Deadlines and Real Life, by May Burnett

Do self-publishers even have deadlines? 

One would suppose that a self-published author could complete and edit her books at leisure, free from the tyranny and pressure of deadlines. That may be true for the first stumbling attempts, for the complete amateur; but the moment a writer approaches the publication of her books with any seriousness and hopes to make it her day job, deadlines are almost inevitable. Continue reading

What makes a writer? by May Burnett

Imagination

Inventing stories and scenes inside the mind is one of the hallmarks of the writer, a habit we share with many people who never bother to write their ephemeral creations down. However, not everyone does it. Quite a few simply cannot if they try. I have even met people who seemed unable to follow a simple “What would happen if…?” scenario, getting upset that I was wasting their time with something unreal, even though we were just chatting over lunch. Perhaps they were never told stories in their childhood, or discouraged from using their innate imagination, and I can only pity them. (It seemed more tactful to change the subject, than try to discover the origins of their inability.) Continue reading

Romantic Subplots, by May Burnett

One good thing about being a writer of romance is that it helps with most other genres, which are usually enhanced by a romantic subplot, no matter what the genre.

Of course in a hard-boiled noir thriller the love interest may be killed off (a big no-no in actual romance) or turn out to be a bad guy or both; in science fiction or mysteries the romance, if it is there at all, may be very subtle and drawn out over several volumes. But no matter how much or little romance you add to the mix, how explicit or low-key the love or sex scenes, the experience of having written romance stories or novels can only help. Continue reading

The Joys of Editing by May Burnett

Lately , I find myself editing more frequently than writing new words.
To get a book ready for publication, both stages are of roughly equal importance. Some writers produce first drafts very fast and spend years on re-writes and editing, others write slowly and edit as they go. Prolific writers sometimes outsource the editing almost completely. Whatever the process, the author is ultimately responsible for putting a clean and easy read in front of the public, so outsourcing only goes so far: you still have to double-check everything yourself. Continue reading

Writing Fast, by May Burnett

Some self-appointed experts claim you do not come into your own as a writer until after you’ve written at least a million words. Even the admired classic writers of any genre needed to develop their voice and skill over time. When you compare the first novel of Georgette Heyer to those she wrote ten or twenty years later, it is undeniable how the style and technique improved, though perhaps not the plotting. Yet by my count, unless she discarded a lot of pages, it did not take her anything like a million words until she produced one of my favorites, These Old Shades. Continue reading

I always love the new book best, by May Burnett

Today is a joyful date for me, as it marks the publication of my 11th historical romance since the first one appeared in June 2014.  A Priceless Gift is set in 1811/12, the time when Napoleon was preparing his ill-fated attack on Russia. My hero is a diplomat as well as a nobleman, and spends the middle part of the book on a confidential mission to the Czar’s court in St. Petersburg, while Amanda, his young and pregnant wife, stays at his principal seat in Hampshire. To celebrate this event I’ll indulge in a short author interview with my writing self.
Can one write so many books so quickly without sacrificing quality?
Yes and no. I would not have published any book if I were not happy with it, but I am coming to appreciate the editing and proofreading stages more than I did when I set out. I plan to re-edit some of my earlier works as I go along, to make sure that the Createspace versions I shall put out over the next few months are as perfect as I can manage. And I may insert a couple of additional scenes into one of my earlier works, to give greater stress to the love story.
Do you ever run out of ideas for new plots? After all the Regency category has a fairly rigid formula.
No, there is not the slightest danger of running out of ideas. If all else fails, I like to transpose present-day problems to the past, where the resolution would be rather different. Each of my books so far is quite different from the previous ones. The new one, for instance, has gothic elements (revenge, poison, superstition) not to be found in my previous works.
You like to use young lovers in every book. Don’t they tend to become similar types?
Not so far. I have a fairly clear idea of my characters’ background and priorities, their interests and values by the time I begin to write a book. Each of them is their own man (or woman). My most recent book is also different because the hero is rather older than in my previous books, in his late thirties.
You use alternating, close third POV. Do you prefer to write from the male or female POV?
The male one is marginally more fun because men had more liberty and possibilities in the period where I set my novels. I like to use interior monologues and self-deception, rationalisations, useless determination, and so on, for both men and women. This may add distance on occasion but in a Regency you don’t necessarily need one-hundred-percent identification with any one character.
What are your weak points?
I prefer to regard them as areas where I can still improve. I must strive to add more atmospheric description to my scenes. Since I tend to focus most on my character’s thoughts and dialogue, description is sometimes neglected. Also, I don’t always make as much out of their pain and anguish as I should, perhaps because I feel pity for their sufferings. And I need to work on action scenes, which don’t come so naturally to me.
What comes next, after this book? Is it part of a series?
No, A Priceless Gift is a standalone, though I am toying with the idea of writing a sequel about the heroine’s younger sister Eve. I already have a suitable cover and title, so all that is needed is to write her story… but that will have to wait. My next project is part of my longest ongoing series, the Amberley Chronicles. It is two-thirds written at this point, about an heiress fleeing from mysterious attacks with a young officer that she’ll be forced to marry later in the book to safeguard her reputation. By the end, of course, both will be reconciled to their situation.
After that comes the third and final volume of my Winthrop Trilogy. The heroine’s character and backstory are a special challenge, and I am still trying to think of a good title.

