As most of our readers know, RU is a big supporter of Brenda Novak’s Online Auction for the Cure of Diabetes. And in fact, our e-reader—winner’s choice—is up tomorrow, May 17, on a one-day auction! (Subliminal message: check it out, check it out, check it out…) During last year’s auction, I was fortunate enough to place the winning bid on a Q&A with author Heidi Betts. Today, she’s here to share some of those answers with you. And she’s generously offered to give away a book from her back list (winner’s choice) to three lucky commenters today! (US residents only, please)
Welcome to RU, Heidi!
Kelsey: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Heidi: So far, you mean, right? LOL Because I’m sure there’s another one just around the corner—there always is. Probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced, and the one that threw me for a loop for a while, was when the bottom fell out of the western historical market. That’s all I was writing at the time, so when they stopped doing well, I was truly up the creek. Did I want to keep writing them, knowing that even if a publisher bought them, sales would be lousy? Or did I want—and need—to do something else?
It took some soul-searching, and a lot of hard work, but I opted to go the reinvention route and try my hand at series contemporary instead. Looking back, I can see that the death of western historical was actually a blessing for me…it led me to the category world and Silhouette (now Harlequin) Desire, which I love. But there were more than a few frantic moments while all that was going on, believe me.
Kelsey: What are your thoughts on launching a romance writing career through category romance?
Heidi: I think it’s a great idea! Category is a fabulous place to be, and it really teaches you to be a better writer. Writing category teaches you to write tighter, to write within a certain structure, and to edit yourself. (Just because they’re shorter doesn’t mean they’re easier to write; in fact, the opposite is probably true.) A lot of wonderfully successful single title authors started out in category, and a lot have continued to write both because it is such a satisfying place to be.
Kelsey: What are the most prevalent craft problems you see in unpublished manuscripts?
Heidi: To be perfectly blunt, I see a lot of writing out there that’s just plain bad. But I also see a lot of unpublished work that’s simply lacking voice and vibrancy. The grammar and such might be fine. Structurally, the writing is solid, but there’s nothing compelling about the storyline or writing style; there’s no emotion, no flair, and nothing that draws a picture in your mind, so that it really just feels like words on a page. When I sit down with to read a book (or an unpublished manuscript), I want it to suck me in and play cross my mind’s eye like a movie. I want to see, feel, hear, taste, smell everything the same as the characters do, and to not be able to put the story down. Or if I do, I want that story to linger in the back of my mind, calling to me until I can get back to read a bit more.
Kelsey: What’s the smartest business decision you’ve ever made for your writing career?
Heidi: I like to think I’ve made a lot of smart business decisions…and only a few low I.Q. ones LOL…but the smartest would probably be leaving an agent who didn’t believe in me, wasn’t enthusiastic about my work, and really didn’t care about me one way or the other to find one who’s the exact opposite. It was not a smooth transition, and there was some down time when I was quite agentless, but in retrospect I still think it’s the wisest career move I’ve ever made.
Kelsey: What do you feel it takes to break into the single title contemporary romance market?
Heidi: That’s a tough one, especially these days. Right now, it seems that everything is paranormal, paranormal, paranormal. But it also seems that just about everything that could be done along those lines has been done in one form or another. I think the best advice that can be given on this is the same advice that’s been given time and time again: Write the very best book you can. Don’t worry so much about the market and trends; follow your heart and your gut and write what you love to read. When the passion is there, it will shine through in the writing and get you noticed, regardless of what’s hot or what’s not at any given moment.
Kelsey: What’s the most valuable piece of writing advice you’ve received?
Heidi: To take in as much information as I could, like a sponge, but to pick and choose what I wanted to believe and which bits of advice I would follow. You hear a lot of advice out there. Authors talk about how they do things and what’s worked for them, and you think you need to follow in their footsteps. When the truth is, you need to take what you like and leave the rest. Find your own path, your own process. Jumping out of bed at 6a.m., getting dressed, and going into an actual office space to write for eight hours straight may work for some authors…but rolling out of bed at noon, padding around in pajamas half the day, and then settling down to write until 3a.m. works for others. No one should ever tell you you have to do something exactly this way or that way, and you should never think you have to do something exactly the way someone else does to be successful. Not even Nora.
Kelsey: How do you keep your creativity alive?
Heidi: Hallucinogenic drugs and vast quantities of alcohol. No, wait. Caffeine. No, wait again. Okay, there is probably a certain amount of caffeine involved. But, really, I think I just love what I’m doing. I love telling another new story about a new set of characters. I love coming up with the ideas for new stories. So while there are times you might find me banging my head against the wall or playing Spider Solitaire because I am desperately trying to avoid having to actually deal with my plot problem, I really enjoy finding out what happens next, seeing what pops up in a story that I might not be expecting, and having a good writing day. And I love finishing a story, then going back through and realizing it’s even better than I thought it was while writing. (Because there’s a point in each manuscript where I’m convinced the entire thing is a pile of steaming dog poo and I’m going to have to start over, even though I only have a week and a half left on my deadline.) And then I love the moment when I get to rub my hands together and say, “Okay, what do I work on next?” I usually know what I need to write next—unfulfilled contracts have a way of keeping you uber-organized on that score—but I never quite know how I’ll begin or where that story will take me.
