Do you ever feel stuck in the middle of a draft? Do you wonder if an agent will ever request your book? Are you trying to figure out whether your manuscript is ready to send out? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, READ THIS INTERVIEW!
A self-proclaimed feminist, Rebecca Brooks found her way into the romance world while writing her dissertation. She has since published two of her own novels that tell the stories of “independent women and heroes with heart.” The second book, How to Fall, is being released today!
In this interview, Rebecca shares incredibly helpful advice about finding an agent, getting through the rough patches, and making your manuscript the best it can be.
How long have you wanted to be a romance writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I didn’t get into romance specifically until I was finishing my PhD. My dissertation looked at the romance plot in feminist utopian/dystopian literature, which got me into reading romance and thinking about how it works. That’s when I realized what zillions of readers already know: that romance is an incredible genre filled with so many possibilities for female readers, writers, and protagonists.
What inspired you to write your stories?
I write about independent women who step away from their lives to try something new. In ABOVE ALL, the heroine hauls ass out of New York City after a breakup and restarts her life in a small mountain town. In HOW TO FALL, the heroine goes on a trip to Brazil that changes her life forever. I love the idea of taking people out of their element and giving them a chance to think about what they really want—not what they think they want, or should want, or what their friends or family assume is best.
I love to travel, I love the outdoors, and I love being immersed in vivid, sensual descriptions about places, people, food, sex—anything that reminds us that we are dynamic, physical, and alive. Writing about people who experience new places and new things is the perfect way to draw these elements together. It’s inspiring for me to write, and I hope it’s equally exhilarating to read.
What was your biggest challenge when you were trying to publish your debut novel?
Getting my foot in the door. Publishing is a tough world. I’ve written in Writer’s Digest [http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/how-i-got-my-literary-agent-rebecca-brooks] about how I found my agent (she turned me down the first time around!). It takes so much persistence, and I think it can be hard to know the difference between “I just need to bang on this door a little longer and a little harder before it opens” and “This project isn’t there yet and needs to be worked on even more… or possibly scrapped.”
How did you deal with that challenge when you published the second time?
Honestly, the second time around was much easier. Not painless, but easier. This time I already had an agent and she was enthusiastic about HOW TO FALL and had great ideas for where to send it. I know it’s not all going to be easy from here on out—every book feels new, and working with a different publisher for my second novel has meant getting to know a new editor, new publicity team, etc. The challenge I now face is how to build on the momentum of the first novel, reach new readers, and balance that side of the job with, you know, actually writing.
Who gives you feedback on your writing?
The first person who looks at anything is my husband. I trust him to be honest when something isn’t working, and when it is working, I know his praise is genuine. Next, I have a handful of beta readers who take a look. These are friends and none of them are novelists. This is a set up that many writers recommend against, but my friends definitely let me know when they want to throw the book across the room.
I’ve chosen my beta readers because they’re people who read for pure enjoyment—just as readers will when the book is published. They can sense when something feels off or pulls them away from the story. After they’ve shared their feedback, I usually have a list of questions and concerns that I bring up. If one person has a strong reaction to something in the book, I like to ask others if they agree.
What keeps you going through the process?
When I’m feeling stuck or having a hard time, I do three things. First, I stop writing and step away. When I hit a problem, my tendency is to go at it full on. But sometimes that leads to more frustration. When I stop and do something else—take a walk, shower, workout, see a friend, give up and sleep on it—my brain has a better chance at unsticking so I can approach the problem in a different way.
The second thing I do is get away from the computer and write out my thoughts by hand. Like taking a break, this helps me get a more removed perspective on the problem. Something about writing by hand away from the manuscript has a way of making me looser and more creative.
The third thing I do is remind myself that I love to write, that I want to be writing, and that having a writing problem is a good thing because it means I’m actually writing. Having a positive attitude helps keep me out of that downward spiral that’s so easy to get into when you’re three quarters of the way through a draft and realize that this is hard.
Maybe this question is really asking what motivates me, in which case fame, glory, and chocolate. But these are the tricks that keep me going and ensure that I don’t give up.
What has surprised you most about publishing?
How little it changes things. I’d always thought, “I just want to write and publish a novel.” That was my goal. Didn’t have to be a bestseller, just had to be the best I could do. Well, I met my goal. And guess what? I’m still me. I’m still writing, still stressed out about it, still worrying about not being good enough. Still loving that I at least get the chance to try.
What would you change if you could?
I wish I had written more bad fiction way earlier on. I used to think I’d write a novel in some nebulous future in which I magically knew what to do. Anyone who’s written or tried to write and finish a novel is shaking their head at this, because it doesn’t work that way. At some point it finally dawned on me that if I waited to start writing until I “knew” how to write, I’d never realize my dream. You learn to write novels by writing them. You become better by failing a little less spectacularly each time. I wish I’d had this epiphany earlier, but I guess I’m glad that I had it at all.
What would you do differently if you could start all over again?
Tell myself to be more patient, and trust that I’ll work out the challenges as they arise.
What is the single most important thing an unpublished writer should do to get published?
I think it’s important to step back from your work for long enough that you forget about it, so when you come back to it you’re reading it with fresh eyes. Be as objective and critical as you can. Sometimes I read my stuff and think “This is crap I am the worst,” but that’s not being objective. What I mean is, read it as someone discovering it for the first time. Someone who’s not attached to it, close to it, invested in its success. Is it really ready to be published? Is there anything you can do to make it better? If there is, go back. Do it. Make it the best it can be. We can be in a big rush to get published—it’s such a milestone! And yet each book gets one chance to step into the world. Take the time and the care to make it right.
Now, if you’re sitting on a polished manuscript because you’re too nervous to send it out, my advice is different. When you’re ready to take the plunge, do it. But don’t be in a rush and send things out prematurely.
What is the single most important thing a newly published writer should do?
Enjoy it. There’s so much advice out there about the 8,000 things you should be doing: get reviews, connect with bloggers, attend conferences—and oh yeah, what you really should be doing is already putting the finishing touches on your the next book! Where are the reminders to enjoy our successes, reveal in our accomplishments, take a moment to say heck yeah before diving back into the fray? I don’t always take this advice—my second book is coming out, my third is on submission, I’m working on the fourth, things keep moving really fast. But I don’t want to fall prey to what I think of as “the ever receding goal posts of success.” I want to enjoy the accomplishments I’ve worked hard for, before obsessing over everything else I have to do.
What is the best writing advice you have ever gotten?
Anne Lamott’s advice in Bird by Bird to write shitty first drafts. I always find it easier to revise than write from scratch, and that permission to write badly has helped me get over myself to make sure something winds up on the page.
Can you imagine having a different career? What would it be?
No way. I can imagine writing other things. In my past life I’ve published poetry, academic articles and literary criticism, and written for textbooks. I read widely and am also into children’s literature, YA, and more mainstream adult fiction. I write fiction that’s not romance, although none of it is published (yet!). So I could see a career writing in other genres, but I can’t imagine doing anything but writing. I’ve never wanted to do anything else. And even if I do break into other genres, I have so many ideas for romance novels, I don’t feel anywhere close to tapped out.
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