We’re very happy to welcome back Natalie Damschroder to the RU campus. Today, Natalie talks about the importance of continuing education for writers.
Great to have you with us again, Natalie!
The first time I was invited to write a post for Romance University, I was immensely flattered. I’d been published for nine years and had several titles to my name, but I was still fairly small potatoes compared to the awesome authors launching this site. When Jennifer contacted me to invite me for this post, “immensely flattered” doesn’t even come close to how I felt. The awards badges down the right sidebar are a testament to the great advice and education that’s been posted here over the years.
Jennifer commented on how much publishing has changed since my first post in 2009, so of course the first thing I did was go back and read that. And she’s right. Obviously, authors have so many more options, so much more control over their careers, so many ways to individualize their path to publication. But it struck me that one thing has never changed, not in the 23 years since I started writing romantic fiction.
Education is probably the most important element in the foundation of your writing career.
Luckily, it’s also the easiest—especially because you’re already here!
This is probably the first thing most of you thought of. So, yep, start out by reading as much as you can in your chosen genre/subgenre. Take classes, attend workshops and conferences, read how-to books and the posts here at RU—do whatever you can to improve your storytelling and your writing. The competition is fierce and gets fiercer every year, and this is your best edge. But it’s only the start.
Know the players on the field. If you want an agent, or want to publish with a publisher, you’ll want to spend time getting to know the ones who will be the best fit for you. That’s SO much harder now than it was six years ago. Everyone moves around so much…opening their own agencies and then switching to a different one, changing publishers or going freelance… Luckily, there are plenty of resources to help you research these editors and agents, and the “new face” of publishing seems to mean they’re more eager to interact with authors. Find them on social media, in classes and meet-ups, at conferences and message boards. Absorb whatever you learn!
If you want to self-publish and aren’t capable to doing it all (most of us aren’t—cover art, editing, and formatting all take different skills than crafting a story does), you need to learn who the best and most affordable providers are for each piece. There’s a whole section of the industry now designed to bilk authors out of the money they haven’t earned yet. Talk to people, get references, check finished product before you choose who to pay for services.
Every time something new seems to work gangbusters to sell books, it takes less time for it to stop working. Book tours! Street teams! Swag! Contests! Advertising! Making the first book in a series free! Facebook parties! Pinterest boards! Promotion and marketing have always been impossible to figure out. What works for one author doesn’t work for another. I used to say that the only thing I know is that you can’t do nothing. And then a friend had a story reissued at a time when she could do zero promotion, and it sold thousands more than any of her other work. *throws up hands*
But no one can buy a book they don’t know about, so some kind of promotional activity is always a good idea. Study what other authors are doing. Read articles and blog posts about promotional ideas. Invest a little bit in trying different things, and figure out what makes you most comfortable. Some authors are great at hand-selling. Some have a powerful social media presence. Some excel with advertising and giveaways. Educate yourself on the possibilities ahead of time to give yourself the best chance when it’s needed.
This is different from marketing education. The market is what people are buying and not buying, and it exists on two levels:
What are readers buying in the bookstores?
What are publishers acquiring to sell to those readers?
You can learn about this in different ways:
- Look at bestseller lists, especially subgenre lists.
- Look for buzz wherever people are talking about books.
- Ask readers what they’re most excited about.
- Subscribe to publisher newsletters to see what they’re pushing.
- Ask editors and agents (in appropriate venues) what is selling right now.
- Ask authors which of their books are most successful.
- Look for articles in specialist publications and mainstream media about authors and books.
It can be hard to write to trends if you’re not a fast writer and if you’re not self-publishing. It can be impossible to write to trends if you don’t like what is trending. If it bores you to read about billionaires and marriages of convenience and hot sex on every other page, you’re probably not going to write a compelling book about those things.
But educating yourself on the market is important so you know where your writing fits. My favorite subgenres have been down for a little while, but the most popular genres are getting glutted again, so things are probably about to shift. Yay! Maybe I can get the timing right and capitalize on that.
It’s also important to watch trends and buzz so you can be ready when it shifts in your favor. There were a LOT of great authors already writing wonderful erotica and erotic romance when EL James burst onto the scene and everyone acted like she’d done something brand new. Many of those authors soared to new heights when they or their publishers rode the erotica wave to find new readers.
Education in this business is less about learning the right things than it is about learning everything. In school, you studied intensively to pass a test and then moved on to something else. As an author, you want to absorb and internalize everything you can learn so that it all builds on itself. Then, when you’re ready to make a move, you can make the best choices with your eyes open and knowing the possible consequences, both good and bad.
How has education helped you develop your career? Is there anything you wish you’d known earlier that could have helped you make a better decision?
In March, I lost my stepmother to cancer in a manner very similar to the way I lost my mother over ten years ago. In their honor, and in appreciation for the care they received at the end of their lives, I am donating all of my income for the sale of my newest release, Kira’s Best Friend, to Baystate VNA and Hospice (via the Baystate Health Foundation) and the Heartland Hospice Memorial Fund.
Kira’s Best Friend (May 2015)
Brook Hollow wasn’t enough for Kira MacGregor, who abandoned it for Boston years ago. She never planned to come back—until her best friend, Jake McKenna, tells her he’s dying.
Jake has always loved Kira, but he loves Brook Hollow just as much. He wouldn’t leave, and she wouldn’t come home. When he faces a frightening diagnosis, he tells her the truth. But the worst doesn’t happen—and Kira doesn’t love him back.
Or so she thinks. Now that he’s drawn her attention to it, she wonders if her feelings are deeper than she knew and returns to Brook Hollow for an extended but temporary stay. Back in Jake’s life, she knows she was wrong. She does love him, and she’s willing to give up everything to be his. Except it’s too late. Jake’s moved on…and is about to get married. (NOTE: This book was originally published in 2005. This is an updated reissue, but the story has not substantially changed.)
Bio: Natalie J. Damschroder is an award-winning author of contemporary and paranormal romance—Love with a Shot of Adrenaline. She sold her first book in 1999, and 2015 saw the publication of her 19th novel. She grew up in Massachusetts and loves the New England Patriots more than anything. (Except her family. And writing and reading. And popcorn.) When she’s not writing, revising, proofreading, or promoting her work, she works as a freelance editor and proofreader. She and her husband have two daughters she’s dubbed “the anti-teenagers,” one of whom is also a novelist. (The other one prefers math. Smart kid. Practical.) You can learn more about her and her books at www.nataliedamschroder.com.
What’s next: Join us on Friday, June 12th, for another column from Adam Firestone, RU’s resident weapons expert.
- CYC: The Pirate’s Guide to a Successful Publishing Career
- Weekly Lecture Schedule, Monday, June 8 – Friday, June 12, 2015
- Leanna Renee Hieber on Writing Adult vs. Young Adult Fiction
- What is Good for the Goose is Not Exactly Good for the Gander: How to know what works for YOU in Promotion by Liz Talley
- Marketing Fiction: Building Super Fans & Making “Free” Work For You by Penny Sansevieri