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 I was, by this point – ten published books and many more still unpublished books into my career – an author who knew exactly how I wrote and shaped a book, so even as hard as I had worked on it, at the same time, this particular book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.
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!
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.
Have you had to embrace any challenges in your writing lately?
Author CHERYL HARPER joins us on Wednesday.
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.
- Reader Roundup – Travel to Small Towns with Amy Alessio
- Writing a New Series After a Successful Debut Series by Christy Reece
- The Lure of a Series with Hank Edwards
- Long Journey to a Small Press with Debut Author Susan Boyer
- Series Business – Three Types of Series by Misty Evans