Ep 53 Book-inspired jewellery. Self-publish or not? How 5 great writers got started; should you start a blog, and Writer in Residence Sylvia Day who has sold more than 16 million books.

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In Episode 53 of So you want to be a writer: Alan Cumming in Sydney, book-inspired jewellery, self publishing vs traditional publishing, new online property publication, how five writers got started on their first novels, should you start a blog, Writer in Residence Sylvia Day, the Ulysses app, how not to get bogged down in the plot, and more!

Click play to listen to the podcast or find it on iTunes here. If you don’t use iTunes you can get the feed here, or listen to us on Stitcher radio.

Show Notes

Blogging for Beginners

How to Get More Blog Readers

Alan Cumming: Not my father’s son

15+ Book-Inspired Pieces Of Jewelry For Bookworms

Should You Self-Publish or Go Traditional?

Morry Schwartz launches The Real Estate Conversation in partnership with Mark Williams

How 5 Great Writers Got Started on Their First Novels

Should You Be Blogging? Eight Searching Questions to Help You Decide

Writer in Residence

syldaySylvia Day is the #1 New York Times and #1 international bestselling author of over 20 award-winning novels sold in more than 40 countries. She is a #1 bestselling author in 23 countries, with tens of millions of copies of her books in print. Her Crossfire series has been optioned for television by Lionsgate.

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Penguin Books on Twitter

Web Pick

Ulysses for iPad

Working Writer’s Tip

How not to get bogged down in the plot
Answered in the podcast!

Your hosts

Allison Tait
Valerie Khoo / Australian Writers’ Centre

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@altait
@valeriekhoo

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podcast at writerscentre.com.au

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53

Transcript

Allison

Today I’m talking to the #1 New York Times and #1 International Best Selling Author, Silvia Day, whose books have sold more than 16 million copies worldwide. I just can’t even like — just saying that is exciting.

 

She’s been writing for 11 years and writes romance and erotica, including the phenomenally popular Crossfire Series, as well as fantasy romance under the pseudonym Olivia Dare, and urban fantasy under the pseudonym S.J. Day.

 

She is one busy lady.

 

Hi, Silvia. Thank you so much for fitting us in.

 

Silvia

Thank you for asking me. I appreciate it.

 

Allison

I have no idea how you manage to write all of those things all of the time. You must be very disciplined, I guess.

 

Silvia

It sounds like a lot when you say it in a little bio, but my career has spanned 11 years. When you look at the length of time I’ve been a professional writer then it makes more sense.

 

Allison

OK.

 

Silvia

It’s a collective body of work.

 

Allison

And it is quite the body of work. Let’s go back to the beginning, your roots are obviously in romance, can you tell us a bit about how you got started with romance writing, and how you got that first break as far as becoming a published author. Can you remember back that far?

 

Silvia

Oh yes, absolutely. It’s one of those things you will never forget. But, for me, I knew I wanted to be a romance novelist when I was 12. It was firm in my mind when I was very young, and it stayed with me the entirety of my life, I’ve been very lucky about that.

 

When I sat down to start writing many years later, obviously I didn’t start when I was 12, just had the belief. It was 2003, and I sat down and I wrote my first novel. I completed it in a little less than two months, and then I immediately started a new project, and so forth. From October until about June of 2004, I was just writing and building up a collection of finished works.

 

Then an author named Lori Foster, in the United States, held a contest via her publisher where she would take submissions through her website, she would pick 20 of her top submissions, and then they would go in front of her editor. Her editor would read them and offer a critique or whatever. But, of course, there was this possibility that she might mile what you wrote, and then offer to read more or perhaps offer publication.

 

I was fortunate that that is what happened with me. Lori selected my entry as a finalist and went before the editor, and she offered me a contract.

 

Allison

Wow, that is such a great story.

 

Silvia

Yeah, it’s fantastic.

 

Allison

And she’s, Lori Foster, just for people who don’t know, I remember because I started writing romance quite a while ago, I actually write children’s fiction now; that’s a whole other story. But, I loved her stuff, she was amazing — she still is amazing as far as I know.

