Today’s Visiting Professors at Romance University are authors MOLLY O’KEEFE and RAEANNE THAYNE. They are tackling a timely topic: MAKING THE LEAP. Whether you are indie, digital first or a succesful category author there are some things you need to think about before going after a Big Six contract.
Molly: Thanks to all the publishing changes in the last five years the road to making a living in this industry now has a thousand paths. But no matter if you are self-published, digital first, Harlequin and Silhouette or fan fiction when you start to think about signing with a big six publisher there are some questions you need to ask yourself.
First of all, there is no better time than right now to set realistic goals about what you want to accomplish in the next five years. But set those goals without factoring in the things you cannot control. Do you want to write more books? Longer books? Do you want to push yourself creatively? Self-publish? Write for more than one publisher? Start making that list and then ask yourself what can a big-six publisher do to help you get there.
Have you clearly defined in your own head why you want to write single title and whether you’re mentally ready for the challenges ahead? People are making a good living publishing their own work or writing for a digital first publisher with better terms. And signing a contract because writing for a big six publisher used to be a dream might not be the best decision for the present. If a publisher can get you better distribution, or a great advance, if they can get your books overseas or in the hands of an editor that can make you a better writer, then those are reasons to sign. But it’s different for every author.
Is this the right time for you? Going from writing for Harlequin to a single title publisher means more often than not, taking on a lot more than just writing the books and taking care of your social media. From the beginning you will be involved in more conversations about marketing and covers. And you will be expected to do a lot more in terms of promotion, and in my experience, spend a lot more. Are those things you’re ready for?
For me, the best and worst part of making the leap from category to single title is the amount of exposure my books get now. Before I was lucky to get reviewed outside of RT magazine, now thanks to net galley and my publisher’s publicity department, I’m reviewed far more widely. Reviews sell books, there’s no question. But bad reviews can ruin my productivity for days.
And so can sweating the numbers. Between print runs, sell-throughs, Amazon rankings, and Bookscan numbers – it all gets far more complicated. And there is much more to obsesses over. As my agent says: The numbers will only make you crazy. And if you are an author who is used to setting your own price point and putting your books on sale – that will all change when you sign with a big six publisher.
So, if you’ve answered all these questions and are still ready to take the leap, what does it mean for your craft? I’ll let RaeAnne answer that.
RaeAnne: Some people think a single title romance is simply a category romance with a little padding. Not so. If you want to have a successful career writing single title romances, you have to be prepared to take your writing to a different level. It’s not simply about word count, it’s about theme, about carefully layering plots and character development, about fine-tuning your prose so that every word sings.
Keep in mind also that some of the category romance hooks that romance readers love (with good reason!) don’t always translate well in the single title arena.
You have to start with getting a handle on the “big idea” – something that will make your story larger, your characters more vibrant and real, the plot more riveting. This is obviously important for every storyteller, no matter the genre, but it’s absolutely vital if you want to have a successful ST career.
Writing larger books allows for more creative freedom and the chance to expand beyond the very necessary (and beloved!) structure and boundaries of category. This is an exhilarating challenge and can energize a writer to try new things and push him or herself in amazing directions.
At the same time, writing outside your comfort zone can feel strange and even frightening.
When I wrote my first single title, BLACKBERRY SUMMER, the writing process was difficult for me because I questioned every sentence, every paragraph. After writing more than thirty category romances for Bantam Loveswept and various lines at Harlequin/Silhouette, I had become comfortable with the pacing and the form of writing a 60,000-word book. I loved writing Special Editions (and still do, which is why I plan to continue writing for the line!) and believe I had developed an instinctive sense for the kind of stories that readers of that particular line wanted.
Once those boundaries were removed, I felt a little like a teenage girl let loose in a mall with a limitless credit card, not sure where to start and giddy with the possibilities. It took me about three books in my Hope’s Crossing series before I felt comfortable with my developing single title voice.
I have since come to love that creative freedom – the chance to explore a secondary character’s POV, to focus on other relationships besides only the developing romance of the hero and heroine, to build a warm, interesting community that transcends setting alone.
As the publishing industry continues to change, more and more opportunities for authors are created, but one thing has always remained the same, no matter what you are writing it pays to be smart about the business and about craft. Deciding what you want and what you need to do to get there is the first step in having a long career in this tumultuous industry.
So, where are you in your career? Is writing single title for a New York publisher still a dream? Or have you found other ways to make a living in this business?
RU contributor HANDSOME HANSEL is back on Monday, November 11
Molly O’Keefe is a RITA-Award winning author with 24 novels in publication.. WILD CHILD the first in her sexy contemporary romance series The Boys of Bishop, is out now. She lives in Toronto, Canada with her family and the largest heap of dirty laundry in North America.
RaeAnne Thayne is a USA Today bestselling author and four-time RITA finalist who has written more than 40 books for HQN, Silhouette Special Edition, Silhouette Intimate Moments/Romantic Suspense and Bantam Loveswept. She finds inspiration from the beautiful mountains of northern Utah, where she lives with her hero of a husband and their patient children.