Posted On December 16, 2013 by Print This Post

Embracing Challenges by Toni Blake

Today we’re excited to welcome USA Today best-selling author TONI BLAKE to Romance University!

Once upon a time I wrote the book of my dreams. It was inspired and passionate and had come from a place deep in my heart, and as an added bonus, it was written under contract so I already knew people would read it. I was, by this point – ten published books and many more still unpublished books into my career – an author who knew exactly how I wrote and shaped a book, so even as hard as I had worked on it, at the same time, this particular book had come instinctually – I knew what worked for me, and for my readers; I knew how I structured a story, I knew what elements moved things along, I totally knew who I was as an author.

And then a funny thing happened. I turned the book in to my editor and soon after, my agent called me to say, “Great news! They love the book! And they love the setting! They love it so much they want it to be the first book of a series all set in the same small town!”

Now you have to bear in mind that this was at a time in romance publishing when series were typically only written by big name authors in whom a publisher was already very invested. Whereas these days series are the norm, at any level, not too long ago a large portion of the romance market consisted only of stand-alone “single title” books that were not related to other books. And up to this time, that was what I had written – stand-alone single titles. I loved writing stand-alone books. With each book, I was creating a whole new world to draw readers into. I was picking a setting that compelled and fascinated me. Sometimes aspects of the setting became metaphors, and always the setting was chosen as the perfect backdrop for the particular characters and story and it was a huge part of the story, almost another character.

And suddenly I was being told that I was supposed to place every book in the same small town I’d just created specifically for this one story that I was mentally done with? In my head, I was also done with the town. And I was being told that these stories should be linked – that I needed to go back into the book of my dreams and add in new characters who could be used as heroes and heroines in future books.

In short, I was devastated. This wasn’t how I wrote. I wasn’t interested in hopping on the small town series bandwagon. This wasn’t who I was as an author. I wrote deeper stuff than I could put into a series. The town I’d just created – and finished with – hadn’t been designed with future stories or characters in mind; it wasn’t a one-size-fits-all setting. And to be told that this was what was required of me in order for my publisher to feel confident they could build my name in the marketplace made me feel … lost.

But the fact was: I wanted to keep writing books and getting paid for it. It’s my love, but it’s also my job. And if I have a publisher who is excited about building me and who loves my stories, maybe I needed to meet them halfway.

So I got a new attitude. I approached the change as a challenge, and the truth is, writers need new challenges from time to time. From the outside, switching from stand-alone stories to a series doesn’t look like a big deal, but for me, it truly changed everything about the way I approach a book – it was recreating the wheel. But I decided to embrace the challenge – which was to write books within certain new parameters not of my choosing, and still find a way to make them books of my heart, each and every one.

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And as in all romances, this story too has a happy ending. Because do you know what happened? Once I wrapped my head around a new way of doing things, once I embraced the challenge and got past the idea of change, I fell absolutely head over heels in love with my small town and every character and story that grew out of it! I learned new, expansive ways of thinking – of letting stories grow from what I learned about characters in previous books they were in. I loved twining it all together and building in motifs and storylines that I could carry from book to book.

The book that started all this was ONE RECKLESS SUMMER, Book 1 of what became the Destiny Series. And hopping on the small town series bandwagon but doing it in a way that is very individual to me and the stories and ideas that move and compel me has resulted in my career finally taking off! So now I totally thank my publisher for making me write a series! Both from the standpoints of success and personal fulfillment. Now I think and create differently and I love the process. And I couldn’t be happier with the books I’ve turned out as well as the ones to come in the future.

So what’s the point of all this? That there are always lessons to learn in this business and new challenges to face and embrace. And embracing them will take you a lot farther a lot faster than resisting them. It’s all about attitude. Now, I’m not suggesting anyone throw their artistic integrity out the window. In fact, it’s the opposite. I’m suggesting that if you can be given a certain “assignment” or a set of parameters to write within and you succeed in doing that and still turning out work you absolutely love and absolutely loved creating, it can bring an even greater sense of pride and achievement to your work.

