by Marie-Claude Bourque
Today I am please to host AVON historical author Katharine Ashe. I know I write paranormal but I am truly a historical fan. I can’t wait to get my hand on Katharine’s novel! And it’s a Regency… oh my! Don’t have enough of those!
Visit Katharine at www.katharineashe.com
From the Heart and Head
They say write from your heart but sell from your head. And they’re right. I know this from experience. I’m going to tell you a little story about that experience. I hope it’s useful to hear.
The hero of my debut historical romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, is a priest. What’s more, he is a French Catholic priest.
No, he isn’t a real priest. He is a dashing and decidedly non-celibate English viscount. But he pretends to be a French priest (for good reasons), and for a handful of chapters the heroine has no reason to believe otherwise.
How did I ever imagine I could sell this book? I suppose I figured that if Richard Chamberlain—an actual priest in The Thorn Birds—could stir the pulses of women worldwide, then my pretend priest could pass.
Well, clearly some women out there were appalled with Rachel Ward’s character having the hots for a man in clerical robes. One contest judge disgusted with my heroine’s attraction to a priest gave me such a thrashing I still feel the sting of it years later. But the thing is, another judge in the same contest loved it. She felt deeply for the heroine, a young woman with scandal in her past trying hard to make a new start and torn apart that she’s failing.
So I thought: “Okay, the priestly guise is fine with some readers. What do I do to pull in those other readers still looking askance?” Solution: Make the hero so attractive in so many ways that he is irresistible, and make the heroine’s struggle against her feelings as poignant as possible.
I beg you to please note: My solution was not to throw up my hands, hurl the manuscript into the fire, and write another story with a less dicey premise. Actually, I did that last one too. I wrote other books with unquestionably available heroes. But I never gave up on the priest book. I loved it. I loved them—my characters. So I reworked it and I sent it off again.
About a year and a half ago, amidst plentiful rejections and in the depths of despair about my future as a published author, I had three different manuscripts floating around in Agent Land. Two of them featured warrior heroes—blatantly guys’ guys. But when a top New York agent called and told me she’d fallen in love with my book, it was the priest book.
I am still so grateful and humbled that my story touched her, as I was with that contest judge who adored it. When someone loves your book, whether that person is your mom or a big-time editor, it is a gift beyond measure. That is why I write, because I want to share my stories and move people. So I write from my heart because that is where the warmth and adventure and emotion live in me.
But on this twisty road to publication, I have learned that when I need to sell, I sell from my head. I study the market and pitch my stories accordingly.
If you have an idea for a book with an unusual plot, an atypical hero or heroine, or an uncommon setting, don’t let someone convince you it’s “off market” (my most loathed publishing industry term). Just write it. Then send it out—to CPs, beta readers, agents, editors—whomever. Get feedback. After the initial shock of that feedback wears off (whether positive or negative feedback, I’m always shocked at first), kick your brain into full gear and act on the feedback. Keep the book in your heart, but rework in your head. Hold onto what makes it special but include as much of what makes it sellable as you possibly can.
Regencies are selling now, and my priest book is certainly a Regency. It strays a bit from the ballroom (the first few chapters take place on a pirate ship, arrr!), but it doesn’t by any means leave England’s beau monde behind. The hero masquerades as a priest while he is in fact a warrior and a lord. But perhaps most importantly, at the heart of the book is a powerful love story, which is after all why we read romance.
Do you have an unusual story in your computer or desk drawer? What sort of feedback have you gotten and how have you acted upon it? And while we’re at it, who is your favorite atypical hero or heroine?