Whether you’re under contract or trying to snag another deal, you’re a professional now, with the pressures of a published novelist compounded with the still-present nagging self-doubt of the noobie. How to deal?
Today’s guest is Mary Ann Marlowe, a central Virginia-based contemporary romance writer who works by day as a computer programmer/DBA. Her debut novel, SOME KIND OF MAGIC, is scheduled for release with Kensington in February 2017. Its sequel is also contracted for later release.
Is it hard to leave behind the first contract and focus on the second?
Let me start by explaining that I’m answering this for my third book, which is my second contract, because I sold two completed books at once, and my second novel was already finished. My “second novel” blues got transferred to a book I sold on proposal with a little more than six months from contract to deadline. I’m writing this book currently, and the pressure is real.
I’m leaving behind a pair of companion books to work on a standalone. It’s always hard to start a new project for me, but it wasn’t particularly hard to leave behind my first published books. Publishing takes a long time, and the advice is to focus on writing to get your mind off all the things you can’t control. So between signing my first and second contracts, I wrote four more books, and only one of those was in the same world as the first books. All of those finished books were rejected by my publisher, but together, we came up with the premise for the next book they wanted me to write on proposal.
What I find challenging is writing for the first time toward someone else’s specifications. There’s a benefit to having set requirements since I don’t have to wonder if what I’m writing will ever see the light of day, but the knowledge that it must conform to the agreed upon terms can be a bit paralyzing. Still, it’s an interesting experiment, and I feel fortunate to have been trusted to run with an idea.
At what point do you start diverting your energies from promoting your debut and writing / polishing / editing your second?
Promotion is a low-level constant once a book is in the world. There are conferences and book signings that crop up. Or the book goes on sale and you don’t like the graphics that didn’t work last time and want to make new ones. Writing is for me a high-level constant. I like to hard core draft a book every three or four months and then revise in the interim, so those habits helped me with turning my attention to the new manuscript while juggling the promotion for the debut and the second which is about to release. The amount of time needed to get everything done seems to grow exponentially with every book.
Your first books landed an agent and an editor, and hopefully some fans. Who are you writing the next one for? Them, or yourself?
I wrote the first contracted books for myself and my close friends with the dream of having readers and hopefully fans one day. Since this next one was contracted, I’m writing it for my editor first, but also for other authors and readers since it’s about a bookshop owner and debut author who makes the fateful decision to respond to a negative review. (Don’t do this!) I wouldn’t have been able to write this book if I hadn’t gone through the experience of publishing my first book. Life is strangely imitating art right now since, like my MC, I’m racing against a deadline for one book while another is receiving advance reviews already. Having reviews crop up while trying to draft can mess with your head if you let it, which is yet another thing I didn’t have to deal with while writing the debut novel.
Is there a new balance of time management to address once you’re a professional author?
Absolutely. It’s so important to make time for the writing. But there are many more commitments, especially early on as you’re trying to learn what works and what doesn’t. I spend a lot of time talking with other debut authors about promotional opportunities, growing newsletters, maximizing ads, booking interviews, scheduling signings, requesting reviews, writing blog posts. All that is in addition to the volunteer work a lot of us do to pay forward whatever help we’ve gotten from authors a little further along the road to publication. It’s easy to let all of that eat up writing time. I try to use down time at my day job to do a lot of this work or it will eat right through my writing time.
What did you do differently this time around, with the perspective of a published author?
I’m much more aware of marketing this time around. I’m cognizant that my title, cover, and novel need to present as a whole, so I bear in mind what readers are going to expect going in and try to adhere to that expectation without becoming predictable. I’ve learned that you want to find your audience more than just any readers, because attracting the wrong audience – that is people who want your book to be something it isn’t – leads to disappointment and bad reviews. I’m very focused on making sure my next book will follow through on the promise of the title and hook.