These are my notes from the Romance Writers of Australia 2022 conference. Please be aware that this is not a transcript.
Panel Discussion: Bestsellers Spill the Tea!
with Zoe York, Maisey Yates, and Kelly Rimmer.
Question: How long have you been published? How many rejections? How many books?
MY: Published 13 years, 151 books. No rejections before, but plenty after first book was contracted
KR: Can’t remember. Wrote for 20 years before submitting.
ZY: 11 years writing, 9 years published. No rejections prior, but lots afterwards. Have even contacted agents to deal with international rights issues on popular books and been rejected.
Question: Why this pathway (trad, indie, hybrid)?
KR: If I’m good at anything, it’s only one thing. Trad works because it’s single tasking and I only have to write
ZY: Indie publishing to avoid deadlines and can set my own schedule.
MY: I focus on my strength which is writing, so trad works for me. I like having a team/partnership supporting me. Careers change, and hybrid could work later.
ZY: Career stability matters. The more legs on a stool, the more stable it is. There’s so many paths and all paths build ‘income pillars’.
Question: What is a moment that made your career?
MY: There’s never one, but the first contract was the purest one. I get to write what I love.
KR: That first contract. Also seeing my book on a shelf.
ZY: When Prime Minister released (penname Ainsley Booth). I’d already been writing full time for two years, and it was the first book I wrote for myself, not the market or a reader. It hit the best seller’s list, and I thought “I can do this while writing the books I want to write.”
Question: How do you measure success?
KR: Most successes happen due to other’s actions, eg selling well. But when the big stuff fades, there will always be that lovely email from a reader.
MY: Having the opportunity to write the next book. Money matters but not at the expense of everything else. I want to do what I love, without burning out, and to keep doing it.
ZY: Stability, which comes from backlist sales (60% of her income). Five years ago, I cared more about the peak moments. Success changes.
MY: Hitting lists is nice, but doesn’t always help career stability.
Question: What is your biggest regret?
KR: Not using a pen name
MY: Ditto. It’s harder to keep my kids separate from book life. I also regret letting things get into my head early on. I wanted established authors to like me, and it took ages to learn that their jealousy wasn’t about me.
ZY: Being too responsive to what readers said they wanted, and not trusting my gut on what to write
Question: What is your writing process like?
ZY: Chaos. I pants scenes out of order, then stitch them into a plot, then fill in the gaps.
KR: Disorganised plotter. I was a project manager in software prior to being a writer. I write a 30 page plot, send it to agent or editor, we workshop the plot, then I write it via dictation.
MY: Just vibes. I’m always chasing the feelings, and my writing is character driven. No book works the same way, and I ask What would be fun for me to write?
MY: I use Dragon to save my wrists. It takes time to learn the skill and it’s a different process in my brain. It was very slow at the start but am good now with practise. It’s reduced my daily pain level.
ZY: I only dictate part time using Otter
KR: I got Ross River fever and now use Dragon, but it took months to learn it. I do a mix of dictation and typing at the same time.
MY: A learning tip was to read my own books to the app, using punctuation to get used to it. I play music in my headphones so I can’t hear myself talk but now it’s easy and flows naturally. It still needs edits as it’s not very clean.
ZY: My vocab feels juvenile using dictation compared to typing.
KR: It can be very messy
Question: What keeps you going?
MY: I’m not qualified to do anything else!
KR: I bought a bookstore as a back up plan
Question: Have you ever had to part ways with a publisher?
KR: I had a six book offer from a digital publisher, and a couple of offers elsewhere at the same time. Asked agent for advice
MY: Sometimes you have to burn a bridge so people don’t follow you across. But usually it’s fine and just do what is good for your career because it’s business, not personal.
ZY: I am my own publisher and acquisitions person. I have to negotiate it all. I can’t write whatever I want OR whatever readers want. I need to work out the best approach. I put Ainsley Booth on hiatus recently; which was like getting dumped by a publisher. It gave me time to work out the next step.
Question: Longevity/Stamina and staying in love with it?
ZY: What do you want to have written five years from now? Every day is the beginning of the next five years. Re: Love – stay flexible, try to surprise yourself.
KR: Every book is a new chance to fail. It’s constantly scary which is also exciting.
MY: Separate books from business. Concept with the head, write with the heart. Longevity comes from loving the process. Know yourself and what works for you as a person.
Question: What is your daily routine?
MY: I write Mon-Fri. I tailor things to myself because I work for myself. I try to keep office hours, but the point of working for myself is flexibility too.
KR: At the start, I wrote in the gaps of work and kids.
ZY: I can write anywhere. I try to only work on school days, about 20-30k per month.
MY: Sometimes you don’t have work/life balance. It comes in waves.
ZY: Avoid burnout by scheduling rest after a big push for a deadline
Question: Any tips for aspiring authors?
ZY: Don’t listen to any advice that includes the word “should”. Plan to write more books than you think you will/can.
KR: All a first draft has to do is exist.
MY: Comparison is the thief of joy. My joy is in my own writing. Read the genre you want to write in. Familiarise yourself with tropes and the market. You need to know where you sit in the market, and/or see if you can find the absence in the market.
KR: If a book or film makes you frustrated, daydream why.
Question: What writing support do you have?
ZY: My developmental editor
KR: My agent. I need someone who isn’t nice about the book.
MY: Jackie Ashenden