 

Silvia

Yes, she still continues to write, she’s very productive. She releases a few novels a year. Yeah, she’s fantastic, and of course I’m indebted to her for so much.

 

Allison

That’s just an incredible story. I just have to ask you though, let’s just go back slightly. How did you know at twelve that you wanted to write romance? Were you reading Sweet Valley High novels? What made you think, “I want to be a romance…“? Did you see someone in a boa on television and think, “I want to be that.” What happened?

 

Silvia

You know what it was? Yes, I did read Sweet Valley High, when people ask me what I was reading when I was in junior high and high school, I say Sweet Valley High. I loved that series, however, it was when my mother handed me an adult romance novel.

 

Allison

Wow.

 

Silvia

Yes, I was twelve years old, I was sitting at the dining table, I was doing my homework. And, she walked in and she set this book on the table next to me and she goes, “I want you to read this, and then I want you to find a man like that.”

 

Allison

Wow, that’s a great story.

 

Silvia

I was like, “Wow, OK.” Of course, at twelve years old I’m not looking for any sort of man. But you know, it was laying there next to math homework, so it was like, “Math…? Sexy romance novel? Math…? Romance novel…?” So I sat down and read that. And that of course, takes it to a whole other level from something like Sweet Valley High. And I was completely hooked.

 

Allison

That is one of the ‘best how I got started’ stories I’ve heard in a really long time. Writing romantic fiction is not as easy as people think. It’s the kind of thing that everybody sort of thinks they’ll have a crack at, as per myself, but it’s not as easy as people think. Where do you think most writers go wrong with it?

 

Silvia

They don’t focus enough on the characterization. And that is the life’s blood of a romance novel. Unlike the mystery genre when you’re trying to figure out the who done it sort of thing, or the thriller genre, horror, that sort of thing, where you have this external action that’s happening and you’re trying to follow along and solve this. In a romance novel, that’s not the case.

 

There are sometimes, there’s kind of a subplot we call it, something minor happening externally. But the whole thrust of that romance novel is this character growth that these two people are going through. You’re watching them, meeting them at the start of the novel, as a particular individual, and by the time you get to the end they’ve been completely transformed, not because they’ve fallen in love and some miraculous thing happens. But, because these people have made the deliberate, conscious, and very difficult decision to improve themselves, to make better decisions because they want to be worthy of the person they’re in love with.
It’s noble, it’s probably one of the most heroic things that we can do. I call it everyday magic because people are falling in love every day. But that is what makes a romance novel captivating to the reader, is watching these people try to overcome these flaws. So we can root for them all the way through, and then at the end when they get their happily ever after, we feel that they’ve deserved it.

 

Allison

That’s a great description.

 

How did you come to write the Crossfire series then, because that’s been a massive thing for you. And, it really rode that first wave with E.L. James in 2012 of humongously popular.

 

How did it come about? Did you just have and idea for it? Was it a discussion you had with your publisher? How did the series come together?

 

Silvia

The Crossfire series actually started with another novel of mine, which is called Seven Years to Sin. It’s a historical romance that I was writing in 2009, and Seven Years to Sin is a stand alone novel. There’s just one, and there’s not multiple in the series. And that follows two childhood abuse survivors. Both the main characters, Jessica and Alistair were abused by their parents. When they meet each other, this creates a special affinity between them. They feel as if they’ve met someone who finally can understand them without words, because they’ve experienced the same trauma.

 

In writing that novel and doing research on that subject over the course of writing that novel, I was three-quarters of the way through the book before it really struck me that I had structured the story wrong.

 

Unfortunately, while many abuse survivors are drawn to each other, this is something that you don’t typically say to another person until you’ve built a level of trust, which often takes many years. But, in spite of the fact that they don’t reveal this about themselves early in the relationship, they will typically find that when they do reveal it, the person that they’re with has experienced something similar. And this is documented through research that survivors are drawn to each other in that way.

 

But, their relationships are extremely difficult, they’re much more difficult than they are for the average person falling in love, because they’re coming into the relationship with a lot of baggage. They have learned individual coping mechanisms for how to deal with their trauma, and that often triggers the other person that their with in a negative way.

