Welcome to Behind the Pen, a new series of author interviews for TheresaSmithWrites.
Today, for my first guest, I’m welcoming a friend of mine, romance writer Clare Connelly, to my blog. Clare is an absolute inspiration with what she’s achieved over the last three years and her story is proof that writing dreams can come true. She’s just relaunched her entire line of self-published titles with a fresh contemporary look and I thought this was the ideal time for you to meet her.
What has been the inspiration for you choosing to write romance?
I have heard that you write what you love to read and it’s certainly true for me. I’ve always read romance – even as a child I was drawn to books that had romantic subplots (Archie and Betty, anyone?). As a teen, I devoured Mills & Boons and, while I eventually moved into longer-form novels, it’s still the art of category romance that excites me most of all. There’s something incredibly difficult about creating a story of emotional depth in only fifty thousand words! On a broader level, I’m not a realist when it comes to how I choose to get my creative kicks. I can’t watch sad films nor read sad books – I’m still carrying heart-ache from THE TIME TRAVELLER’S WIFE and I read it way back in 2008. There’s a poignancy to all romance, but I need a guaranteed fun-ride and happily ever after before cracking the pages of any book. Life is so full of sadness – I choose to primarily indulge in feel-good reads.
When did you self-publish your first title?
I self-published THE ITALIAN BILLIONAIRE’S BETRAYAL back in 2014, just over three years ago.
How many books to date have you now self-published since then?
I’ve self-published over forty single titles and five collections. Phew! I know that sounds like a lot (and it is) but I write full-time, treating it very much as a job, albeit one I ADORE! I spend a lot of time writing each day, as much as I can wrangle, and prioritise writing above just above everything (obviously except for my family- though there was that time I was five minutes late for school pick up because I had stranded my characters in the middle of a sand-storm at the heart of a never-ending desert and well, you know, time got away from me.) All my books go through a rigorous editorial process, so while my output is high, I am proud of each and every book – it’s higher stakes for me now than when I first started. I have a legion of incredible, dedicated readers and I owe it to them to provide the stories they’ve come to expect.
Do you set yourself deadlines in the same way a traditional publisher might set down for you? If so, as the master of your own destiny, how true to these deadlines do you remain?
I do set indie deadlines for myself, but I’m a kind task-master. I have a release schedule that I work from, aiming to get a new title out every four to six weeks, whether this is a single title or anthology. I’m always about three indie books ahead of my schedule, and the most time-consuming factor is the editorial process. I allow about four months for this on each book.
What is your timeline for each book from that initial first draft through to published title? Does this ever vary?
Generally, it’s about six months from when I start writing to when I publish, though with that being said, I can be plotting a book for months before I actually put pen to paper, so to speak. I tend to have a heap of ideas cogitating at any one time, and a very full, chaotic notebook that is the gatekeeper of my random thoughts.
What prompted the re-design of your entire self-published collection?
When I self-published way back in 2014, I was such a novice with the ways of book marketing. I used an Amazon Kindle Cover Creator template with incredibly basic graphics, choosing a style that I thought would speak to readers of category romance. I used Amazon stock images too! Over the years, I’ve got a little smarter with buying images and placing my books in the marketplace. On reflection, the original covers really didn’t sell the modern style of my books so I went for a look that was much edgier and contemporary.
How did you go about coming up with a theme?
I spent a lot of time looking at books that were similar in style to mine in the marketplace, and also just tinkering with layouts and fonts and finding something that’s simple and clear but still ‘on-point’ with contemporary romance novels.
Did you have a hand in the designing of all these covers yourself?
I was the only hand in the re-design! I love design and computers and once I’d settled on a basic template, it was a relatively simple, if somewhat time consuming, process to update them all. The hardest part was redoing my paperback covers, and this requires a wrap-around and I’m not that technically savvy! But the internet has amazing tutorials and after a bit of grappling and a few muttered curses, I got there.
You have recently been offered a publishing deal with Harlequin for category romance. Will this have any impact on your self-publishing line? Do you see yourself moving away from self-publishing as a result or operating in the future as more of a hybrid author?
It will mean fewer self-published novels, but in no way will I stop indie publishing altogether. Writing for Harlequin has always been my dream – this is an opportunity I’ve sought for a really long time. I’ll ideally continue to release at least four category romances as an indie each year, and to have the freedom to pursue the women’s fiction and larger-form romance novels I’m working on. It’s really time that is always against me – you know what it’s like when you’re juggling work, and little people and life in general. I’m very disciplined with my writing time but ultimately I’m limited in how much I can release by how much I can write – and that’s a consideration of time!
Top tip for aspiring authors who want to self-publish. What is, in your opinion, the one thing they absolutely must do to improve their chances at success?
I have so, so, so many of these. There are loads of pieces of advice I could share on how to go about launching yourself as a self-published author, but no matter what, you need to hone your craft. Writing the very, very best book you can will give you the biggest shot at success. Clever marketing might push the door open but it will slam shut if the book doesn’t live up to the hype. Joining organisations like the Romance Writers of Australia or The Australian Writers’ Guild will provide boundless opportunities for improvement in the form of courses, critique partners and online workshops.
And, because I can’t resist – a good blurb is just as important! Research blurbs that the bestselling books in your market have used and see what they have in common, what you like about them (what question they pose that intrigues you) and then draft and draft and draft again.
The thing with being an indie ‘writer’ is that you have to be so much more. I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into acquiring the skillset of a one-woman-publishing-house (well, trying to, at least). But you can’t get the cart before the horse! The book is what matters most – and eventually, the other stuff will follow.
I’ll be at the upcoming Romance Writers of Australia conference in Brisbane and will be taking part in a panel on self-publishing as well as running a round table, but I’m really happy to chat outside of these for anyone who’s looking to get a feel for the indie side of writing.
To finish up with, what is your ideal romantic adventure, date, surprise or gesture:
It won’t surprise any of my regular readers that my most romantic adventures usually involve beautiful champagne and a sunset view! But one particular place that is on my bucket list is the GROTTA PALAZZESE restaurant in Italy. Talk about a dream come true – it is almost too good to be true, as though it had been summoned from the imagination. I would have to say being whisked off on a private jet (hey, a girl can dream, right?) for a week at the hotel, days spent swimming and snorkelling and evenings overlooking the ocean… bliss!
Many thanks to Clare for sharing her self-publishing journey. As well as being an inspiration to all writers, she’s also a lovely person and you can find out more about Clare over at her website and follow her blog Clarewriteslove for all her news.
All of her titles are available from Amazon.