Last night all I could think about was the deadline for this blog post. I had put it off all month. At the last minute I was hoping to write something inspirational for both readers and writers. While hope springs eternal, I found myself pondering – and pondering – what that perfect message should be.
If I’m going to be honest, I knew I wouldn’t come up with anything substantial because I have been distracted. When I’m distracted I usually sit down with a friend at a coffee shop and hash out whatever is on my mind until I’m back on track. Since I can’t do that you’re ‘it’, my friends in a virtual coffee shop. I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing while I’ve been locked down and pondering this post. We’ll start with the garden and move on from there.
Tomato plants. I haven’t actually thought about the tomatoes as much as I have been checking on them. Going outside every fifteen minutes is a nice break from staring at my blank computer screen or at my husband napping on the couch. No matter how often I check, though, the tomatoes still have not turned red and my husband still has not gone back to work.
My fabric stash. Over the last eight weeks I have knocked it down some. Here’s the count: five blouses, a quilt top, a fully-lined summer suit (1 dress that would have fit 15 years ago when I was 25 pounds lighter), and ten face masks. Here’s my question: is sewing my stash like a tree falling in the forest or is it like ‘build it and they will come’? I think it’s the latter. When the day comes to have dinner in a restaurant I will have lots to wear.
Work. Honestly, my brain has been mush when it comes to writing a new book. I have an idea but I couldn’t get it to gel, so I looked through my files and reread some of my early work. I had so much fun that I edited and published five novels from the 90s. I also published The Death of Me, a novella I wrote that morphed into a novel (Before Her Eyes). These two works are as different as they are similar. Some times pondering one thing will lead to another. The trick is not to ignore the ‘other’. Productivity: mission accomplished.
Finally, I’ve been pondering important things: the individual versus the greater good, the constitution and ‘guidelines’ as our lockdown stretches into yet another week, another month, another century. My heart is sad for those who are sick and who have died; my heart is breaking for my relatives and friends who are losing their livelihood, home and, well, everything they have worked hard for. I won’t tell you which side I’m on when it comes to hunkering down or opening up. I will only say that I realize that what I have been pondering all along is something readers and writers have always been inspired by: story. No matter what road we choose there will be stories at the end of it. We are writing them now.
These will be tales of tragedy and triumph; there will be something to laugh at and something to cry over. We will all see these events – and each other – differently. Eventually there will come a time when we put pondering aside so that we can sit with friends at a coffee shop, tell our stories, and hug each other when all is said and done.
Diagnosing What Ails Your Career
As a writer, working from home during the Coronavirus outbreak is nothing new. What is unusual is that I have not been successful in starting a new novel. Not wanting to waste time stewing about my lack of inspiration, I decided clean house. At stake is my 35 year, 39 book , traditional and indie published career. This includes:
Having retained my rights over the course of my career, I republished all my books when Kindle hit the market. I did not reread those books, I have not re-formatted them since the original uploads, and I have not sold more than a handful. The category romances are so far removed from my thrillers that they don’t seem to be written by the same person. That led me to ask myself this: Is my early work hurting my brand? The answer was yes. Readers made that clear with every review. Now the question became, what should I do about it? The answer to that was a bitter pill.
I have an attachment to these category romances. They are proof that I paid my professional dues, that I worked hard, and that I grew into the author I am now. I thought readers would embrace this journey, but I was wrong. I also thought I loved these books, but I do not. That was hard to admit because these early books represent years of my life, the agony and triumph of traditional publishing, and my point of view not only as an author but as a woman moving through the decades. Admitting these books are amateurish was difficult. Once I did though, it was time for professional triage. This is what I have done.
1. Immediately removed all category romances from every platform.
2. All stand-alone thrillers and series work remain viable and were not touched.
3. Analyzed all 100,000 word Women’s Fiction novels, and determined these books informed by current brand as a thriller writer. They share the elements of intricate the plots, rich characterization, and suspense.
4. I am rebranding the Women’s Fiction into The 90s Collection complete with new covers and a collection banner. I am also editing to create smoother dialogue and expository while removing politically incorrect elements. I have left the flare, fun, and romantic inclinations that were hallmarks of that decade.
I will release these novels as second editions with letters to the reader regarding what they represent in my career arc. I will include my thrillers in the ‘also by’ section of these books, and publish them in Kindle Unlimited since I do not plan to put a lot of advertising money behind them.
It was difficult to admit that I was not ready for primetime all those years ago. A sharp professional scalpel will not leave a lasting creative scar; a prescription for moving forward will make my brand healthier. Bottom line? I know that this triage has been good for my soul, and I have faith that it will be good for my career.
LOOK FOR THE 90S COLLECTION COMING SOON!
By the time you read this it will be the day after Valentine’s Day, and I spent yesterday agonizing about what to write.
This angst over Valentine’s Day and romance is not unfounded. My first book was a romance. In Passion’s Defense was about a defense lawyer falling in love with a prosecutor during a gruesome trial. That should have been my first clue that perhaps mayhem rather than meet ups was my cup of tea. But I was slow on the uptake, and I wrote eight category romances. I think they are pretty darn good and they got better with each one. I wrote my heart out for Harlequin but I couldn’t seem to color in the lines, so I started writing women’s fiction. The editorial freedom, the more intricate plot lines, and the emphasis on plot rather than relationship helped me thrive. Dreams, Seasons, Vanities were just some of my titles. I wrote a lot of women’s fiction, but still I hadn’t hit my comfort zone as a writer. Then two things happened that sealed my fate.