 

That, to me, was a fascinating dynamic, which I could not explore in Seven Years to Sin, because I’m three-quarters of the way done and the deadline is coming up. Then it was, “I need to write this story…” I need to write this story the way I should have written this story, and I need more room to do it, it’s going to need to be more books, and I need to give it the breadth that it needs to breathe and to come alive, and to do justice to people who have similar storylines.

 

At that point I started to research the Crossfire novels, which, of course, Gideon and Eva are both survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which is different from what Jessica and Alistair went through, but has similar sorts of trauma and coping mechanisms that come out of it that affect them into adulthood.

 

That’s when I started working on the Crossfire Series, that was in about 2011. The research, of course, having been built up over the writing process for Seven Years to Sin. The research part of it took from 2009 until 2011, and then I sat down and began to write the book and then it released in early 2012.

 

Allison

Why do you think that particular series has touched such a nerve? Why do you think that particular series has been so incredibly popular?

 

Silvia

Well, I mean, one, the easy answer is that the readers who were early adopters of the story who picked it up were fantastic evangelists who were out there telling other people about the story and spreading the word about it. But, the deeper part of that is that one out of every four women has been exposed to sexual abuse at some point in their lives, and one out of every six men.

 

When you look at 16 million Crossfire readers a large number of those people have had similar stories in their own personal lives. We’ve heard a lot from readers who have emailed and said, you know, “Finally, there’s a story for me…”

 

Allison

You’ve got a new book, Captivated By You, which is the latest in the series, dealing with the same characters? The same couple?

 

Silvia

The new Crossfire novel?

 

Allison

That’s right.

 

Silvia

Captivated, yes. The Crossfire series is five novels, and we’ve got one more to go, it’s called One with You, the last novel, which will be coming out this year. But, we have followed Gideon and Eva over the course of four novels so far, the first one was Bared to You, the second one was Reflected in You, the third one was Entwined with You.

 

Captivated by You was a bit of a switch from the first three in that it was the first time we got Gideon’s point of view, previously they had all been written in the first person perspective from Eva. That’s because really in the first two and a half novels we were really dealing with Eva and her issues, and then as we moved to the halfway point of the series the focus shifted to Gideon. In the last two and a half novels have really been about him.

 

Allison

Does the fact that you’re writing about the same couple over five books, that’s a very long trajectory that you’re dealing with there. Does that make it more difficult, or easier in a way that you know them better as you go through?

 

Silvia

To a certain extent it does get easier because you know them. You’ve also watched them learn from their mistakes over the course of, for me, it’s been years that I’ve been living with this couple. For them, in real time in the book, it’s only been a few months.

 

The Crossfire series is a bit unique in that way, in that it’s a day by day account of this relationship. We never skip a day, we never skip a week, nothing. From the time they get up from the time they go to bed we are with them all the way through.

 

It’s an interesting structure, but it was important because, of course, with these two change happens on a dime, and we need to be there when that’s happening, following along with them. The difficulty to it, though, is that I’ve lived with them for so long that ending the series it’s — it’s like entering a period of grieving.

 

Allison

You’re going to miss them.

 

Silvia

Yes, there’s a terrible grieving that I wasn’t expecting. That’s unique for me. I’ve written other series following characters over multiple books, but never to this intensity. It’s been, actually, a wonderful and terrible experience at once…

 

Allison

All at once?

 

Talking about writing sex scenes, what’s the most difficult thing about them to get right?

 

Silvia

People ask about that. People ask you, “What’s the most difficult aspect about that?” “Is it trying to find new positions, new…?” For me, that’s not the case at all. For, one, when people ask me what types of erotic fiction I write I say, “Well, it’s one man, one woman using the equipment that God gave them.” For me, I don’t have to worry about differing positions or anything like that, because it’s extremely vanilla. I mean it’s just your everyday man and woman having a passionate affair.

