Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Emily Bryan and Reinvention

Today's guest is Emily Bryan (who also writes as Diana Groe) to talk about her road to publication and what she found when she got there.

Her first book under the pseudonym Emily Bryan, Distracting the Duchess, releases today. She and I got to discussing pseudonyms and reinvention, what it means for an author.

Describe your road to your first sale.
EB: This is such a subjective business. I realized I needed to do something to make it easier for an agent or editor to take a chance on a new author. So I entered as many contests as I could afford. As soon as I started winning and placing, I had something to put in that blank spot in my query letters where previous publishing credits should go. The wins attracted my agent and then my editor. Maidensong came out in May 2006—five years after I started writing seriously. I had a lot to learn and contest feedback helped me learn it. I credit contest wins with helping me make my first sale.

What if anything surprised you about being a published author after the first sale?
EB: I was surprised that my editor wanted a second title so quickly. One of my biggest fears was being a "one-book wonder." So I was thrilled when Erinsong followed in November 2006 and then Silk Dreams in July 2007. I was surprised at how supportive my editor was and how much effort she invested in my work. Leah Hultenschmidt walks on water as far as I’m concerned.

You now write with a pseudonym, Emily Bryan. Why did you decide to take a new name and what kind of books does Emily Bryan write?
EB: If you’ve read any of my Diana Groe books, you know they are gritty, dramatic and passionate. They are also set in unusual time periods: the 9th and 11th centuries in exotic locales. The reviews have been almost universally positive. RT BookReviews compared my writing to “the great mistresses of the genre: Small, Henley & Mason.” My work is being translated into German, Dutch and Italian. Erinsong earned a rare Desert Isle Keeper designation from All About Romance and Silk Dreams hit a bestseller list in Australia.
Though interest in my Dark Ages Romances is high overseas, unfortunately, sales in the US market have not kept pace. I’ve been given the opportunity to reinvent myself. I was already toying with the idea of a sexier, light-hearted premise—a departure from my previous work. My editor gave me the green light to write Distracting the Duchess and suggested a new pen name to fit the new style. Emily Bryan was born. Of course, it’s still too soon to know how the reading public will respond to my lighter side, but now RT BookReviews is comparing my work to “Cheryl Holt, Lisa Kleypas and Celeste Bradley.” And I’m happy to report that Distracting the Duchess is the first of my titles to be offered in Walmart!

Personally, this is huge. Most of my extended family lives in small Midwestern towns—places where Walmart is THE bookstore. Since my Diana Groe books weren’t in Walmart, I don’t think some of my cousins ever actually believed I was published. Of course, now the books will be under Emily Bryan, so they still may not believe!

My next Emily Bryan romance will be Pleasuring the Pirate in August 2008 and a 3rd is contracted for spring 2009.

You write historical romance. What do you like about the sub-genre, and what challenges does it present?
EB: I love writing historicals because I love reading them. Nothing takes me away like a totally different time and place. It does require a good bit of research because the historical readership is very sophisticated. If I mess up, I’ll hear about it. But I enjoy the research and I don’t limit it to the library. Before I wrote Silk Dreams, which takes place in a harem, I took belly dancing lessons! Why should my heroine have all the fun?

Distracting the Duchess is set in the very early years of Queen Victoria’s reign. One of the challenges was creating characters who aren’t the usual suspect—you know, the ingĂ©nue and the rake. That story’s been told, often and well. I wanted to tell a different tale, so my heroine is a widowed duchess who paints nudes and my hero isn’t a titled lord. He’s a second son who dreams of serving his country in British India. Trev never expected to have to serve his queen by posing nude, but when the clues to Beddington’s key lead to Artemisia’s doorstep, Trev’s mission becomes . . .Distracting the Duchess.

What advice can you give aspiring authors?
EB: Join your local RWA chapter and attend the meetings. Find a critique group or partner. Set goals and stick to them. Writing is wonderful fun, but it’s also a business. You may as well get used to deadlines now. Above all, WRITE EVERY DAY! Don’t wait for the Muse. She’s on permanent vacation in Maui. Creativity is a muscle. You strengthen it with regular exercise. Please visit my websites (yeah, I have 2) http://www.dianagroe.com/ & http://www.emilybryan.com/ . Check out the Writer’s Corner and my Recommends page for tips and encouragement. If I can do it, you can do it. Good luck!

Thanks so much Diana/Emily for your insights.

Because writing can be a long-term career, reinvention is an extremely important skill to learn. The book market changes very quickly (say about every 2-3 years)--the climate is different and readers want something with a different mood.

Reinvention can help in several ways: 1. if your sales are not what the bookstores and publisher want them to be, or 2. if you personally find yourself wanting to go a new direction and try something new.

It's a topic that should be explored in-depth, food for a future blog!

Friday, February 15, 2008

You Gotta Love It

I complain a lot when I have a pile of things to do--I get overwhelmed and can't believe I decided that writing was a good profession.

Case in point: I have a manuscript due March 1, but also have revisions for another book due March 1, plus have to go over copyedits for a novella (due Feb. 19), plus stay on top of all the marketing for the book I have coming out in April. Not to mention getting workshop handouts to the conference coordinator for an April conference and buying the bags for said conference. (I'm buying them myself and donating them.)

When I start running around with my eyeballs rolling in mad circles, my friends and family tell me "Calm down, and for today, don't write."

Wait. What?

Don't write?

You might as well say "Don't eat." or "Don't breathe."

Because when it comes down to it, I'm a writer because I love to write.

I am a professional writer because I found a way to take doing what I love and turn it into a career. In other words, now I get paid to do what I enjoyed doing anyway.