And another lesson? Sometimes your publisher and your agent do know best. I’m not saying this is true 100% of the time with every publisher and agent on the planet – but always remember that their job is to make you a success and if they’re suggesting you do something new, they’re suggesting it because they think you’ll do it well and that it will be a successful venture. So any suggestion from your publishing team is always worth looking at with an open mind.

Writing a series turned out to be the best thing that ever happened in my career – in terms of sales/success, in terms of expanding my creativity, and in terms of actually ending up writing books that came to feel like home to me, like the exact place I was meant to be. And if I’d resisted and argued and gotten my way, I’d have never discovered any of that wonderful stuff.

So thank God for challenges and changes!

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WILDEST DREAMS

From the seductive rhythms of Bourbon Street to the sultry climes of the bayou, a woman’s search for the truth leads her into danger and passion beyond her wildest dreams . . .

Advertising executive Stephanie Grant knows how to sell an idea, but she’s never had to sell herself before. Walking into The Big Easy’s most exclusive bordello, however, she’s ready to do just that. What Stephanie doesn’t expect is to encounter a man who sees right through her disguise, laying bare not only what she wants, but what she needs.

The lithe blonde who glides up to Jake Broussard’s bar could have any man she chooses, but that isn’t her endgame. The ex-cop quickly catches on to Stephanie’s real plan, and it won’t be long before Chez Sophia’s rich and powerful clientele do the same. Stephanie’s playing with fire. Good thing this hometown boy likes it hot.

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Have you had to embrace any challenges in your writing lately?

Author CHERYL HARPER joins us on Wednesday.

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Bio:
toni_head_and_torso
Toni Blake is the USA Today bestselling author of over twenty novels published in numerous languages. Her heartfelt and sensual stories are known for taking readers on an emotional journey.

A RITA®-nominated author, Toni is the recipient of numerous awards for her books, including the National Readers Choice Award and the Booksellers Best Award. Her work has also appeared in Cosmo.

Toni’s most recent and hugely popular Destiny series takes place in a small Ohio town where coming home means finding your true heart and maybe even your true love.

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Discussion

16 Responses to “Embracing Challenges by Toni Blake”

  1. Thanks so much for this great post, Toni! I’ve been a fan ever since I read LETTERS TO A SECRET LOVER. Now I’m trying to work my way through your back list as well as keeping up with your new books. I LOVE the cover of WILDEST DREAMS – I’ll have to add that to my Christmas wish list.

    I hear you’ve had a ton of snow – stay warm! Thanks so much for visiting with us!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 16, 2013, 12:37 am
  2. This is EXACTLY what I’m going through right now. Only, I’m still in the lost part. The process you describe is exactly mine. My book grows inside me for months–I dream the scenes–the feelings for the characters, for each scene, are big and real. So to find out I had to turn the one book–that I’d moved on from completely–into 3? When I had zero feeling for any of the other characters in the book? It’s thrown me into major tumult. This is my greatest challenge as a writer so far–changing my whole process. I’m doing it, of course, but I’m worried that the book will lack the heart of my other books–because I don’t feel these characters–they don’t compel me (yet)! The scenes haven’t been popping up in my mind, allowing me to develop them. So I’ll embrace your attitude here and welcome the challenge because it can only grow me as a writer. Thanks for posting it–the timing is unbelievable!

    Posted by Suzanne | December 16, 2013, 5:17 am
  3. Thanks for the warm welcome, Becke – pun intended. This has been the snowiest December I ever remember in my area in my entire life. I’m hoping we’re getting it all out of the way before Christmas and then have a nice, dry, abnormally warm winter. ;) And thanks so much for the kind words about my books! :) I’m pretty in love with the cover for WILDEST DREAMS and SOOOO excited for this book to find a whole new audience.