First, the incredible RWA bookseller—Michelle Thorne—delicately informed me that my idea of romance was the hero chucking the heroine on the arm and giving her a smile. She was right. I was not a sexy writer in the years when other authors were pushing the envelope. My editor at Kensington was more direct. He said ‘You have to stop killing people before they get in bed!’. In essence he fired me from romance. I was devastated. Later I realized this was the silver lining in my very dark cloud.
When I started writing thrillers I found my passion and isn’t passion what love is all about? Still, without the learning curve of the romance genre, without the editors and readers, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to break up with women’s fiction as it was defined all those years ago and move on to my literary partner for life.
That doesn’t mean I left romance behind completely. Every book I write is based on relationships, but the emphasis of stories is little different from the classic romance novel. And then there’s my mom. One day she asked if I could write a book-without-bodies. I wrote three. On my mother’s ninetieth birthday, I presented her with a trilogy of sweet, romantic comedies: The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True, The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny and the Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came in. These books encompassed every thing I love about romance: humor, honesty, confusion, honor, and affection for not just one man but all the men in Bailey’s life. Young or old, they be a lover or father or friend, it was all about love. I will always be most proud of, be in love with, the Bailey Devlin Trilogy because it reflects my definition of romance.
Today I put those three books in a boxed set and I hope when a reader finishes the stories, her (his) heart will be fuller, there might be a tear in her eye, she will have laughed out loud and then will turn around and pass all that feeling on to someone she loves.
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day.
So my brother called the other day (actually 2 days into the new year) and said: I have a friend and she wants to write a book. Can you just talk to her and tell her everything you know? I already gave her your phone number.
I have five brothers and sisters, a mom and any number of cousins, in-laws and friends who have each made this request on various occasions. I am always happy to help new writers, but I’m not crazy about my phone number passed around. First, I was probably the only teenage girl in the world who hated talking on the phone and that hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. More importantly it is impossible to distill 30 plus years of writing and publishing experience into a quick conversation and have it benefit a new writer.
The good news is that there is email. Email allows me to put information into a manageable format, provide links to appropriate sites that will help the writer, and allow that person to save the conversation for future reference. Here are some thoughts for the author willing to pay it forward, the writer looking for help, and the brothers and sisters who love to share the author in the family.
THE REFERER: Ask (preferably not with the new writer standing in front of you) if the author has time to help and how they would like to be contacted. Always allow the author to beg off even though most won’t. Writing is a time consuming business and multiple requests can feel overwhelming especially when an author is in the middle of a big project.
THE REFEREE: Be prepared. This tells the author that you are willing to work hard. Preparation should include a basic understanding of what you want to write (genre, form, etc.) and your goal (traditional or indie publishing, to create a career, expand a hobby). Have a short list of specific questions. Don’t try to cover the entire industry in one conversation.
Be respectful. An established author has built her business through trial and error, hard work, rejection and acceptance. Often she has paid for classes and conferences. Respect her hard work, commitment, and risk.
THE AUTHOR IN THE MIDDLE: Be gracious and as effective as you can be. A new writer will be nervous speaking to an established author, so put her at her ease. Then remember that there is a fine line between useful information and too much information. Usually it is possible to tell how much the Referee can absorb from their first contact. If a new writer can’t articulate whether they want to be an indie or a traditionally published author start with the basics, direct this writer to blogs on publishing and offer recommendations for coaches and writing classes. The nuances of the industry would be lost on a true newbie.
Set parameters. I am always grateful when a new author asks if it’s okay to check back in. I love the request as much as I love to hear the progress. As new writers become grounded, their questions often help me rethink my work as much as it helps them move forward.
Don’t miss Lost Witness, Rebecca’s newest addition to The Witness Series, a Josie Bates Thriller.
Join over 2 million readers of The Witness Series!
She marketed a world-class spa when it was still called a gym, did business in China before there were western toilettes at the Great Wall and mucked around with the sheep to find out exactly how her client’s fine wool clothing was manufactured. Then Rebecca wrote her first book and found her passion. Now, over twenty-five books later, she is a USA Today and Amazon bestselling author and writes full-time, penning thrillers that explore the emotional impact of the justice system. She earned her B.A. at Loyola, Chicago and her MBA at Loyola, Los Angeles. Rebecca has taught the Business of Creativity at University of California Long Beach Writers Certificate Program, UCLA and UC Irvine extension. Married to a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, she is the mother of two grown sons and spends her free time traveling, sewing, and playing tennis.
December 1st sees the release of Rebecca’s newest novel Lost Witness the eighth in the Josie Bates Witness.
It’s two in the morning and an aging cargo ship lies off the Port of Los Angeles. Deep in the bowels of the vessel, an important man is dead and the woman who killed him is mortally wounded. On shore another man staggers out of the sea determined to save the woman before she dies or the ship sails. Exhausted and terrified, he goes to the only person he trusts to help, Josie Bates. He brings with him a history she can’t ignore, a problem that seems insurmountable, and a plea she can’t refuse. But Josie is up against international law, maritime justice, a Port Authority that doesn’t want anything to get in the way of profit, the U.S. Coast Guard who dances to the tune of politics and a captain who swears the people in question were never on his ship. With the clock ticking, Josie becomes ever more desperate to prove the woman is real and get her safely ashore. What Josie doesn’t know is that the sands of time that are running out may be her own.
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