Having written twenty novels over the last five years, I decided to let my life (or at least the last five years) flash before my eyes and see what I’ve learned about writing, publishing, and pleasing readers. I hope my fifteen tips will be helpful to new authors as well as exciting behind-the-scenes information for readers. So, let’s get started.
1) Read as much as humanly possible. As my character Nicky Abbondanza in my Nicky and Noah mysteries might say, “I read faster than a plastic surgeon meeting a movie star.” Reading has helped me discover what is being published in my genres. Good books inspire me and make me want to write more!
2) Don’t use being busy as an excuse not to write. Like my character Martin Anderson in my Nicky and Noah mysteries, I’m a busy college theatre professor/department chair who thrives on knowing everyone and everything in my department. I write two hours every night before bed. Feeling a bit tired loosens my creative juices and the writing flows. If I can do it, you can do it.
3) Find a comfortable place to write that is all yours. Also like Martin Anderson, I have a cozy home study with a window seat overlooking the woods, a fireplace with a cherry mantel, a huge cherry desk, a matching bookcase, and a recliner. As Nicky might say, “It’s more comfortable than a priest at altar boy induction.”
4) The old adage, “Write what you know about,” makes sense. While researching is fun, writing from the heart about real experiences and real characters is sublime. As a college theatre professor, it isn’t a coincidence that my Nicky and Noah mysteries take place at the theatre department of a college, or that Nicky and Noah travel in the series to my favorite vacation spots: an Alaskan cruise, Hawaiian resort, Scottish castle. The same holds true for the Island of Capri in my A Home for the Holidays (Bobby and Paolo Holiday Stories Book 1), the New Jersey Shore in my Cozzi Cove series, and upstate New York/Washington, DC/Hollywood in my Jana Lane mysteries. Also in my Jana Lane mysteries, I used my past as a professional actor, having been on numerous movie sets, television sets, and theatre stages, though thankfully nobody was killed on them. However, it’s therapeutic to murder annoying people in my books (smile).
5) Find out what is special about you and embrace it fully. I realized early on that my unique feature is my sense of humor, love of mystery, and penchant for drama. So, all of my books include all three. I laugh out loud, cry, shriek in shock, and feel romantic as I write them.
6) Develop your own writing process and stick to it. Some people write first thing in the morning. Others write while their spouse or partner tells them about their day. I generally leap out of bed at 3am with a terrific idea and jot down notes on the pad at my night table. The next day I write a character biography for each character (from my background as an actor) and then an outline. As I did improvisation as an actor, I let the characters talk in my head, and I type what they say. Then I ask myself, “What if…” and I make changes. My spouse reads the second draft. After we argue about it, I do the third draft. The fourth draft is done after I receive notes from my editor. The fifth draft is that final draft where I (hopefully) catch any last-minute errors. As Nicky might say, “I try to be more diligent than a conservative politician removing environmental protections.”
7) Don’t be afraid to mix genres. For example, a good mystery has clear clues, salacious red herrings, captivating plot twists and turns, and a shocking but totally justified ending. However, it should also have interesting characters, a strong plot, romance, humor, and drama.
8) Fall in love with your characters and your locations. If you don’t, the reader won’t either.
9) Don’t try to be funny. Keep it real. Let the humor come out in the scene naturally. Life is funny. Trust that. And remember, there’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy. Don’t be afraid to walk it.
10) Every character in a romance novel doesn’t have to be twenty and gorgeous with a perfect body. Though we all love those characters, there are many other ages and types of characters to explore.
11) If a book really works, consider writing a series. As someone who has written five series (Nicky and Noah mysteries, Jana Lane mysteries, Cozzi Cove beach series, Bobby and Paolo Holiday Stories, and Tales from Fairyland), I can tell you that you can go home again! It’s like visiting with old friends. As someone who acted on daytime drama (Another World), I know that any character and relationship can grow and develop. It’s also great fun further developing minor characters and exploring their lives in future books.
12) Books are meant to be read. After you finish your story and you are satisfied with it, email it to a publisher who has an open submission policy and who publishes the kind of story you’ve written. Or publish it yourself.
13) Once you’ve published a romance or mystery novel, you are part of a wonderful and supportive community of writers and readers who will give you great advice. Don’t be afraid to connect with us on social media.
14) Keep in mind that a review on someone’s blog, Amazon, or Goodreads is someone’s opinion, not a fact. Thankfully most of the reviews for my books have been good. However, I don’t let the few bad reviews get me down. As my father says, “Opinions are like a__ holes. Everyone has one.” If someone writes and posts a bad review, it’s their karma, not yours. I write for the love of writing and for my wonderful readers—who are the best!
15) Now get writing and reading!