So many of us reinvent ourselves in the New Year, so we're asking authors who are rebranding themselves - through choice or necessity - how they go about a writerly reinvention.
As part of our special PHS Rebranding Edition, Kate Walker is talking about the importance of constantly evolving as a writer...
I have a confession to make. I have been writing for Harlequin for so long that I had my first books published when there was no separation of the lines – except for Medical or Historical. Way back then the books were just published as ‘Mills and Boon Romance’ - and they all appeared in a set of twelve every month. No Presents / Modern / Romance / Cherish . . . Just Mills and Boon.
The only time that I realised that anything was happening was when I saw that some of my books were coming out in Harlequin Romance in USA – and some were in this other line called Harlequin Presents. Then there came the day when I had a discussion with my editor.
The American policy was being instituted in UK, she said. The books were being divided into Romance and Presents and ‘you are a problem’ she said. It turned out that they couldn’t decide which line to put my books in - because ‘you’re so good at both.’ I had to make a decision right there and then - which line did I want my books to go into from then onwards? They thought I could be a star name in Romance but in Presents I would come up against the big names like Charlotte Lamb.
The only question I had was – which one would offer me any restrictions? I am a character driven author, always have been, and I couldn’t think of writing in any way that would make me hold back on the emotion and the passion I wanted to create.
So I wanted to write for Presents – and I was told to make sure the next three books were Presents books – which they were – starting with No Holding Back - and I was settled in the Presents line. So why am I writing about this in ‘rebranding’ – well, because the truth is that when writing romance you don’t have to have a different name for a line or move because one dies in order to ‘rebrand’ yourself as a writer.
The important point is that – contrary to the bad/lazy/cynical way the press and critics write about it, romance is a growing, changing, developing line. And if you don’t keep up with those developments and changes, the specific demands of a particular line, you soon find that you no longer fit, you no longer sell. So the things I had to learn as I had to focus my writing for the line I wrote for – and wanted to stay in - were things like how to bring in the hero’s POV and write from inside his head as well as hers. How to deepen the emotional conflict so that it was passionate, strong and the most demanding it could be. I always wanted to ‘dig a hole’ so deep that my hero and heroine fell right in – and then I had to find a way of getting them out again.
I’ve always said that the difference between Modern/Presents and Romance is not, as everyone seems to think, the sex – but that conflict – the alpha male, yes, but also the Alpha Conflict. These days I also have to deepen the fantasy – the successful heroes I started with have now become billionaires, the Mediterranean heroes have been mixed a bit, with new nationalities – Russians – but the sheikhs are still there. But the once hugely popular ‘bankers’ are no longer heroic after certain economic crises!
I have to write stories that go well beyond the bedroom door – and make sure they take the reader with them. When I first started writing, I used to have to find a good reason for my heroine to say yes to going to bed with her hero - these days I’d find it much harder to give her good reasons to say no! These days, so many simple plot lines have to take a different path – or not work at all. We must mention contraception – but so many of those condoms seem to be faulty or there wouldn’t be so many ‘secret babies’! DNA testing, the morning after pill…these all mean that the ‘trapped by an unexpected baby’ plot doesn’t work in the same way at all.
In order to create that emotional tension that I want to build into that ‘alpha conflict’, I have to keep alert to what is actually a problem now. What really would cause tension between a couple who the reader knows are made for each other – but there’s that ‘conflict’ between them.
If rebranding means creating a new writing persona or aiming for a new line, then really the truth is that no I haven’t done that. But if there’s one thing that a career of over 30 years in writing romance has taught me it’s that if you don’t grow and develop, if you don’t adjust to the changes that time and the mood of society bring to the line you’re writing for then pretty soon you’ll find you just don’t fit any more and you will seriously need to rebrand yourself as a writer. So many people think that because I’ve been writing so long, it must all be so easy, so sure now – they couldn’t be more wrong. It’s when you think you’ve ‘cracked it’ – that you are in danger of losing your touch. You need to ‘rebrand’ yourself in subtle ways and keep growing as you write
Kate's latest release, A Proposal to Secure His Vengeance, is available for preorder now. For more information about her and her writing check out her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.