 

I don’t worry about the mechanics of it, that’s not important. To me, it’s not interesting. As a reader, I don’t want to hear about tab a into slot b, that’s just not interesting to me. I’m also not interested in storylines with a bunch of toys and tools and all of the other things like that, because I feel it distracts from what the core of that scene should be, which is two people connecting physically in a way that they can’t emotionally or verbally.

 

That’s what makes that scene integral to the book. Really, I always look at, anytime I’m reading either my work or somebody else’s work, “Did this scene further the character growth?” “Did it move their relationship forward?” “Are these people different at the end of the scene than they were at the beginning of the scene?” If so, then, yes, that scene is integral to the story, it has to be there. If you pulled it out and tried to read the scene before and the scene after you’d be confused. “What happened? He’s not the same,” or, “She’s not the same.” Something has happened.

 

That is what makes a love scene work.

 

As I’m writing them my focus is on why did they come into this intimate scene, what did they come into it with, hoping to achieve? Are they trying to say something? Are they angry, are they happy, are they so in love they can’t say it, they need to express it in a different way. Or, do they have a goal? Are they trying to manipulate the other person in a particular way?

 

All of those things, of course, knowing the motivation of the characters when they come into it, realizing that motivation over the course of the scene, and then getting them to the other side where they’ve come to an epiphany of sorts. They’re really the most difficult scenes in a book to write.

 

Allison

I was going to say, because I was listening to that and I’m thinking, “Oh, that’s even harder than slot a into tab b, because you’re dealing basically from the core emotion of the scene and writing the core emotion of any scene is always the most difficult thing, would you agree?

 

Silvia

Absolutely. Very difficult.

 

Allison

I take my hat off.

 

Silvia

In order to get that emotional intensity across to the reader you have to feel it yourself. In my case, if I’m not crying in a scene where the character’s crying, then it’s off, there’s something wrong. If I’m not laughing when the characters are laughing… if I’m not grieving when they are… I mean all of those things.

 

As the writer, you’re sitting in your chair an emotional mess.

 

Allison

I was going to say, you must be exhausted at the end of everyday.

 

Silvia

It can be exhausting, yes. I’ve had certain books that I’ve worked on that have taken so much out of me that my family has been like, “You’ve got to stop writing this book, it’s killing you.” But, you know, of course with those difficult books, when you get to the end, are the ones that you’re the most proud of and the ones that you’re just so energized to have finished. The pay off is at the end.

 

Allison

Well, as in everything the pay off is at the end.

 

What do you think are the biggest changes in romance fiction that you’ve experienced over your career, over your 11 years?

 

Silvia

There’s been so many. I mean really when I started there were two ways to publish, you were either picked by a publishing house, or you vanity published. So, you paid an outfit to print your book and then you were handing them out to friends and family, but there was no way to sell them anywhere else. And that was it, that was your two options.

 

And getting into a publishing house was extremely difficult. Agents were gatekeepers, so you really needed to get an agent onboard first and you had to hope that they were a really good one who had great contacts within the industry and had some clout to get your work noticed so that you could get picked up and have your career get started.

 

I was fortunate in entering that contest and winning that contest that I bypassed that whole process of having to query agents for years and years and years until you found somebody who actually could sell your work. I mean I still thank God everyday that was my path instead of the other.

 

But, that’s what we had. And then it took awhile.

 

I was also writing erotic fiction. I’ve always written erotic fiction, which I like to explain to people is not erotica. Erotica is a particular type of erotic fiction, which follows the individual journey of a particular character, it doesn’t follow a romance. I write erotic romance, so my journey is always following couples who live happily ever after, two very different things.

 

I’ve always written erotic romance. My entire body of work is erotic fiction. At the start of my career there were very limited places to sell erotic fiction. There was one main imprint in the United States and there was one overseas in the UK, Black Lace, and those were your options. I was published with both of them.

 

Then digital reading became a thing, this was in 2005. In the United States we had a digital-only company that came up that specialized entirely in erotic fiction. Now there was a third place where I could sell work.

