I had the opportunity recently to spend time with four big bestselling authors: Robyn Carr, Victoria Alexander, Stephanie Laurens, and Brenda Jackson. I asked them each similar questions to get their take on issues all authors wrestle with. Next up we have Victoria Alexander, she's the author of, most recently, My Wicked Little Lies and has published 29 books, half of which are on the bestseller list. What an amazing achievement!
Do you remember when your first book hit the bestseller list?
Victoria: No. I remember it was August. I think it was The Marriage Lesson, I think. I was in the middle of desperately trying to finish another book. It was one of those things where you think, "Oh my gosh, that is so nice," and then it did not matter because I had get back to work. It was "Wow, this is very cool," and then it is back to work.
It is lovely and it is fabulous and I would much rather hit the bestseller list than not hit the bestseller list. Ultimately, it never happens at a time when you did not go, "Oh, this is fabulous, I have plenty of time to celebrate!" When I hit number one on the Times bestseller list, my editor and my agent called me on the same line and I did not really believe them at first, but they were not kidding and it was wonderful. I had some friends over working we were doing some brainstorming and I got to share it with them. That was cool, but you know it is fabulous and you go out and buy a dozen NY Times and then you go and finish the next book.
Exactly, exactly because you have to keep writing. Many people are writing these days, and many authors want to be published. What do you think it takes now to be successful?
Victoria: You know, I do not know. I do not know the secret. I think that there is a lot that goes into it, and some of these I am sure you have heard before. It takes a certain amount of talent; you definitely need perseverance and luck. You can write the best book in the world, and if you send it to an editor who has just broken up with a guy named Joe and your hero's name is Joe; she might not like it. I think that ultimately it comes down to voice. I think your voice clicks with people. Hopefully in a good way. I tend to write the kind of books that I like to read and I think for me that has worked out very well because I am somewhat normal, well most of the time.
That is a great answer because there is no secret to success. There is not a magic bullet.
Victoria: No! I know people who have had fabulous marketing plans and nothing has happened. I know people who write great books, nothing has happened. So you know, I mean I do not know that there is an answer. Honestly if there was an answer, then everybody would be successful.
Right, right and that would be... right. If we could define what made a bestseller, you could certainly model it; but there are elements. What does it take to be a bestseller? Who really knows, but one of the biggest is you are a very hard worker. You spend a lot of time.
Victoria: I have to, this is, and people do not understand that it is much harder to write a book than it is to read one. I did not realize that when I started. I used to be a TV reporter, so I was used to writing non-fiction. I did not really understand that it takes a lot longer to write a book then it did to read one. It is so easy to read and you just do not realize that those stories just do not come that way. You have to work on them, writing fiction is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It is the hardest job I have ever had and unfortunately, it does not get easier with every book. It gets a little less daunting, I no longer look at page one and freak out and think, "Oh my God I am never going to get to the end," because I know that I have done it before, but it is still... every book is harder than the last. I think that is how it should be, really. I think that if it gets easier than you are not stretching, growing, challenging. You should not be writing the same book repeatedly.
Yes, absolutely. Do you do a lot of your own marketing? I mean, do you work on your own marketing?
Victoria: Some of it I do. I think a good publisher cannot be beat, but I also do some of my own. I do not know that I do it well, because frankly that is just not my field. I am a writer, if I knew how to market very well then I probably would have been doing that. But I am not, I am the writer. I think a lot of times self-promotion, for most of us, is almost a way of feeling that we are in charge of something. That something is within our control, because nothing is in our control. You let the book go out to the world and it is out of your hands.
Yes, at some point you just have to write the best book you can, you have to believe in it. I had an author one time tell me that it was sort of like sending your kid off to college, you send them to the best college and you hope they do something with the education.
Victoria: Oh yes, really. I think it is more like sending them to kindergarten, you know. You have gotten them ready but man, you know that world is going to be a mean, cruel place for those babies. You have to let them go, you just have to push them out there. They have to sink or swim on their own. Oh, god that is depressing!
What do you think is the one piece of advice you would give to any author who is being published for the first time?
Victoria: Don't get discouraged. People tend to see that world of publishing as being like a promised land. They do not realize that once you get that first book accepted it is just the beginning of the hard work; it does not get any easier. Every book is harder to write than the last one. You are going to face a lot of rejection and some of that is going to be very beneficial, you are going to get criticism from editors who are just trying to make your book better. But then there is always going to be people who don't like your book, you can have a dozen people saying this is the best book ever written, but there will be one person that will say this is the worst book ever written. Honestly, that is the one you remember, that is the one that sticks in your mind. Once you have someone say this is the worst book ever written you have nowhere to go but up and that is really not a bad thing. It is a very tough business and it is a very discouraging business. It is easy to get discouraged and depressed about it, you just have to ignore that and go on. Some of the smartest writers I know do not ever read reviews. I think they are brilliant and I wish I was that smart, but I have that whole curiosity thing going.
