When it comes to writing and getting published, I’m not the best person to ask for advice. I’ve shot myself (and my career) in the foot more times than I can count. I have, however, survived in this business so it struck me that the one subject I can speak to with some authority is reinventing yourself. Unfortunately, from the start of my career, I’ve had a lot of experience doing just that. Here are my handy tips for survival:
DON’T GET TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Trust me on this. I’ve been there and done that and it rarely goes well. Back at the beginning of my career I tried to do a futuristic/paranormal. That very first manuscript had all of the elements that I now work with freely: romance, suspense and a psychic twist. I can’t tell you how many rejection slips the manuscript garnered. They all had the same theme: “Really enjoyed the writing but unfortunately there’s no market for this kind of romance”.
Never one to learn from my mistakes, I tried more futuristic/paranormals again a few years later. By this time I had my Jayne Ann Krentz career up and running. But I killed it stone dead for a time when I finally succeeded in publishing those dang “books of my heart”: my futuristic/paranormals. Anyone remember Sweet Starfire, Crystal Flame and Shield’s Lady? Those are the books that did me in. Folks lined up around the block NOT to buy those books. My printruns crashed and burned.
With my Krentz career on life-support, I decided to retreat to a new pen name and a sub-genre I knew had an audience: Regency romance. That was when I fired up my Amanda Quick career.
The next time I tried the futuristic/paranormal genre I wised-up and did it under a name which had no bad printrun baggage attached to it: Jayne Castle (which just happens to be my birth name). This time it worked.
The takeaway lesson here is that it is very risky to be the first writer in a brand new fictional landscape. Editors look at the books and worry that there won’t be an audience. Readers look at the books and find the backdrops too strange and unfamiliar. It takes time and usually more than one author to create a new fictional landscape that a lot of readers will find comfortable. Today we are all at ease with alternate realities and futuristics that feature vampires, werewolves and the supernatural but it was not ever thus, believe me
KNOW YOUR CORE STORY: (and where it belongs!) My career has experienced several other harrowing near-death experiences but I’ll spare you the grisly details. What you probably want to know is how I survived.
The answer is that I followed one simple rule: Each time I found myself standing on the edge of the abyss, I went back to my core story and looked for a fictional landscape that could accommodate it.
Example: After my futuristic/paranormal career went off a high cliff I took a look at the basic story that I was trying to tell. I realized that if I stripped away the otherworldly settings, the exotic animals and the space ships what I had left was, essentially, a marriage-of-convenience plot. I realized right away that there was a natural home for such stories: Regency romance. That was the start of my Amanda Quick career.
The very best advice I can give you is to know and understand your core story. The themes, plot elements and the kinds of characters you love to work with will show up again and again in your books. They are the source of your power. There is usually more than one market for your core story but you may not realize that if you don’t recognize and comprehend the raw fuel that drives you.
DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR SPECIAL WORLD: Yes, it took me a long time to publish the psychic and futuristic stories that I longed to do from the very start of my career but eventually I got where I wanted to be. I am now writing my books the way I have always wanted to write them.
I took a few detours before I reached my destination but I loved the journey at every stage because, when you get right down to it, regardless of the sub-genre in which I was working, I always found a way to tell my core story.
The author of a string of New York Times bestsellers, JAYNE ANN KRENTZ uses three different pen names for each of her three “worlds”. As JAYNE ANN KRENTZ (her married name) she writes contemporary romantic-suspense. She uses AMANDA QUICK for her novels of historical romantic-suspense. JAYNE CASTLE (her birth name) is reserved these days for her stories of futuristic/paranormal romantic-suspense.
“I am often asked why I use a variety of pen names,” she says. “The answer is that this way readers always know which of my three worlds they will be entering when they pick up one of my books.”
In addition to her fiction writing, she is the editor of, and a contributor to, a non-fiction essay collection, DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: ROMANCE WRITERS ON THE APPEAL OF THE ROMANCE published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Her commitment to her chosen genre has been strong from the very beginning of her career. Each year at the annual convention of the Romance Writers of America she participates in a special day-long workshop for librarians and speaks on the importance of the romance genre.
“The romance genre is the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story,” Jayne says. “These are books that celebrate women’s heroic virtues and values: courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love.”
She earned a B.A. in History from the University of California at Santa Cruz and went on to obtain a Masters degree in Library Science from San Jose State University in California. Before she began writing full time she worked as a librarian in both academic and corporate libraries.
She is married and lives with her husband, Frank, in Seattle, Washington.