How profitable are these Regencies?

In the current year they have netted me between 1000 and 3000 dollars per month. I am planning to experiment with various marketing strategies, starting with the addition of Createspace versions. But the most important thing is to keep writing and publishing new books on a fairly quick schedule.

Anything else you would like to add?

The first volume of the Winthrop Trilogy, Lady Susan’s Bargain, will be free from August 1 to 5th  2015. Anyone reading this, I would appreciate if you downloaded a free copy! And for suscribers of Kindle Unlimited, all my historical novels are enrolled, so you can sample them at your leisure. Enjoy! 9 A Priceless Gift 3D large

Cinderella in Reverse

The last post by Emily Cooper described annoying tropes in romance. Everyone hates them, and yet many readers lap up what others detest. There is a reason there are so many billionaires and dukes among romance heroes, while the female leads tend to come from far more modest backgrounds.

But how happy are such unions likely to be in the long run? Realistically, the bride is going to face resistance and disdain from her in-laws and her man’s social circle. Unless she is extremely adaptable and astute, she will be considered a social climber for a long time. For all we know, even Cinderella may have endured snubs by fellow royals after wedding her prince.

Looking back on the series of seven historical novels I have written over the past year (five published, the other two currently on pre-order), I find that I have played around quite a bit with variations of the Cinderella trope:

In The Impostor Debutante the hero’s social standing is far superior to that of Charlotte, even though James is is only the younger brother of an earl –  her birth is illegitimate. His mother’s outrage at this misalliance is still unabated six volumes and three children later in the series.

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In His Last Marchioness there are two couples – in one, the lady is of higher birth and elects to wed a man from the professional classes when she could have married a duke’s heir.  (How realistic is that? Well, sometimes love does win out.)

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The Sister Quest features the traditional rich man – poor woman trope, but my hero is a mere commoner, without even a baronet in his family tree. After amassing a large fortune Jonathan is hoping to marry up, into the aristocracy. It would have been logical, for in a class-ridden society, not only women harboured such ambitions. Cherry does not even know her parentage, she was adopted as a baby.  Jonathan renounces his social climbing for her sake, and finds himself richly rewarded.

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From the author’s perspective it is great fun to play around with social status, confounding both the reader’s expectations and my characters’ ambitions.

Catching a Rook presents a rare inversion – a duke’s heir is yoked against his will to a lady of yet higher rank, a foreign princess. The social gulf between the aristocracy and royalty was enormous in the 19th century. My story illustrates that matches across such large divides are inevitably problematic, especially when neither side feels  love or desire.  In the end, both find happiness with partners closer to their own status.

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Lady Susan’s Bargain returns to the theme of a rich, well-born lady marrying “down”. Nobody in her family can understand why she would want to do so. The reason is unusual, but she gets her way through daring manipulation.

As the cover shows, this book is not part of the Amberley series. It has more sex, and darker themes.

Some reviewers have objected to the mercenary motives of particular characters. I contend that such motives are highly realistic, especially in people who have known want and neglect, and crave security at any cost. (Remember how quickly Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice gets Charlotte Lucas to accept him, and how money and inheritance issues colour everyone’s attitudes and status in Emma.)

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The heroine of Lady Anthea’s Choice is also well-born and well dowered, but needs to learn to stand up to social and family pressure. Her choice is between a rich, handsome lord who is also a selfish bully, and a slightly less aristocratic but kind and supportive young man. Abysmal ignorance (euphemistically called “innocence” at the time) further complicates her situation.

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And after all that, in The Perils of Lord Pell, to be published at the end of February, I go back to the traditional Cinderella story – my young heroine marries through necessity, and her man turns out to be a fabulously rich marquis intent on spoiling her. What’s not to like? (I do show the reception she gets from his family, and her misgivings at this drastic change in status.)

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Yet wealth and social class are just one element of a good romance.  Mutual compatibility, sympathy, and especially a good measure of sexual attraction are also essential.

Most women consider wealth and power attractive attributes, but for my heroines honour, loyalty and kindness trump every other consideration when it comes to the crunch.  They learn to understand that rank without love and friendship can only be considered a consolation prize. Some lucky girls get it all – but the others still get what will make them happy in the long run.

Now, if only it worked like that in real life…

Creativity Postponed

When I was a schoolgirl, long ago, I prided myself on the ability to write an essay of any length required on any subject, no matter how obscure or silly, without having to think long about it. Not for me the agony of staring at a blank page and wondering what to put on it – my subconscious would supply words, almost as easily as water spouting out of a tap. Writing stories was just as easy, and more fun.