    Posted by Toni Blake | December 16, 2013, 8:41 am
    • We used to visit my daughter in Florida for Christmas, but she moved to Chicago this summer. She likes the snow but she’s NOT fond of the icy weather. Stay warm! I’m hoping we’ll have a short winter to make up for the early freeze. Or a nice long warm spell in January!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 16, 2013, 9:28 am
  4. Wow, Suzanne, your situation does indeed sound familiar. I feel your pain – I remember exactly what that was like. But I think the most important word you said in your comment was “yet.” Have faith in your ability to love these characters and to find their hearts and what moves them. If you build it, they will come. ;) I can’t explain how, but it just happens. Try to let go of the fear and discomfort and stories you love will materialize. I truly was never so shocked as when I realized I’d started to truly LOVE writing a series and new opportunities and tools that presented to me as a storyteller. Embrace, embrace, embrace, and I know you’ll find your way!

    Posted by Toni Blake | December 16, 2013, 8:45 am
  5. Morning Toni…

    I’m super glad you embraced that challenge, I love reading your books! I feel I have the potential to write series, in that I always love my secondary characters – sometimes more than the H/H! Of course, I’ve never had to try it yet….=)

    Did you have to go back and rework the first book in the series? Or just try to continue on in the second book?

    Thanks for posting with us today!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 16, 2013, 9:09 am
  6. Hi Toni,

    Stories are a challenge to get on paper, then to be told to change it can be daunting. Good thing imagination knows no bounds.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 16, 2013, 10:03 am
  7. Thank you, Carrie – love hearing that you enjoy my books! :)

    One big problem I had WAS in fact the secondary characters I’d created. I, too, had in the past written secondaries who I loved so much that they’d threatened to take over the story – and so by the time I wrote this book I was very careful to be writing friends and sidekicks who were just that – who served well in their sidekick role but who didn’t have a story begging to be told or a personality you just couldn’t get enough of.

    So what I had to do was go back through ONE RECKLESS SUMMER and find places and ways to add in new characters, giving them small enough roles not to affect the plot of the book, but making them interesting enough that readers would be happy to encounter them in their own story later. It felt a little obvious to me in the first book, because it was done after the fact, but I’m pretty sure readers didn’t notice. And after that – happily – the process became much more organic. Because I knew certain characters would have a story coming up, I could amp up their roles a little, leave questions about them unanswered, make readers care about them, etc. And the great joy in that is that readers DO care. And this process became a HUGE creative force in the series. What started as the hero’s emotional wound in Book 2 came back to be a huge plot point with a new character in Book 5, and from that plot point and character grew Book 6. And secondary character in Book 3 became the hero in Book 6 because readers kept asking me for his story. So what started out being the big problem ended up being the greatest reward for me as a writer in the end.

    Best of luck with your books :)

    Posted by Toni Blake | December 16, 2013, 10:19 am
  8. Exactly, Mary Jo, and it can be good when our imaginations are asked to flex different muscles than usual. ;)

    Posted by Toni Blake | December 16, 2013, 10:20 am
  9. BTW, a bit of blatant self promotion here – but hope you guys will find me on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter – I’m AuthorToniBlake on all my social media. And I’m a Facebook kinda girl. ;)

    Posted by Toni Blake | December 16, 2013, 10:23 am
  10. I did not know this was how the Destiny series was created! But how awesome for you (and me and all the other readers).

    I wish you continued success with Coral Cove.

    And maybe one day, if the covers are changed for a group of new readers, I’ll bring along the old version to a signing and you can take the pics together.

    Posted by MarcieR | December 16, 2013, 6:28 pm
  11. Toni – Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. I wish you continued success with your writing!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | December 16, 2013, 8:52 pm
  12. Aw, thank you, Marcie :) You are so sweet! And thank you, Becke, for inviting me!

    Posted by Toni Blake | December 17, 2013, 12:20 pm
  13. Hi Toni,
    You are definitely right.Changes should really be regarded inevitable in your writing career. Remaining rigid is tantamount to closing various doors leading to success opportunities. No one wishes to remain static either financially or professionally. Success is all what is needed.Bravo ,Toni, for making a right decision.

    I have liked it that you knew yourself better and that you took your publisher’s proposal as a challenge. Had you ognored it, it would be like throwing youself out of the admiration of the publisher.

    I have liked your work.

    Good luck!
    Ben.

    Posted by Benson Masambah | December 21, 2013, 2:11 am

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