Interview with An Author: Heidi Betts, Categories Are a Training Ground for Good Writers
Heidi Betts sold her first book, Cinnamon and Roses, to Dorchester Publishing. The western historical was published in January 2000 with five more western historicals released in the following three years. In 2003, however, she contracted with Harlequin Books to write contemporary romances for Silhouette Desire. Just recently, Betts sold a three book series to St. Martin’s featuring sexy, funny contemporaries.
QWhat did you do before writing and what made you start?
AHeidi Betts: I was in high school and then college when I first wanted to be a romance writer, so I didn’t really do anything before trying my hand at this. And I started writing simply because I looooooooved romance. Loved reading it, had always loved creative writing, and this seemed like the perfect way to mesh the two.
QJayne, my blogging partner, found a fascinating article about what some authors do to jump start their creative juices. Any tips you care to share?
AI don’t actually think I have anything that jump starts my creative juices. (Should I be worried?) I know some people use a certain type of music or a particular picture or item to motivate themselves, but I basically just sit down and write. I like to be comfortable, of course, set up in my usual writing spot–although I don’t have to be; I can write just about anywhere if I need to–and tend to read over a bit of what I wrote the day before to get me back into the flow of the characters and storyline. But other than that, I can’t think of anything in particular that I need get going.
QHow would you characterize your writing?
AI like to think my writing is sexy and snappy and has a certain cadence as you’re reading. That’s my goal with each book, anyway.
QHave you ever written an unsympathetic character? If so, what particular challenges do you face when writing someone that your readers may not initially like? Do you think the rules are different for a male character v. a female character?
AI don’t think I’ve ever written a character who was entirely unsympathetic or completely unlikeable. Maybe some who weren’t the most likeable people in the world, but they had their redeeming qualities. And I guess that’s the trick if you’re going to write about a character who is flawed and whom readers maybe won’t sympathize with immediately–give them a few snippets of likeability.
And I do think the rules are probably at least a bit different for a male character versus a female one. Readers may be able to overlook more from a hero than a heroine because…well, you know, he’s a guy. I think romance readers often read romance because they want to see the hero grow and evolve from someone who’s maybe hard and cynical to someone who’s softer and more understanding.
QThere was an article last month at Romancing the Blog by agent Kristin Nelson about writing a big enough novel. I've read categories that I consider better than a mass market, primarily straight contemporaries. How do you feel about that?
AThere are some excellent category titles out there, I’d agree with you on that. Heck, the majority of category books I read are excellent. But I would probably also agree with Kristin that when you’re doing a single title versus a category, you need it to be bigger. More characterization, more plot, more depth–you have to have a story that can sustain 400 pages as opposed to 200. But if the writing isn’t there, the voice isn’t there, then it doesn’t matter how short or long a book is, it’s still going to fall flat.
QDo you think that there is a stigma against writing category romances? Or is there an advantage because you are already published and therefore have a proven audience?
AI’ve never felt there was a stigma against writing category romance, although I do know that some people have the attitude that they’re just “little” books or maybe aren’t as important as the big ones. I think this is poppycock, so I ignore folks like that. *g* There are some really wonderful, powerful category stories out there that are every bit as good (if not better) than single titles. Every book is just a story unto itself, regardless of its length, and I think you have to judge them on their own merit rather than comparing them to other types of stories. In the romance genre, we’ve got apples, oranges, strawberries, melons, kiwis…everything you can think of. Why compare them and look for ways to find fault when we could simply be enjoying a smorgasboard of delicious reads?
QHow can a category author break out or into a mass market position?
A That’s a good question. I actually just sold a trilogy of sexy, humorous contemporaries to St. Martin’s Press, so A.) I don’t know, and B.) I suspect I’ll learn over the next couple of years. Basically, I think you just have to be ready to write a much bigger book, and have to have the voice to carry it through. Starting out in category can be a great lesson, teaching an author to write tighter and more compact, to hit the high points faster and work within a certain structure. And I think a lot of category authors just “know” when they’re ready to start working on something bigger. Or maybe it’s as simple as having an idea you love that just won’t fit the category market.
QIf you could change one thing about the publishing industry, what would it be?
A Ha! Only one? Actually, I can’t think of anything at the moment. I suppose I wouldn’t mind if the industry changed its policy about stripped/returned books. Or found a way to cut down on used book sales and get readers to buy new as often as possible. But that’s all stuff I try not to focus on very often. No industry or occupation is perfect, and I prefer to simply concentrate on the writing and worry about the rest as little as possible.
QIs there a secret to publishing you can share?
A Nope, no secret, sorry. There is no secret, except for hard work and persistence. You know that old saying about fifteen minutes of fame taking ten or twenty years to achieve, right? *g*
QIf you had one marketing secret, what would that be?
A No secrets there, either. I don’t do a lot when it comes to marketing and promotion, and there are authors out there who are much more savvy with that sort of thing than I am. I keep a website and do the occasional bookmark, but that’s about it.
QWhat are three romance books you read in the last month, and why?
A The KICK@SS anthology by Maggie Shayne, MaryJanice Davidson, Angela Knight, and Jacey Ford…because I’d been wanting to read it forever and finally just sat down and did it. HOT AND BOTHERED by Susan Andersen…because I love, love, love her books and don’t make a point of reading them nearly often enough. And COPYCAT by Erica Spindler…because I love a good romantic suspense, and Erica hasn’t disappointed me yet! :-)
You can visit Heidi at her website to find out more about her books.