Kelsey: What do readers tell you they like best about your stories?
Heidi: The word “delightful” pops up in reviews for my books and in reader letters quite often. And I love it! I can’t think of a bigger compliment than to be told one of my books delighted someone. Or kept them reading into the wee hours of the night. I think readers like my books because the characters are real and relatable. I also throw in a dash of humor and sexiness, which I think is always appreciated. And my goal, really, is to simply entertain you. I’m not trying to impress you with my handle on the English (or any other) language, or teach you something, or save the world…well, not through my books, anyway …I just want to give you a really good, fun, and sexy story that will hopefully leave you with a smile on your face—and eager for my next release.
Kelsey: How do you handle a poor review?
Heidi: I burst into tears, rail to the heavens, mope around for days, and sometimes try to take my own life in utter despair. LOL Okay, so the temptation for some of those is there, but really, a review—good or bad—is just one person’s opinion, and I don’t always care what that person thinks. It’s true that some of them can be quite mean-spirited, but when they are, I always stop to wonder how massively unhappy that person must be if trashing one of my books makes them feel better. And sometimes it’s just a matter of being a bad match of book to reader.
So, yeah, there are times when I might scowl and silently flip a negative review the bird, but then you give them exactly the amount of attention they deserve—which is zero—and move on. The good reviews far outweigh the bad, thank goodness, so those are the ones you want to dwell on. And really, my focus tends to be firmly planted on the next book—the one I’m currently writing or the one that’s just come out—anyway.
To ramble on a bit here, let me share a quick anecdote that will put reviews and the like into perspective: When it comes to my second “Chicks with Sticks” book, LOVES ME, LOVES ME KNOT, people pretty much either love it or hate it. No middle ground. And I got a lot of flack over one of the opening scenes where the heroine drugs her ex-husband and ties him to the bed for a little good, old-fashioned forced seduction. Yep, there it is—the immediate knee-jerk reaction. You are either hating that concept right now, or thinking, Ooh, that sounds interesting… Readers either love it or hate it. I happen to love it. And knowing the characters as I do, there was no question they belonged together, and that the scene was merely a catalyst to shake them up a bit and get them back together.
But some of the reviews I got for this book were brutal. B-r-u-t-a-l. And it was disheartening at times, to say the least. Then one day, I got a letter from a reader who loved the book. (One of the few. *g*) She had read it several times already. It was now her favorite book. And she swore that I had saved her marriage. Apparently, she and her husband were going through a situation very similar to my hero and heroine, and the word “divorce” was being tossed around quite freely. Then she read LOVES ME, LOVES ME KNOT and began to see her husband and marriage from a completely different perspective. Her letter made cry…and it made all of the nasty reviews and negative feedback the book had gotten before that disappear. A thousand negative reviews on Amazon can’t hold a candle to one heartfelt reader response like that.
Kelsey: What’s something you’d like your readers to know about you or your writing process?
Heidi: That I’m writing as fast as I can. LOL And that I’m all over the place sometimes—category, romantic comedy, paranormal—but follow me. PLEASE! No matter what books come out with my name on them, I promise I will always give you a fun, sexy romance with an extremely satisfying happily-ever-after ending. I will not leave you hanging and (hopefully) I will not disappoint.
RU Crew, Heidi will pop in today, so feel free to ask her any questions I missed. What’s the best writing career advice you’ve ever received? Remember, Heidi has generously offered to give away a book from her back list (winner’s choice) to three lucky commenters today! (US residents only, please)
Don’t miss Wednesday when Laurie Schnebly Campbell is here to talk about Mental Spas for writers!
Heidi Betts is the daughter of an Arabian sheik and a Las Vegas showgirl, as well as the heiress to the Chocolate is Better Than Sex Candy Company fortune. Because of this, she eats chocolate in all its many delicious forms for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in-between snacks . . . without ever gaining an ounce on her perfect five-foot-nine, size zero figure.
Each and every one of her breathtaking, award-winning novels has been adapted to film and gone on to become a phenomenal box office smash, featuring such mega-stars as Hugh Jackman and Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts, and Harrison Ford and Charlize Theron.
Heidi readily admits that she is only able to write such passionate love stories because of her real-life happily-ever-after romance with superstar actor Dwayne Johnson, who makes every day a fairy tale. When she’s not writing or making hot, toe-curling love with her “Rock” of a husband, Heidi can often be found riding naked on horseback (a la Lady Godiva) along the beaches of Malibu or hobnobbing with the rich and famous on Martha’s Vineyard.
If you’d like to experience your own perfect, idyllic life just like Heidi Betts, be sure to take the little purple pill. (Not the red one. Never the red one.)
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for May 16-20: Heidi Betts, Laurie Schnebly Cambell, Victoria Gray & Theresa Stevens
- Mills & Boon New Voices – What’s Next?
- The Who, What and How of Book Reviews with Tammie King of Night Owl Reviews
- The Formula for a Successful Category Career
- CYC: State of the Contemporary Romance