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. You'll see all four interviews posted here, but first up we have Robyn Carr. She is the author of 40 books and many, many bestsellers.
Robyn, thanks for taking the time!
Robyn: It is nice to be here, thank you.
There are a lot of opportunities now for authors to get published and a lot of people are racing to publish eBooks, or whatever way they are taking to bring the dream to light. What do you think it takes to be successful now?
Robyn: Well, the things that you have always heard still apply. It is not true that just because you can type, you can publish. You can put anything you type out there in eBook form, but to gather an audience you have to write good books, and you have write books that people really want. The 99-cent book, just because you can, does not always collect the kind of audience that you really want. You really want enduring, long-lasting, dedicated audience and for that you have to do the things you always heard you have to do. You have to work hard, you have to continue to grow, you have to continue to learn and here is the secret; you have to have the right book at the right time. And you really cannot predict that. This is why editors and I say, and always have said, "Write the book you want to read." Write it very, very well. Do not try to chase the trends. Just write the book you want to read.
That is phenomenal advice. So many people try to chase the trends. Chick lit was so hot for a while, and to some degrees still is. We talked briefly about vampire and zombie books and the like, and you are absolutely right. You have to write what you want to read first.
Robyn: You will never catch the trend. By the time you get the book done, small towns, people with military heroes will be all done.
Very true. What do you think the secret is to becoming a bestseller?
Robyn: Again, it is the age-old advice. You have to have the right book at the right time. In the case of Virgin River books, somebody said to me recently "Thank you so much for opening up this small town romance genre." I have been writing these books for 20 years, it is not new to me. I have always been attracted to writing with ensemble casts. I like to have more than one primary character and more than one storyline. I really like small towns because the sense of community appeals to me. My first book with a small town plot was published in 1992; it has been a really long time. But, as for the Virgin River books, we had a very down economy and we were at war, we were a country that felt very vulnerable because war had come to our shores. We felt very dependent upon our military and had an awful lot of gratitude and respect for the military and that combination of a warm and fuzzy read, a comfort read, people with military heroes, was just the right book at just the right time. I did not see that in advance, it is not like a planned it to be the right book at the right time. It was the book I wanted to read and it worked.
Absolutely. Is there some sort of secret book marketing that you do?
Robyn: Marketing keeps changing! Now we are doing a lot of Internet marketing that we were not doing when I started in the business. I did hire a publicist; I had never done that before. I had been published for a good twenty years before the Virgin River books, maybe even twenty-five. I had never hired a publicist before and I felt that I had a narrow window of opportunity to reach readers. We were publishing the first three books in three months, which is very popular with the readers because they do not have to wait so long for the continuing series. I had this window of opportunity because normally when you publish a book you have about six weeks to be effective, that the book will stay on the shelf. However, if you are doing three in three months you have four and a half months and that is nice, big window of opportunity. So I did hire a publicist, she helped a lot. She pitched the book in many different places. It brought to the attention of readers something that was coming and I collected many readers that I might not have otherwise found.
Right, exactly. I think that is always a great thing to do-- always reach. With every book you put out, reach a little bit further.
Robyn: I gave away a ton of books. I think that is very good PR. If you have a book that connects with the readers, give them away and people read them; it develops that core audience that you are looking for.
Yes, you are absolutely right. I speak to many authors who hesitate about that. I think giving away books gets people talking about them and I have known people to sell a dozen books from giving one book to one reader who said it was so wonderful that they could not put it down.
Robyn: I know, I know that is the way to go. Whenever I have the opportunity, I give away the first book. The hero and heroine of the first book are the anchor for the series. She is a nurse/practitioner/midwife, so I have given away hundreds to midwife and nurse/practitioner conventions. It was perfect, and they love it. I cannot take any credit for that because I had both a nurse/practitioner and a midwife consult when I was writing. They scribble up my manuscripts madly. So you never want me to deliver your baby. Clearly, I am not that smart.
Without getting too far off the questions that we discussed -- but research is critically important to books. Is it not?
