A romance writing career is a strange confluence of passion and business savvy, creativity and practicality, love and strategy.
I don’t think there necessarily has to be a conflict between writing and business, but it can often feel like there is.
We put a lot of hours into our books. Writing is hard work. We make sacrifices to get it done, be it missing a TV show or foregoing housecleaning or losing time with our kids. So we spend all this time with these characters, in this world we’ve created, but then when the book is done, we have to sell it. You have to detach yourself enough from the work to care about it but endure peer and editorial feedback, to put together a marketing plan, to send the book out for review.
I do think it’s possible to love what you do through the whole process, though, and to do it without losing your mind.
I’ve written quite a lot in the last ten years, particularly since I started pursuing a career as a writer. I’ve written books I loved. I’ve written stories that were intensely personal for me. And I’ve written books that were a real struggle, even a few that my heart wasn’t really in. Not everything I write makes it to publication, but one thing I’ve learned is that, when my heart isn’t in it, readers can tell. I wrote something last year, and one of my beta readers—who has read everything I’ve ever published—sent the manuscript back and essentially said, “What the hell is this?” Because she could tell it wasn’t up to my usual standards.
I appreciated being called on that. Because it showed me that I’m a better writer when I’m really invested in my stories. When I care about the characters. When the stories resonate with me emotionally. If I’m just going through the motions, readers can tell.
I think to be a writer, you have to love it. It’s too hard and there’s too much working against you if you don’t. Which I don’t say to discourage you, just to say that writing romances is not a ticket to easy money.
I don’t know if it’s because I’ve written so much or because my training as an editor has thickened my skin, but I’ve found that I can love something while I’m writing it and disconnect enough from it to accept criticism during the beta and editorial process. (Reviews are… a different issue.) It helps to know that the aim of a good editor is to make your work better, so if they’re pointing out issues, it’s so that I can fix them before the book is released. It’s like putting a coat of gloss over a piece of furniture.
And if you love writing, you can love the whole process, all of it. I’ve been reading romances since I was a teenager, I still read them all the time, and I love the genre. I love talking about romance novels, especially ones that aren’t mine. And that’s part of my marketing strategy. I love attending romance-related events, everything from RWA/NYC meetings to local author readings to big conventions, because talking to other romance authors and fans inspires me. Being among what I’ve come to think of as my tribe makes me want to write more. I really love this community, I love these books, and thinking about that inspires me to write.
This is why it doesn’t work to write to trends. Sure, if, say, stories with bear shifters are suddenly hot and the book of your heart features a bear shifter, then now is a great time to get it published. But at the same time, no one knows what the next big thing is. Maybe you want to write something completely at odds with what’s currently on the bestseller lists, and that will be the next thing to catch on. It’s hard to know. But if you’re writing a bear shifter story because they’re trendy and not because your heart is really in it? Readers will be able to tell.
Write what you love, is the bottom line. Embrace it. Feel it. Weave your passion throughout the process, from writing to editorial to marketing. If you love what you do, it’ll come across in the way you present yourself online and in person. And if writing what you love makes you happy? There’s nothing better than that, is there? ♥
Kate McMurray is an award-winning author of gay romance and an unabashed romance fan. When she’s not writing, she works as a nonfiction editor, dabbles in various crafts, and is maybe a tiny bit obsessed with baseball. She has served as President of Rainbow Romance Writers, the LGBT romance chapter of Romance Writers of America; and as Vice President of RWA/NYC. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. Visit her at www.katemcmurray.com.