it back to Rose (my editor @ St. Martin’s Press).

She was thrilled with the changes and said, “Consider Beautiful Addictions delivered and accepted.” Well, that sounds all official, doesn’t it? Basically, this means that I’m done with the text of this book except for the copy edits–grammar, punctuation, spelling. I can’t wait to be shown the error of my grammatical ways.

Everything is happening so quickly, I feel like I’m on the fast track to publishing. So what now? I sit on my couch watching reruns of Supernatural and wait until next Spring when the book will be released? Of course not. There’s another book to write, people!

Good news! I finished the first draft of Book 2 (which is still untitled). I didn’t like the end. So I rewrote that and now, I’m much happier. Still a long way from the finish line, but I feel like I’m right on target with my time goals. Here’s a sneak peek at the setting for Book 2:

1003000_202517206573127_1808740542_n

Yeah, that’s all you get for now. I might be a tease, but I’m not easy…

Beautiful Addictions, Novel

Moving right along…

My editor, Rose, shoots me an email saying the edited manuscript is in the mail.

book-editing

Eek! She also forwarded me her editorial letter summarizing changes so that I can “simmer on it”. This is a great phrase. While I’ve prepared myself for this (and by prepared, I mean I repeatedly chanted “be open to change, the editor knows best, fight for what you believe in”), it’s going to hurt like hell.

When you write a story, you pour yourself into it. So not only do those characters become part of you, you become part of them. Whether you express it through prose or personality traits of your main character, every author reveals themselves through their writing. When someone comes in to critique that, it’s hard to handle.

Reading through the editorial letter, I can say that it’s not going to be easy to address all the issues. But nothing great is ever easy, right? I agree with all the changes, even if it took a couple of paragraphs of explanation to sway me. I agree that they will make the story more streamlined, better. I agree that Rose knows best.

I’m lucky to have an editor that is passionate about this story. Us, working as a tag team, will make it the best it can be. Then, it’s all up to the readers. Write on.