Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chat with best-selling author Rebecca Forster


Today, I'd like to welcome Rebecca Forster to the blog.  She has graciously donated her time to answer some questions.  Welcome Rebecca!

Deb: Could you talk a little about your traditionally published work?

Rebecca: You’ll be sorry you asked! I’m one of those people who still can’t believe I have books with my name on them – even after publishing 20+ – but here goes. I actually wrote my first book on a crazy dare. I was an advertising executive and my client was married to a rather famous author who I had never heard of – Danielle Steele. In my younger days, I was a bit brash and commented to my associate that “I could do that”. Well, that associate told everyone in the agency that I was going to write a book. I figured I would save face by submitting something, getting a rejection and that would be the end of it. Who knew my first book would be published?

Deb: What was the secret?

Rebecca: I don’t think there is a secret for getting published. I think every author comes at it differently. For me, though, I drew upon my marketing experience. I treated the book like I would any client’s product. I asked myself targeted questions. What was the marketplace looking for? Who would buy my product? Did I have to write the whole book before I submitted? What was the path of least resistance to an editor? Once I did my research and answered those questions, I followed my plan. I submitted to Harlequin (I didn’t need an agent so that was path of least resistance), Harlequin needed a continual inventory stream (look at the number of lines/books per line they turn out each month), Harlequin was very clear what they were looking for (guidelines with word count etc.) and Harlequin accepted partials.

Deb: And that was it? That sounds pretty easy.

Rebecca: I thought so too until I looked back and analyzed what happened. I believe that my planning was part of the success equation but the other part was pure luck and timing. I had never read a romance so I was writing about what I thought was romantic. I was lucky enough to hit the marketplace just as editorial content was changing from softer, hometown romances to working women romances. I was in the right place at the right time.

Deb: But you must have had some skill. Did you always write?

Rebecca: No, that was the first thing I’d ever written. But I read so much that I think I understood the basics of characterization, pacing, etc. When I received my editorial letter – 3 pages single spaced corrections – I wondered why the editor had bought my manuscript. It was because she saw potential and was willing to give me a chance. If I had not been willing to work with her, I doubt I would have sold another. Thankfully, I was smart enough to know she was giving me an opportunity and I will be forever grateful to her. She taught me everything I know about writing. Whether it is a short romance or a 100,000 word single title, good story telling and a professional approach to the craft are essential. That’s what sells a book.

Deb: And after the first romance?

Rebecca: There were more romances and then women’s single title books. I thought that’s what women wrote. Then my editor at Zebra told me that he thought romance wasn’t really my genre. He said I couldn’t keep killing everyone before they fell in love. I really bless him for that. Thrillers are really what I love to write and when Harper Collins gave me a chance to do my first legal thriller I felt like I was really at home.

Deb: Now you are an Indie author. What's that been like?

Rebecca: I am and experiencing the same things all traditionally published authors do as we make this transition. New York is changing. The opportunities to publish are tightening in the traditional markets and there are all sorts of market forces that are creating this situation. That isn’t to say that the opportunities aren’t still there but authors are also seeing they have other choices. I just published my first two Indie books. One, Before Her Eyes, is a book dear to my heart. New York editors had issues with it but I believed in it.  I published it for E-readers and have been gratified by the five star ratings.  I won’t kid you, though; the anxiety of posting without benefit of an editor and the buffer of a publisher between me and the reader was very real.  I also just published Wilde’s Gamble, a romantic intrigue.  There’s a part of my author’s soul that still loves the shorter format, the romantic romp. I suppose what I’m saying is that being an Indie author allows me to work on what moves me at the moment. Traditional publishing can’t turn on a dime like that. And, let’s face it, we are seeing the growth of the E-market explode. On the downside, it will be hard to stand out; on the other hand, we are masters of our own writing fate.

Deb: Do you miss having a ‘real book’?

Rebecca: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I love the feel of a book and the excitement of walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelves. I’m probably going to start querying agents again soon because I’m working on the next book in the Witness Series. That series has had a revival in the E-arena and I’m so excited by that. I adore Josie and Hannah and Archer and I’m glad their top of mind again. However, I have learned something over the last few years. Writers write and when we do what we are meant to do we find outlets for our end product.  One is not better than the other and we have to accept that there are different stages to our careers.

I took some time off a while back because I needed a breather.  While I was ‘breathing’, I wrote a film script. That took over a year and the producer has just attached a wonderful director and a recognizable star and recently had an inquiry about funding. Now that project is out of my hands and with the producer, I found I had a renewed energy for the novel. It was a wonderful to understand and accept that sometimes our writer’s brains just need to chug down different tracks for a while.  That realization was my permission to myself: write, rest, write again. It’s all good.

Deb: You teach at UCLA and with the Young Writer’s Program in middle schools.

Rebecca: UCLA is such a fantastic experience. I teach a weekend course during which I share with students the opportunities and challenges of publishing as I’ve experienced them. I want them to know all their options. Then we tackle their individual projects and determine what their genre is, write a pitch, refine it and write it again. It’s intense. When the weekend is over each student knows which agents and publishing houses they will target, how to pitch their project, how to rethink or restructure their storyline or plot. The course basically is my 25 years of experience as an author rolled into two days. My intention is to cut the new author’s learning curve. The Young Writer’s Conference has been around about 12 years. The extraordinary ladies who run it bring anywhere from 10 to 20 writers into middle schools and we teach workshops. Our intent is to inspire kids and give them permission to explore the limits of writing.  It’s amazing when they stand up and read their stories at the end or give you a hug or tell you that now they won’t be afraid to put words on paper. How cool is that?

Deb: One last question. Did you always take an editor’s advice?

Rebecca: Every single time except one. An editor’s job is to make the author look good and their eye is something quite special. I’ve really been blessed to work with some amazing editors whose suggestions not only made sense, they made my books better. The one time I did not change something was because it had to do with a legal situation. I had done my homework. I knew that it was appropriate for the scene and I insisted it stay. I was glad I did. I write legal thrillers and, not being a lawyer, I feel very strongly that my work needs to ring true to any lawyer who reads it. Other than that, I really do believe an editor knows best.