Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 15, 2013

Ten Keys to Success & Survival in The Romance Industry

Writers In The Storm is delighted to welcome Romance and Women's Fiction author Jane Porter in the first of a two-part blog on success and survival.

JanePorter_photo16_288px_72dpiI first gave this workshop in February 2004, and boy has this industry changed in the past nine years!

I first sold in January 2000 after nearly 14 years, having written 13 different novels which never sold.  Since then I’ve written 43 more books, with 43 coming out this September from Berkley.  All of my publishing to date has been with ‘traditional’ publishing -- print first, e-second, for Harlequin, Berkley, and Grand Central.

Many things have changed over the years, but my first 5 keys, or tips, to success and survival in this business haven’t.   In fact, the first five tips are more important than ever.

Let me warn you, I am going to be brutally candid.  But remember, whatever I say is my opinion, and that can change, too, just as our industry continues to evolve and change.

So let’s dive in.  Let’s talk about getting published.  Let’s talk about selling.

What is the secret to selling?

Great writing.

I used to think the secret to selling was luck, timing, networking…used to think I had the craft down, and yes, much of writing and connecting with a reader is subjective, but that’s what writing is about.  Connecting with a reader.  And if you can’t connect with a reader, whether its an acquiring editor, agent, or the person that is browsing online or picks your book up at the bookstore, then you’re not going to sell…or continue to sell.

  1. The Secret to Selling is Craft

You have to know your craft.  Craft isn’t optional, and just because you’ve sold a book, or twenty, doesn’t mean you can ever get lazy about learning your craft, developing the creative muscle, honing your editing ability.  In fact, selling that first book or two means upping your standards.  Increasing your appeal.  Growing that readership and you did it by continually pushing yourself, seeking to expand your knowledge base and having very high standards.

So if you’re going to work on craft, what’s essential?

Plot is important, but a great plot with weak characters goes nowhere.  I think characters are key but even more important is character motivation.  What happens and why…

Pacing is also vital.  Good ideas, great ideas, aren’t enough if the reader puts your book down mid way through chapter 4 or 7 or before they reach the happy ending.  Pacing is what drives the story forward.  And pacing is about smart decision making while writing and especially while revising.

Whether you’re trying to get your first book sold, or your tenth, continue your education.  Read craft oriented books.  Attend workshops on topics that focus on craft.  Work with a trusted writer friend in a brainstorming/critiquing/or goal setting session and see how you can help each other grow as a writer.

2. The Secret to Survival is Getting Real

What do I mean by getting real?  First and foremost, I’m referring to Attitude

I put Attitude near the top of the Survival list because attitude is everything.

Your attitude will make or break you.  Your attitude is what will set you apart from other authors.  Attitude is what will get you to the finish line—will define how successful you’ll be.  And attitude doesn’t just happen.  You make attitude happen.  You choose your outlook, the way you cope with rejection.  You choose your friends.  You choose when and if you’re going to keep writing.

Attitude at work:  Be proactive.

I’ve learned to surround myself with only the most positive, supportive friends.  My writer friends are all very real, very giving, but also very tough.  They understand what it takes to make it in this business, they know we’ll all have highs and lows, that our careers won’t be equal, that life isn’t fair—and because we understand the inequities, we get on with it.

And that’s what I’m here to say to you.  Get your head together, get your attitude in the right place, and get on with it.  You have to write and write and write.  And then write some more.

3.    Success & Survival Depend on Goal Setting

Know what you want.  It’s that simple.  It’s that hard.  Know what you want.  Identify your goals.  Define your idea of success.  Be clear.  Be specific.  Be realistic.  And be prepared to work hard.

In terms of goals, think personally and professionally.

Have short term goals, and long term goals.

When I set professional goals, I differentiate between business/marketing goals and craft goals.  I write my goals down.  I pin them up or put them in a place I can see them—some people suggest your wallet—but refer to them at least once a month.  Think about them.  Goal setting works.

4. Success/Survival Require Perseverance & Mental Strength

I’ve written several articles on this—including Getting Game which was published in the Nov issue of RWR several years ago. Mental strength goes hand in hand with attitude but takes it one step further.  You’re not just choosing to be positive, you’re going to push yourself, challenge your capacity to learn and grow, and stop limiting yourself with real or perceived roadblocks.

