I know there are other published authors here writing for different houses than I write for, and I encourage y'all to jump in with any details that are different where you write.
Anyway, here are a few things that surprised me when I finally got published and started writing as a published author instead of an unpublished writer:
1. If you are no good at writing synopses, don't sweat it too much.
I stink at writing synopses, to this day. I write too long, ramble too much, include too much detail and all around fail to produce the kind of perfect synopsis that all the writing books and tips tell you to produce. But my editor still buys my books. She knows synopses are not my strong suit, but she's worked with me enough to know it has no bearing on my ability to tell a story. So do your very best to get it right now, while you're trying to impress an editor with your professionalism. But don't feel as if you have no hope if you can't produce that beautiful synopsis they use in all the How To books.
2. Once you have a few books under your belt, you don't have to finish a book to sell it.
Well, you do have to finish it at some point, obviously. But you don't have to be finished with it to sell it. Editors buy on proposal, which is generally three chapters and a detailed synopsis. In multibook contracts, they'll buy on 3 chaps/synopsis for the first book and just synopsis on the subsequent books. If you're a prolific, established writer like Nora Roberts, you can probably sell by telling your editor, "I'm ready to write three more books." It varies by how established you are, your editor's opinion of how reliable you are, etc. And none of that changes the fact that you do have to produce the book or you're going to owe someone some money.
3. You have to write harder than ever once you're published.
My editors at Harlequin Intrigue would love to see me write four or more books per year. I'm trying to meet that output, even though I work a full time day job that I don't anticipate leaving anytime soon. I'm not married and I'm the head of my household, which includes my retired mother, my disabled sister and my two school-age nieces. I can't give up my day job to write. But I want to meet my editors's wishes. In some ways, I'm competing with my fellow Intrigue authors, many of whom write full time. There are only so many slots in Intrigue, and I don't want to be sidelined because I can't produce as quickly as the others.
So I have to give up things in order to find time to write. I have to write when I'm tired, when I'm cold, when I'm sick, when I'm preoccupied. I write on my lunch hour, in the evening and on weekends. If I get days off from my day job—Christmas and Thanksgiving included—I still have to write. It's a job, and I have to go to it every day in order to produce at the level I want.
Luckily, the rewards are worth it.
4. Writing category-length books is challenging.
Anyone who thinks, "Oh, anyone can write those short little books" needs to try to do it. It's hard. You have to tell a story with all the same structural elements as a bigger book. You don't get to skip steps. But you have to distill the essence of the story into a streamlined, intense core narrative using characters and subplots sparingly. In the case of my books, Intrigues, you have the added challenge of developing a complex mystery plot while also developing a compelling and believable romance, all within 60,000 words.
I went into writing category not only because I loved reading the books but because I thought it would be easier than tackling a bigger book. The only thing easier was that it was shorter and the torture didn't last as long. But it was still torture. Good torture, but torture nonetheless.
5. Writing Romance is a sisterhood (with a few brothers just to make things interesting)
Yes, there will be friction in any large group of people. Feelings will get hurt. But romance writers, on the whole, are an amazing, supportive group of people.
I mentioned earlier that I feel a sense of competition with my fellow Intrigue authors. That's true. I do. But I also know they're wonderful writers who have earned their way into their careers, and I wish every single one of them well. And I know they wish the same for me. We may be competitors, but we're also sisters (and brothers, as there are two men writing for Intrigue now). Maybe it's because we all know we got there the hard way, and that we stay there the hard way. Romance publishing is a meritocracy, on the whole.
Those are a few of the things I've learned about writing from the published side of the aisle. Now, let's open this thing up to questions. Anything you've wondered about what it's like to be published? If I know the answer, I'll be happy to tell you. And if I don't, maybe someone else will, or I can find the answer for you.
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Don't forget my book Chickasaw County Captive is out in stores this week. And you can still find my January Intrigue, Case File: Canyon Creek, Wyoming online at amazon.com, borders.com, barnesandnoble.com, Books-A-Million online and eHarlequin. Visit my website at www.paulagraves.com or my blog, Spinsters and Lunatics, to keep up with my current and future projects.