It is hard not to read them. I had an author tell me just today that he just got his very first bad review and "I am now calling you after spending the day rocking in the corner."
Victoria: Oh yeah, yeah. Well you know after a while... My good reviews way outnumber my bad ones, but the bad ones that stick in your mind. I got an Amazon review where somebody said that was the worst book ever written. If I had gotten that a few years before it would have really devastated me, but I got it when I did not and I thought, "Yeah great, I have got nowhere to go but up." I have already written the worst book ever, I cannot do any worse than that. So you now, you just have to look at it in the proper perspective. It is a discouraging business, and you have to be tough.
I love that you are such an optimist; I think that is just great.
Victoria: I really think that I am not! If this is what you want to do, this is part of what goes along with it. The best advice I ever got was in my college sorority; they said you are going to be living in a house with 70 other women, no matter how nice you are, some of them are not going to like you and you are not going to like some of them and that is just the way it is. It is the same with books, some people are not going to like your work and some people are. There is nothing you can do about it but write the best book you can. I have never finished a book that I have not been happy with.
You have to love your book first, before you can expect anyone else to love it.
Victoria: Absolutely, I cannot imagine writing a book that you did not love. Why would you do that? It is too hard. If you are going to send it to kindergarten, you have to make sure it is prepared.
One of the things that many folks have talked about is writing to fads. Writing vampire books because vampire books are selling. Writing erotic books because Shades of Grey is doing so well. That is not really... generally by the time the book comes out, the trend has passed.
Victoria: Absolutely. You said it exactly. If I were to start writing an erotica today, by the time I got it finished and it was out, erotica might be over. Although I doubt it because erotica has been around for a while. OK, maybe vampires, but you cannot do that. If something comes along like vampires and you love vampires, then maybe you should write a vampire book. Personally, I do not want to go out with a guy who cannot go out in the daytime.
I have read some really good erotica but I cannot write it because for me writing a love scene it is like writing a fight scene, there is a lot of choreography in there. If one hand is here and one hand is there, where did that third hand come from? It is hard; it is very hard to write. So I can eliminate erotica and vampires, but there are other things that I want to write at some point.
Speaking of which, what is coming up next for you? You have this new book out...
Victoria: I have a bunch of stuff coming up. I have a Christmas hardcover out in October called What Happens at Christmas and it is a special gift size, perfect as a Christmas gift. Last year I did a Christmas book called His Mistress by Christmas in hardcover and it is coming out in paperback in September. In December, I have an eBook novella that is going to link What Happens at Christmas and the next book, which comes out in February and is called The Importance of Being Wicked. After that, I have no idea.
That's a lot!
Victoria: You know it did not seem like there was a lot but yeah that does seem like a lot now. I love writing historical romance; I cannot imagine ever not writing it. On the other hand, there are other things that I would love to write as well. We have eliminated vampires and erotica but I love paranormal stuff. I would love to do some contemporary stories, maybe women's fiction and would love to do steam punk, but that is not likely to happen. That is a whole world-building thing and I am not sure that I can do it. But I love the hats. I love the idea of Victorian England with steam-powered computers. I just love that.
Yeah, that is kind of cool. Victoria, what drew you to historical romance to start with?
Victoria: When I started writing romance, well when I started reading romance I discovered Regencies and I just fell in love with them. Then I discovered time-travel romance. I had always been a huge time travel fan; I had always been a huge science fiction reader. So my first book was a time travel to Regency. After that, I just stayed in that whole historical world. I have only done one contemporary and I have done a little paranormal. For me historicals... I love the Victorian, the 1800s from Regency to Victorian. I love the turn of the century, I love Edwardian. It is close enough that I can relate to that period but far enough away that there is a veneer of fantasy to it. There is a little magic to it. I do not actually have to go there and research poor sanitation and massive poverty, and all that kind of stuff. I think there is a bit of fantasy to historicals that we can enjoy that world but far enough away that we can ignore some of the really yucky parts of them. I do not think I would like to live in Victorian England, but I would like to visit.
It is a very romantic; at least as women, we have romanticized it as a very romantic time.
Victoria: It is fiction and I think that is it, it has a very romantic feel to it. For women, I think that we are not that big about not having any rights but we do like to read about women in another period who are "spunky," who are their own people and do things that we do not expect. We can relate to them. I love writing historicals; I think they are great fun.
Yes, they are and you do it so well. The website is www.victoriaalexander.com and Victoria I am looking forward to meeting you at RWA. Thank you so much for spending time with us. Good luck with the book and we will see you in Anaheim.
Victoria Alexander will be appearing at Romance Writers of America's upcoming conference in Anaheim, California July 25 through the 28th. See you there!