Roadblocks to success?

–Fear of Failure
–Fear of Success
–Sense of Unworthiness
–Lack of confidence
–Lack of ambition
–Fear of Risk
–Inability to Commit

Okay.  Two bits of advice here—first, confront your fears. 

Second:  deal with them.

Stop pretending they don’t exist.  Everybody struggles with insecurity.  Everybody has self-doubts.  And you know, these things aren’t horrible, or embarrassing.  There’s no reason to feel shame.  The important thing is to acknowledge your fears, and then address them.

We have to stop thinking in terms of what we can’t do, but of what we can.

We can learn.  We can grow.  We can improve.  We can master new skills.  We can be great.  We can be brilliant.  We can sell.  We can be bestsellers.

You know, its okay to cry.  Its okay to hurt.  Its okay to be disappointed.  But what you do with the disappointment is key.

5.  To Succeed Act, Don’t Just React

Be careful not to be a trend follower.  If you begin chasing trends, you’re going to end up reacting to the industry, instead of acting and owning your voice, your vision, your themes, and your goals.

If what you write happens to fit today’s market, that’s awesome.  Take advantage of every opportunity to succeed, but don’t let the tail wag the dog.

You’re a writer.  An artist.  But also a businesswoman (or man).  Find the balance between creativity and industry, muse and bills.  This is where personal goal setting is really helpful.

Make sure you know what you want.

Define success for yourself.  (Is it a pay check?  Is it being in print, in a particular store?  Is it freedom?  Is it challenge?)

Once you know yourself, and what is most important to you, you’ll be able to respond to industry change with strength as well as confidence.  Because you don’t want to merely survive, you want to thrive.  But to do that, you have to be willing to take risks and honor your dream and vision for your books, your voice, and your career.

See you Friday for the next five keys to success and survival!

About Jane

Bestselling author of the  Jane Porter has been a finalist for the prestigious RITA award four times, has over 12 million copies in print.  Jane's novel, Flirting With Forty, picked by Redbook as its Red Hot Summer Read, went back for seven printings in six weeks before being made into a Lifetime movie starring Heather Locklear.  September 2012 brought the release of The Good Woman, the first of her Brennan Sisters trilogy, followed in February 2013 by The Good Daughter, and book three in the series, The Good Wife, is slotted for release in September.  A mother of three sons, Jane holds an MA in Writing from the University of San Francisco and makes her home in sunny San Clemente, CA with her surfer husband.

69 comments on “Ten Keys to Success & Survival in The Romance Industry”

  1. Yeah, I kinda-really needed to read this today. Thanks Jane, and thanks WITS for bringing great guest speakers. I'm going to tattoo Jane's words on the inside of my eyelids. [[kidding, but you get the point...pardon the pun]] I'm also sharing this with my critique partners. Can't wait to read part II. Mega thanks!

  2. This is one of the most inspiring posts I have read in a very long time. Thank you for making me feel that the power is in my hands!

  3. Jane, what I have learned in the past five years is what I believe will allow me to attain my goal. I want traditional publishing first, to eventually become a hybrid. The only way for me to reach my goals was to stop hiding or being afraid "they won't like me." If we are blessed with people that can be real and tell us exactly what works ... more ... what doesn't work ... and we have the gumption to listen ... we can be whatever we want. That said ... I now have to get back to editing something I thought was "finished." Oh dear me ... do we ever really finish ??

    1. I couldn't agree more about finding writers and mentors who will share...and then working together to support each other as artists and businesswomen. I am here, at a crossroads, and feeling really positive for the first time in years.

  4. Jane, and here I thought you were just awesome for your writing ability. People, if you haven't read The Good Daughter, do it - it's the best book I've read this year!

    Your tips are my priorities as well -and I agree with every one. It's so sad to see talented writers that won't ever sell because they're afraid - of whatever. They could have their dream, if they set down their self-imposed restrictions!

    Wonderful piece - thank you SO much for blogging with us!

