#Rebranding - Staying True to Your Voice
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, Stefanie London is talking about how staying true to your voice should remain a constant in your writing...
I am hardly a veteran in Romance Land, where many others publish 50, 100, 200+ books in their long and prolific careers. Since getting published in 2014 my career so far has involved a lot of change. I’m verging on twenty books written for three publishers and I’ve written for six different category lines with word counts ranging from 30,000 to 95,000 words.
Over that time I’ve been asked for a lot of things: more sex scenes, less swearing, more tropes, higher concepts, something “sticky” (and no, that wasn’t related to the sex scenes). How about an accidental pregnancy story? Oooh, not another office romance. The book needs to be set in the USA. Actually, don’t set this book in the USA, set it somewhere else. No more weddings, we have enough of those. What about a sex club series?
For a while I feared that my “catalogue” might start to take on the consistency of a dessert created by a manic toddler, where too many ingredients turn the overall meal into a sludgy, colourless mess. But then I realized something. The tropes and settings and heat-level and packaging is all window dressing.
A while ago I asked my reader group on Facebook what they expect when they pick up a Stefanie London book. Not one of them said “I like Australian books” or “I like romantic comedy” or “I like fake engagement tropes.” Instead, they told me that they loved how my characters always had great dialogue, that my stories often made them laugh, that they enjoyed how “real” my characters and their problems were even if the story had more of a fantastical setting or plot. They enjoyed that my books had great sexual tension, snappy banter and quippy one-liners. They enjoyed that I always gave them heartfelt HEAs and that I never left them disappointed with a cliff-hanger.
That’s when I realized that I’d done something smart (although I can honestly say it wasn’t planned). I had cultivated my voice. I had written my books to the requirements of the different lines and the different publishers, and yet I had always given my readers a true Stefanie London story. A story that’s guaranteed to have humour mixed into the emotion, that’s going to have sizzling tension regardless of how the heat-level might fluctuate, that’s going to have characters who feel real and fleshed out. Everything else—the covers, the title, the tropes, the word count, the number of sex scenes—is simply a sandbox for me to play in.
When I found out I was going to be writing two books for Harlequin’s new Dare line I was no longer worried that the stories might be “too sexy” for my readership. Because my Melbourne After Dark duology is everything my readers love, just with some extra heat.
It’s still high on tension, low on angst, filled with back-and-forth banter and delightfully-flawed characters you want to cheer on. Or, as I have started calling them “the book version of a Sandra Bullock movie but with sex scenes.”
I know a lot of people fling the advice of “staying true to yourself” around a lot. But It’s true.
Publishing will change, lines come and go, sub-genres fall in and out of favour. But an author’s voice can rise above all that, and readers will still get the stories they love.