Robyn: It really is and I do make mistakes. By golly do I get letters when I make mistakes, it just cracks me up. Apparently, I put a Navy officer in dress whites at the wrong time of year. It was one sentence! All it was was one sentence! I bet I got 50 letters. Sometimes, you do not even know what you do not even know. People read fiction and they believe what they read. If you do something wrong medically or clinically, that can be not so good.
Yes, very true. So research is very important. You are right. We love it when they speak up, we love it when they are vocal... you know. So yes, research is very critical. What advice would you give to any author that is getting published in this climate?
Robyn: In this climate, by this climate what do you mean? With the digital surge?
Yes. There is the digital, the tsunami of eBooks; there is a ton of content out there. Everybody trying to get to print. What do you think an author would need to know right now?
Robyn: First of all, this is strictly my opinion and you might want to get a second opinion, but I think this bubble is going to pop at some point. It did not have to go through editorial; you have it, you typed it, you put it out there for 99 cents and you sell many copies. At some point, the readers will discover they are buying a lot of books that they are not reading. They are finding some great buys especially in out-of-print and self-published books. If the book is not very good, they are not being read. The first chapter is read and then the reader decides not to try that author again. So to go that route without training, without editorial, without anything, it just might not work. It will work for a lot of talented people; it will not work for just anyone. Is that clear and kind?
Well, it is clear and kind and I do think that you are right. I think that a lot of people are rushing; I think that things like Amanda Hocking who went to eBook and became a billionaire; that is not typical.
Robyn: That is not typical and she is clearly very much a genius. Okay, so you know that can happen. We are still going to have phenomenons and I am very excited about them. I think that they are great fun, but remember that old "draw the picture on the matchbook?" That is not how you learn to write novels. It is not easy, it is not fast, and it does not just all come together just because you want it. You really have to be devoted to growing and learning for your entire career. I published books in 1980, believe me, the limit of my talent and experience at that time, and I am not embarrassed by them, but they are not great books.
Yes, I have heard that from a lot of authors. They say, "Oh my first book... read my current one, it is so much better."
Robyn: I know. We all say that don't we? However, I think they should be available; when you want to get to know an author, you do want to know what she was like thirty years ago. You do not want to know what her 30-year-old book was like that she rewrote last year.
Right, right, exactly. I think that it is also great when you really want to get to know an author it is fun to start at the beginning. Even though for those of us who have books that we think "Oh, don't read my first book," it kind of gives us nightmares. It is fun to get to know an author because we grow, we have new experiences and we also learn from our readers. You get a lot of reader feedback, don't you?
Robyn: I get a lot of mail, and I answer my mail. So I welcome it, I answer all of it and when a new book comes out I get up to 50 letters per day -- emails, emails. I cannot even manage surface mail anymore.
Oh my gosh. That is incredible. Good for you for answering.
Robyn: I do, I answer them all. I have written fan letters to authors in the past and have had no reply, or some kind of panned reply that says thanks for writing.
It is a little discouraging because I think readers are making an investment. When you read 200 or 300 pages, you are making an investment in that author, not just the cost of the book but the time you invested in writing. So, what is coming up next? For somebody that is as prolific as you that is probably a silly question to ask. You probably have a lot of books coming, which from your website it looks like you do.
Robyn: I am working all of the time. Next is the twentieth Virgin River book and it is celebrating the last of the five Riordon brothers, Patrick Riordon. It is very much a reunion type of book because it takes place in Virgin River with members of Jack's family and members of the Reardon family. It is terrific fun. That is the twentieth, after that we are spinning off a character into a new series, a new trilogy. That does not mean that we are not going to be back to Virgin River, it just means that for right now we are going to spin off into a new trilogy, in a new location and I am not telling.
Oh gosh! Well Robyn I want to thank you so much. If you want to know more about Robyn, www.robyncarr.com is the website. I also encourage people to go to your site and join the monthly contest because you have the chance to win a book.
If you're eager to meet some fantastic romance authors like Robyn and also dig into your craft, head to Anaheim for Romance Writers of America's annual conference!
Next up... Victoria Alexander. Stay tuned!