I can talk on this blog or in my workshops about how you can make a living as a writer (working your butt off is a big requirement). I have ambition--I want to stay a bestseller and sign more contracts and make more and more money.

But even if no one ever bought a single book from me again, I'd still write stories. I'd pass them around to my friends or post them for free on a website.

I write because I love telling stories. Some days I know I have to sit down and write (and do a good job), and that dismays me. Some days I'm not in the mood. But most days, I sit down excited to be back at it. It's the first job I've had where I look forward to Monday.

I've lost track of how many books I've written. I wrote about seven before I got published (that's the number I tell everyone, and I think it's right, but the truth is, I can't remember). Book number 20 is due to come out in April 2008, and that's just paperbacks published by NY publishers. I have also published four books and four novellas at an e-publisher. I have another book coming out sometime this year at the e-publisher, plus two more NY published books, and then four NY books and a novella in 2009. And that doesn't count the other e-books I plan to write and the proposals for the next round of contracts. All in five years.

And this doesn't even count the number of stories I've started and then decided weren't good enough and pushed aside (although I do take good ideas from unfinished stories and use them in the ones I know will work). Plus those seven (about) unsold manuscripts.

My point is that I've done all that (when, I have no idea), and I still love to write. Story after story still pours into my brain, and I look forward to getting my hands into it.

I don't think I could have survived this long writing so many books if each one wasn't special to me. It has nothing to do with how much money I might make, how many good reviews I might get, how many awards I might be up for.

I seriously just love it.

When I write the book money, reviews, awards, etc. aren't even in my brain. I'm in the story with these people waiting to see what they'll do. (This is probably why I never outline first--it's much more fun to "watch" it happen.).

Some books I've made a pathetically tiny amounts of money on. Some books have earned me nice, fat royalty checks that make me smile. And you know what? I don't love the money-earners any more than the non-money earners, or the award winners more than those that never even got nominated.

For each book, something in that story spoke to me, and made all the stress of marketing, revisions, edits, proofs, contracts, blah blah blah worth it. If you take all that stuff away, the joy of writing is still there, at least for me.

I don't know how much help this is to aspiring and new authors, but I think I'm trying to reassure everyone that you can do this job and get paid for it without that taking away the wonderfulness of why you wanted to do it in the first place.

You gotta love it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Writing with Stress

My ms. that was due in January is in and things are settling down here (well, not really--after I turned in the ms. I had to deal with the hundreds of things I'd been putting off while I wrote).

What I never knew about being a published writer is that there is so much more to it than writing a book and giving it to your publisher. You need to keep up with:

Talking with your agent about new projects and writing new proposals.

Signing contracts and getting them to the right people at the right time.

Keeping up blogs and websites (whether you do it yourself or give updates to someone else).

Keepng track of who owes you what money when and follow-up when it doesn't appear (your agent does most of this, but it's always good to keep your finger on it.)

Doing revisions of mss. already turned in.

Working with your editor on cover and back cover copy.

Checking copy-edits.

Proofreading the final pages.

Preparing self-marketing strategies for books as they come out. (This can involve mailing cards or book covers to readers groups or booksellers, mailing out review copies [if the publisher doesn't], buying ad space in print and online, and so much more.)

Keeping track of business expenses and taxes.

Preparing for and giving workshops.

Doing signings and appearances.

Doing interviews, both online and in person and guest blogging.

Going to conferences.

Not to mention the general work of keeping your desk from collapsing under the weight of all the paperwork you will get around to filing "someday."

Because I write four to five books a year, multiply all this times five.

So what happens when major events happen in your life, and you still have to get all this stuff done? Remember that most authors work by themselves, although some hire assistants to do the busy work (mailing, copying, keeping track of things, and all that filing.)

There are two very important things to remember:

1. Your life is more important than your writing career. You can always get back to your writing career later.

2. In your writing career, the single most important thing is the writing. All the other stuff I talked about is secondary.

Now, if you are stuck like I was having to finish books while I was both busy and upset, there are several things you can do.

1. Talk with your editors and/or agent (or whoever is waiting for your work) and explain exactly what is going on. Mine were fantastically understanding and supportive.

2. Ask someone to help you with all the busy work, both in your writing and personal life. There's no need to be a martyr and go it alone. You can always help them when things are bad for them.

That's the mechanics--now for the actual writing.

1. I found that writing helped me retreat a little from the bad things that were happening in my life. It's fine to sink yourself into creativity and your imaginary world for a while if that helps you cope.

2. Write in a place where you are the most comfortable. If you have the best output at a coffee house, plan an hour to go there and write.

3. Don't worry about writing. The best gift my editors and agent gave me was to say "don't worry, take your time." That let me write when I could and not stress over it when I couldn't. I had to be there for others, and I didn't feel pulled apart, or guilty no matter what I did.

4. Keep taking care of day-to-day stuff and don't let it pile up too high. That way when you get back to writing you don't have things falling on you, and your clothes are clean.

5. Relax. Let the writing flow, let it be your therapy. Don't try to write something you really don't want to. OR let the discipline of writing on one project every day carry you through.

6. Find methods that block out unhappy feelings for you--for example, writing to certain music, writing by candlelight, reading something inspiring before you sit down to write, prayer, writing in complete solitude or writing surrounded by people. Whatever makes your writing session more productive or calms your mind.

As I said before, sometimes the writing itself will help you get through.

I hope this is helpful. These are random thoughts that came to me while I was coping with stress and a sad event and had to keep writing.

But I did it--I finished the ms. I was working on and turned it in, and now am working on the next project (and doing a workshop and booksigning this weekend, signing contracts and mailing them, working with my editor on cover copy, looking at copy-edits . . .)