The horror stories about writing a novel are plentiful. Certainly the experience can be rewarding, but it takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication to write and publish anything, let alone a 400-page romance novel.
Now try finding time to write that novel while also balancing a day job and trying to raise two toddlers and you will know what then-first-time author Barbara Freethy went through when she decided to write her first novel.
30 novels later, Freethy is a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author who has sold more than one million books and still hasn’t burned out yet. There is no doubt that writing a book of any length is a process that involves writing, editing, marketing, and finding a publisher.
But that hasn’t stopped hundreds of thousands of aspiring novelists to try their hand at the craft anyway. The number of amateur novelists out there is exactly why we found Freethy, so that these aspiring novelists could learn from the experiences of someone who has been there and done that.
How did you first become interested in writing? Did you always see yourself as a novelist, or were there other types of writing you were interested in as well?
I grew up in a house filled with books so reading was always a part of my life. My mother was a voracious reader and she started writing a book while I was in high school. While she never actually published a novel, she wrote several books, and she was my inspiration to give it a try. I never imagined I could make money as a novelist.
Talk a little bit about your education and professional career before becoming a novelist? How did you end up where you did? How did that experience help you get where you are today?
I received a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara. I took quite a few English classes along the way as well. After graduation, I had several interesting jobs, including a stint as a player representative for the women’s professional tennis tour. I jumped from sports into public relations for non-profits and later high tech companies. However, my favorite part of the job was the writing. Eventually I sat down and wrote that novel I’d been thinking about for a very long time.
Talk about how you arrived at the decision to actually sit down and write a novel. Was there a lot of thinking that went into it before you started or did it just sort of happen out of the blue?
I’m not sure what precipitated my decision to open up a file and type Chapter One. It was something I had thought about for a long time. I did immerse myself in the world of books and publishing, joining writers’ groups, studying books on craft, talking to every writer I could find.
I was still working part-time at a day job and had two toddlers, so those early days were one big juggling act. But someone once told me that a page a day is 365 pages a year, which makes a book, and I tried to keep that advice in my mind. If I wrote one page a day, eventually I’d have a book. And it worked!
What were some of the specific challenges you faced in both the actual writing process and finding the time to work on it. What were some of the tricks you used to stay on task? How did you approach the actual writing?
The first book took me about a year and a half to write. I have to admit that I was intimidated by the blank page. I had read so many books that I felt sure I could write one, but when it came down to actually stringing words and plot together, I discovered it was more difficult than I had imagined.
But I forced myself to write something, knowing that I could fix it later. Writing is a lot like exercising. If you do it every day, it gets easier. When you take a break, it’s harder to get going again. So trying to find some time every day to write was my challenge, and even if it was only for twenty minutes, it was important to make the time to get something done.
I have always heard that finding a publisher as an author is very difficult? Talk a little bit about that process and how you decided on the publisher you eventually signed with, and what sort of considerations went into that decision.
Finding a publisher is extremely difficult. Many publishers only accept submissions from agents and sometimes landing an agent is also tough. Writing organizations are a great place to find good publishers. Every genre has a national writer’s group. I belong to Romance Writers of America, which has 10,000 members, about 30 percent are published and the rest are aspiring novelists. There are many other groups to support thrillers, thrillers, sci-fi, children’s books, so whatever genre you’re writing, there’s a group for you.
Now with the eBook revolution, there are more opportunities for writers to independently publish their books directly through retailers like Amazon, B&N and Apple, to name a few. So there are two divergent paths in publishing developing. You can still publish your book with a traditional publisher, or you can make your own way in eBooks and indie publishing. Both have their own challenges.
Before I forget, why romance novels? Was that a subject you were always interested in or did you just find that you were very good at writing those in particular?
Romance is a really broad category. Within the genre there are many niches allowing writers to incorporate, mystery, paranormal, and historical elements. All of my books have a love story, but they also have mystery and suspense and even a little magic on occasion. I love to read books in this genre.
Romance is closely tied to women’s fiction, which are books that delve more into relationships between friends, sisters, etc. I tend to blur the lines between these two genres as I love to add complexity to my stories.
Now talk about your career now that you have become established. Is it easier to write the books and come up with topics now?
Writing is never easy. It seems like it should be, but it’s not. As a writer, I’m always trying to make each book better than the last. And while I doubt I will ever run out of ideas, it can become a challenge to make every story as unique and fresh as possible. My career has had many peaks and valleys. But I still love to write books and I know I have a great job!
You have obviously created a living doing this. What are some of the goods and bads about basically being in business for yourself? Are there any things you wish you had done differently in hindsight?
When you work with a traditional publisher, you have a team of people supporting your book, an editor, an art department, marketing and sales people, etc. However, your book is also one of hundreds the house is putting out that year, so you can get lost in the crowd. When you independently publish, you have to hire people to help you with the areas you can’t or don’t want to do yourself.
I like running my own business and getting a bigger cut of the royalties, but it is a lot of work. Publishing contracts can be long and complex, but there are lots of people who can help decipher the language.
Finally, we ask everyone, but what advice would you have for someone who is considering writing a novel. What are some of the things they should know and what advice do you have for people thinking about?
Rejection is a big part of the business. Writers have to develop a thick skin. Your work is reviewed from the time you send out a few chapters to a critique group, to when you submit a book to an agent or an editor, and later when your book is published. Reading is subjective and no matter how talented a writer you are, there will always be people who don’t like your work.
You have to accept that fact from the beginning and just write what you love and hope someone else loves it, too. If you want to make a career as a writer, you have to write more than one book. And lastly, I would tell writers that ultimately it’s all about the book. You can spend hours and money on promotion, but your book has to be good. So spend time on the craft of writing not just on the business.