    1. Laura Drake, thank you! 🙂

      The problem with fear and insecurity is that they're never gone for good...they come back, dressed up, or hidden/cloaked, and then we have to deal with them again, but at least facing one's fears allows us to move forward again.

  5. Speechless.

    And, if any of the WITS crew check in today, they'll confirm that's a first for this Queen of Novellas Masquerading as Comments.

    So much sound and solid and actionable advice. Yup. This is a keeper in my Nifty News file. Thank you.

    1. Oh, Donna! Amazing how revisions can make us doubt ourselves. Then again, I'm staring at a blank screen and wondering where the words are hiding. 😉

    2. I have a whole talk/workshop on revision because it can play with your head...and what seems small suddenly blows up and pieces move around and I go from confident to lost and overwhelmed so fast. BUT revision is the way a good book becomes great so its always worth it. Hang in there and soon you'll be free and sleeping easy. 🙂

      1. Ha! Not talking to yourself, Joel. I was just lurking here, reading comments until I felt guilty so I'm replying but writing requires a lot of decisions that demand toughness and focus, but then creativity requires an openness and lack of boundaries that put us in a tug of war....but maybe that's what is so addictive about writing? It requires everything of us and its exhausting and grueling but also weirdly satisfying....

  6. Hi Jane,

    A writer friend Edith; just told us about this article. I love writers in the storm, have read many good articles here.

    Just loved your article, every point so poigoint. Shame I missed the workshop.

    Thank you so much for taking the time out to write it and laying the points out so well.


    1. Destiny, thank you for reading it! I've just come through a couple tough years and finally feel like I can breathe again (and smile again and write again...and you'll find out more about that in Friday's Part II blog) but probably my biggest joy in this publishing career are my writer friends. Writers rock. We're crazy and passionate and inspiring and real...and we just have to keep encouraging each other to go for it, knowing that we are each other's safety net.

  7. I love this post, especially the advice regarding trends and 'defining success.' I'm relatively new to writing, so I have a lot to learn still (about the industry, craft, etc.)...but I do feel that I've at least conquered my fear of failure, identified my goals, and am willing to be realistic and enjoy the journey. I do, however, look forward to the day (whenever it may be) I sell my first book!

    Thanks for this article and all of your work with the RWA-WF group. It is amazing (and an inspiration) how well you juggle all of your commitments.

    1. Aw, thanks, Jamie, and I'm not sure I juggle as well as I do. I have help at every turn and yet I love the comrade I've found in this business...my writer friends, the folks who help me with pr/promo, the readers, the librarians, the reviewers (at least the ones that like what I write )...its obviously a passion, but I think it is for most of us that write.

  8. Reblogged this on Words and Music and commented:
    A really inspirational piece from author Jane Porter via Writers in the Storm. I particularly like this passage:
    Be careful not to be a trend follower. If you begin chasing trends, you’re going to end up reacting to the industry, instead of acting and owning your voice, your vision, your themes, and your goals.

    If what you write happens to fit today’s market, that’s awesome. Take advantage of every opportunity to succeed, but don’t let the tail wag the dog.

    1. Thanks, Susan! I only learned that part above the hard way. I'm a writer that is constantly banging her head against the wall (as you'll read in tomorrow's part II blog!).

  9. Absolutely fantastic stuff here. Thank you so much for sharing with us. I've printed, tweeted, and FB'd. All ten key points are vital, but I think #8 spoke to me the loudest. Keeping everything in PERSPECTIVE is impossible if we don't remember who we are, what we're doing, and why we must keep on, keeping on. Bring it to the page in the best, most learned and creative manner and we can't go wrong. Thank you, Jane. And as always, thank you WITS!

  10. Wonderful post, Jane–thanks!
    It’s good to know that in this rapidly changing industry there are some things that remain the same.
    The reinforcement our your five keys is great, too–maybe because every time we read a tip again, we’re at a different place in our careers?

  11. I love what you said about attitude. Attitude is everything and sometimes needs to be put in check. I believe it truly is one of the major keys to success in anything.

  12. Every time I submit I expect a rejection. You should see my face when I get accepted. I should really get a picture next time. 🙂

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