When it comes to criticism, romance writers soon discover the value of a thick skin. So how do authors respond to people with little to no understanding of the genre and protect their mental health? Aja and Virginia Heath share their thoughts on Nixing Negativity.
Aja - Learning To Let Go
I used to be a worrywart. It wasn’t the type of worry that strangled me, making it hard to breathe or function, but it was unhealthy all the same. Time would be wasted on thoughts that were not productive, and didn’t seem to improve the condition I was in.
My mother would tell me that worry was fruitless. If there was something I could change, then change it; If there was nothing to be done, let it go. Move on. It took time for her wisdom to make its way into my psyche. It took time for worry to bother me enough that I felt sick to my stomach over the things that I could not change, and since I didn’t like being sick, I decided that it, indeed, was time to let go.
Exercising letting go is a practiced habit. It’s not the type of thing, for me anyway, that’s done automatically. Whether it’s a bad review, or lack of book reviews on a project I spread my heart open to share in words. Or whether it’s the fact that my children sometimes struggle with forming lasting friendships with other children in a world where the word “friend” has less substantial meaning. Or whether it’s that I don’t know how I will manage it all; worry wants its way with me, but the consistent reminder that I am doing my best and there is nothing better than my best for me — it sustains me. It puts me in check, makes me release the struggle of needing to know it all, therefore, I can exist and enjoy this life I’m living. The stress dissipates and all that’s left is my passion for what I’m doing, which is in my writing.
That’s the point of it all, right? To live and experience the passion of writing unfettered. Worry and angst don’t belong, so let it go.
Some of the mechanisms I use in letting go, relaxing, and experiencing life without worry are; reading the Bible, writing whatever it is that’s on my heart, listening to music, being quiet, taking a walk, talking to a close friend or listening to them, which helps me put things into perspective. Essentially, I continue to live my life knowing that what happens in life doesn’t remain constant, so no negative thing will stay and good things will come along to replace it. It’s just that simple for me.
Check in with me later as I finish the next release. The writing cave can be a dark and lonely place.
Virginia Heath - The Unapologetic Author
I unapologetically write happily ever afters for Harlequin Mills & Boon. I thought I would scream that in the first line for two reasons. Firstly, I am immensely proud to write for the global leader in romance publishing and secondly, I am fed up with people scoffing or sneering or downright insulting what I write. But I’m a grown up. I can’t rant and rave. I simply smile.
I’m always excruciatingly polite and try to act as a brand ambassador, however inside I am screaming at them, shaking them by the shoulders or making virtual voodoo dolls which I stab with imaginary pins in unmentionable areas. Occasionally, I put the haters in a book and kill them. Only joking. (Or am I?)
On a weekly basis, some sanctimonious and ignorant individual will make a snide comment which I have to deflect politely. They usually fall into the following categories and my self-soothing, internal silent rants are in italics:
1. Oh, *insert dismissive chuckle* my nan used to read those!
Newsflash! Everyone’s nan read them, so did their mothers and now the daughters and their daughters have taken up the mantle. And for good reason. To be the global leader in romance publishing you need to know exactly what your readers want. In the UK alone Mills & Boon has 3 million regular readers and sells a paperback every 6.6 seconds. 200 million of their books are sold annually around the globe. They translate into 35 different languages and sell in over a 100 countries, as well as now putting out every book in eBook format as standard. British libraries stock all the monthly Mills & Boon and state the new releases are the most common books on a waiting list. My first two books alone were checked out of libraries a whopping 6332 times! They have dedicated shelf space in major supermarkets and bookstores. That means more than your nan are reading them moron!
2. *Looking down nose patronisingly* When are you going to write a proper book?
Have you ever read a Mills & Boon? No? Well allow me to educate you. They are proper books. The converted love them because they are guaranteed pacey, page-turners. Like you could write one! M&B are incredibly particular about the authors they choose to invest in, and I say that because the hardest part is getting your toe in the door of a very exclusive club. They have launched the careers of some fabulous writers: Penny Jordan, Nora Roberts, Maisey Yates, although it says a great deal about the company that many authors choose to stay with the company and frequently hit the best seller lists. Maisey Yates still writes category romance alongside her other books.
3. *Smug, knowing grin* So you basically write porn then do you?
No… I write romance. I write about people, their lives, hang-ups, hopes and dreams. I send my characters on an emotional journey. I have a plot. Drama. Humour. Suspense. Good guys and bad guys and quirky sidekicks. I build a world for my reader to get lost in. Lots of things happen before my characters get together. Porn would just be about sex. You would know that if you could read. Cretin!
And my personal favorite insult, the one which is guaranteed to set my teeth grinding and have me ranting internally for hours…
4. Well I suppose, once you’ve mastered the formula *nudge, nudge, wink* it’s easy. Maybe I’ll write one!
Grrrrrrrrrr! Let me set the record straight. Firstly, there is no formula or template you have to write to. The Mills & Boon guidelines are pretty woolly. I write for the Historical line and my only guideline is my story has to be a romance between 70,000 – 75,000 words. The word count differs between the different series. Presents/Modern, their most popular line, has a 50,000 word limit. When you consider that most commercial fiction novels are between 90-110 thousand words, that stingy word count makes it pretty difficult. You have considerably less time to construct compelling characters, interesting and write a page-turning story. Every single word counts. Writing one is an art in itself and not for the foolhardy. Many try and fail. They have to be picky. If they churned out duff books their readers would stop buying them.
I asked my editor how many submissions they get a month. She said it’s difficult to quantify because it fluctuates- but she estimated between 300-500 a month across the board for all the lines. If you only take the average, that means they get around 4000 manuscripts a year. Yet in 2015 they took on just 12 new authors- one a month- and I am proud to have been one of them. So stick that in your sanctimonious pipe and smoke it! Give it a go you dismissive, ignorant, sanctimonious, self-important hater and do let me know how you get on.
And then I breathe. Smile. Remind myself I have the best job in the world and skip off to disappear into my own imaginary world, where the hater is inconsequential. Or dies painfully in chapter 12…
Virginia's latest book, A Warriner to Seduce Her, (which featured in our exclusive FREE READ article last month), is out now! For all the details and to discover what's she is working on now, check out Virginia's website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
How do you deal with the negativity surrounding what you write/read or experience online or in the real world? Let us know in the comments or join the #NixingNegativity discussion on our Social Media.