 

There were some of the bigger publishing houses that were picking up erotic fiction, but, unfortunately, they didn’t know how to market it, they didn’t know how to package it. Often it ended up in the self-help section of the bookstore, which you weren’t reaching any of the romance readers. I mean really if you stuck to those three publishers who specialized in erotic fiction you had a greater chance of reaching the audience that your books were intended for.

 

I started with a digital-only publisher, there was stigma attached to it. There was a lot of kind of blow back from other writers who were like, “I don’t understand you. You’re published with a big New York publishing house and now you’re doing this eBook thing. eBook is where you go when nobody else will buy your work.”

 

Allison

That is a big change, isn’t it?

 

Silvia

It is, it’s a huge change. That was a difficult thing to overcome, but I sold very well in eBook from the very beginning. To this day, in most territories I’m 50 percent eBook to paperback, and that’s about typical. There are some territories where it’s much greater than that. In the United States it’s almost 70 percent digital to paperback, for me, which is skewed from the norm for most writers, it’s skewed from the norm in romance. It’s just an anomaly, and I think that’s because I started with eBooks so early on that I’ve built a base of readers who have always stuck with that format.

 

Allison

By getting in early you’ve managed to parlay that into a huge success?

 

Silvia

Yeah. It’s been huge for me. Obviously, as we said, when you’re selling so many eBooks that’s a huge part of my overall audience, my reach, one of the reasons why I think I’ve been fortunate to be so successful.

 

Allison

Let’s just follow on that, I noticed you recently reached the half a million mark on your Facebook page, like you’ve got half a million followers. Has that been part of your strategy from the start? Have you sort of used social media to kind of get yourself out there from the beginning? Or, is that a recent thing for you? How much time do you spend there?

 

Silvia

No, I’ve had my social media accounts for a very long time and was an early adopter of social media, starting with Myspace when it was huge. I moved over to Facebook when nobody had really heard of it. I’ve been on Twitter for many years now.

 

But, the thought wasn’t really to use social media to sell books, but it was a way to connect with readers. Starting in the very first part of my career, in 2005, I started attending major conferences and conventions for readers and writers in the United States, that has continued the entire length of my career. Obviously, I’m here in Australia meeting with readers. I’m on the road about six months out of the year.

 

Social media is another way for me to connect with readers when I can’t be there in person. I have found, over the course of my career, that having that personal connection with readers, just the day to day sharing of things, that sometimes have absolutely nothing to do with writing or books, a great movie that I saw, a TV show that I loved to follow, so forth, builds that intimate connection between me and them.

 

It enables me, one, to kind of know what it is that they’re hoping for, not just in a particular storyline, but just in general. The sorts of things that they like, their tastes and so forth. And it allows them to get to know me better, which, in turn, helps them understand my books better.

 

Allison

Which is exactly the right way to use social media. Obviously, you’ve been doing it for such a long time that you’re across that. Do you think it’s an important part of every author’s job? Do you think every author should be thinking about it?

 

Silvia

No. No, I don’t. The thing is if you enjoy doing it, which I do… I enjoy it. To me, it’s a fun part of my day, it’s fantastic. I have some writer friends of mine they feel awkward, it’s uncomfortable, they don’t know what to post, they’re kind of stumbling through it. It causes a bit of anxiety for them, they spend too much time thinking about things before they post them, which at the core of it is detracting from their time to write.

 

It’s one of those things where try it, everybody should try it, and if you enjoy doing it, then go ahead, it’s fantastic, it’s great if it works for you. If you don’t enjoy it, it’s apparent, it’s not going to get you the sort of feedback that you’re hoping that it will, it will be an unhappy experience for you, and forget it.

 

The number one thing that any writer can do is to write their next book.

 

Allison

Speaking of writing the next book, you just said that you spend around six months on the road. I know that you’re the co-founder of Passionate Inc., which is a specialist chapter of the Romance Writers of America. You’ve been the president of RWA, and, yet, you still manage to write stuff. My question has to be how do you fit it in? Are you scheduling your time to make that balance between writing and promotion?

 

Silvia

I can’t work that way. I tried in the past, and, you know, I tell writers all the time that they need to experiment and find what works best for them. There’s no one way to write a book, there’s only your way, whatever that happens to be. You have to discover what that is.