Sounds like I should have become a writer, right? Unfortunately there were serious obstacles. Family expectations urged me towards a supposedly more secure, prestigious career. I thought I could always come back to writing later. During the first years of full-time employment I wrote on the side, mostly stories and articles. When my career led me to Manhattan for three years, I submitted some of my works to editors. Like any other aspiring writer only just learning their craft, I received rejection letters – “would like to see more of your work” was the best I could do.  Meantime my job got ever more demanding, and then children came along.

But though there were years when I didn’t write fiction, except inside my head, I always kept reading. Thousands and thousands of books.

Now I have at last come to a point when I took a step back from the day job and bought two years of free time with my savings –  and finally settled down to write. Is it any wonder that all those repressed works now come shooting out at surprising speed? It turns out that you can postpone creation, but if you are lucky it is still there, patiently waiting.  Except that these are not exactly the same books I could or would have written decades ago; I look at my abandoned projects, for instance a  thriller parodying work inside the United Nations, and I could not for the life of me finish it in the spirit in which it began. On the other hand, what I write now draws on the experiences and insights of the past decades, and hopefully has gained some depth. I’m still working hard on improving the technical aspects.

Right now  I am completing a book I began in 1999 in Copenhagen, and find it is not easy to reconcile the older parts with the new. I have changed in fifteen years, and the characters I envisage today are not quite the same in consequence. While I am determined to rescue at least that favourite project from limbo,  it would be easier and faster to write something completely new.

Given the time pressure, self-publishing is the obvious choice for me. Receiving feedback from unknown readers all over the world within days of publication of an Ebook gives me a thrill, and to hear that someone enjoyed my writing is great motivation to carry on.  With traditional publishing, even in the best case, I would still be waiting for a release date of the first book.

Over the past few months I have concentrated on Regency Romance, and under the pen name of May Burnett have published three in June, August and September respectively. They form a series , the Amberley Chronicles, though each is self-contained. If all goes well, in the month of October two more will come out, the fourth of the series and a standalone regency, Lady Susan’s Bargain. When I have ten regencies under my belt, I may turn back to urban fantasy or YA, just as much fun to write but harder to sell. How long will I be able to keep up the pace of one short novel every month? Maybe with enough practice I can do even better…

The lesson, if any? Take your pick:  It’s never too late to make childhood dreams come true. When you have a gift, it should be used. If you wait long enough, the technology that will make your goals easier to achieve may come along.

Or simply, go and write NOW. Who knows if it will still be possible tomorrow.

 

 

Regency Romances are Fun

Hello to everyone from May Burnett in Vienna, Austria. I’ve been writing in a variety of genres for over a year now. Writing is much more interesting than my former day job in the civil service.

I have always loved romance, especially historical romance, and over the years have collected about two thousand such novels, even though I only kept the best. There are just so many excellent romances written over the last twenty years, and though tastes are gradually changing, I always feel a pang at giving away one of my old favourites.

Like many other readers I always felt that I could write historical romance too, if not as brilliantly as a Loretta Chase or Mary Balogh, then at least as good as the average. I did not fool myself that it would be easy, in fact one of the first EBooks I published, under the pseudonym of May Essex, had the title How to Write an Awful Romance. I wrote it as a challenge to myself, to see if I could write, edit and self-publish it in one single day. This pamphlet was actually discussed months later, approvingly, by the well-known All About Romance blog.

Of course I could not then use the same pen name for my own first attempts. First she explains how to write an awful book, then she goes ahead and does it … I could just imagine the sarcastic comments.

My first venture into Romance proper was a Regency novel published in June 2014, The Impostor Debutante, which sold over 1000 copies, not counting borrows, in the first month. To my delight, it also garnered a number of mostly favourable reviews. In July the sequel followed, My Last Marchioness. The working title for the next volume is The Sister Quest. The whole series, The Amberley Chronicles, is projected to have seven or eight titles eventually, published at eight-weekly intervals.  This is a schedule that only self-publishing allows, by the way, no traditional publisher could or would do it, and probably very few writers.

Since I write first of all to please myself, rather than following current trends and prevailing tastes, my books do not completely fit all readers’ expectations. I am fed up with the countless tortured, self-indulgent and flawed heroes and endless dukes, and write about decent, mature people with minor flaws like vanity or class prejudice. I do not like to delve at length into extremely negative emotions like guilt and anguish. Some of my characters tend to be reserved or excellent liars, to keep up appearances and temporarily mislead the reader along with other characters. Since I like to hide crucial facts and clues, maybe I will try my hand at a regency mystery with a romantic subplot next.

My aim is entertainment, even though I touch on serious subjects on occasion. I only hope that my readers will have as much pleasure with my books, as I have fun writing them.