 

In my case I learned early on that if I tried to do a particular page count or need a particular word count everyday it would not work for me. It becomes writing by route instead of writing from the heart and the words don’t connect with me, and they don’t connect with readers. I’m a very organic writer. When it’s there, it’s going to pour out, and it’s going to be fabulous. I’m going to love it and it’s going to connect with readers the way it’s supposed to.

 

I’ve learned, over time, to let that process happen as it will. Part of that is I sit at the computer everyday. I’m at the computer every single day, and you have to do that. If you’re just wandering around doing other things and hoping it’s going to strike, it’s never going to work. But, I’ll sit at the computer everyday and I may go a week or two weeks and write maybe 100 words. I used to get frustrated by that, I’m like, “I’m never going to get this book done if that’s all I’m doing.” But, then two weeks later I may have this huge writing jab where I’m just writing for days and days and days. I’ll write half a book in two weeks.

 

I’ve learned that I have to let my process evolve the way it needs to, the story to grow and develop in my mind the way it needs to so that when it’s ready it will just come out.

 

That’s the way it works for me. Other people’s mileage will vary.

 

Allison

What do you love most about writing? Do you still feel the same way about it that you did when you were starting out?

 

Silvia

Yeah, I love it. I absolutely love it. It’s necessary to me. I can’t imagine ever stopping. Even if there was not another soul on the planet who was reading my work I would still be writing.

 

I try to explain it to people who are non-writers, but when you hit that zone, that place where the words are just pouring out and the story is just unfolding, it’s euphoric. Finishing a book, getting to the end, there’s such a sense of accomplishment to it and relief and pride, and it’s this mixture of emotion that you rarely feel. It’s necessary, it becomes very necessary to a writer to have those moments.

 

The act of writing a book is actually just part of the process of getting to those highlights.

 

Allison

“I will put up with this just so I can get to the good bit.”

 

Silvia

Yes, that’s right, to get to that point where I finish a particular scene and go, “Yes! I nailed it, it’s perfect.” You know? Yeah, it’s so euphoric that you’ll get up and do a little dance and you’re just so excited. Yeah. It’s… yeah, you have to have it.

 

Allison

Just to finish up our very entertaining and informational talk, your top three tips for romance writers… people who want to be you, Silvia, basically. What are your top three tips?

 

Silvia

The first one is pretty simple, you have to keep writing. You have to produce manuscripts. Unfortunately, you see people who are like, “I’ve been working on this story for ten years,” no, it’s never going to work. You have to produce work. You have to figure out what your pace is, but it’s absolutely important that you get past the first story.

 

The other thing is produce three manuscripts before you think about publication.

 

Allison

That’s a good tip.

 

Silvia

Nora Roberts once said to me, she goes, “Anyone nowadays can publish a book, not everyone can write one.”

 

Allison

Go, Nora.

 

Silvia

And she’s absolutely right.

 

Allison

Yep, it’s true.

 

Silvia

She’s absolutely right. Yes, in today’s age of easy digital self-publishing we see people who finish their very first work and put it up for sale. That is rarely a good idea. One, even if you happen to have a great grasp of the English language, your grammar, your punctuation, if you don’t have any of those issues, you will still not know who you are as a writer or what your stories are meant to be at that stage in your writing career.

 

Every author has a theme, every author has a strength, every author has a weakness, and you have to recognize what those things are.

 

For me, I feel that it takes three novels to do that. I tell people to write three books and then think about publishing something, because you will have learned so much about yourself and your style at the end of three novels that you will be able to really put a work up for sale that is very reflective of you and something that you can be proud from now until you pass on.

 

Allison

Thank you so much for your time today, Silvia. I know that you have a very, very busy schedule and we very much appreciate you fitting us in. We hope that you enjoy the rest of your visit to Australia. I’m sure it will be excellent — warm, at least it’s warm.

 

Silvia

Of course, it’s Australia.

 

Allison

Of course. Exactly.

 

Silvia

How could it be anything but fantastic?

 

Allison

Thank you so much.

 

Silvia

Thank you.


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