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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jayne Ann Krentz on Surviving in the Writing Biz

When it comes to writing and getting published, I’m not the best person to ask for advice. I’ve shot myself (and my career) in the foot more times than I can count. I have, however, survived in this business so it struck me that the one subject I can speak to with some authority is reinventing yourself. Unfortunately, from the start of my career, I’ve had a lot of experience doing just that. Here are my handy tips for survival:

DON’T GET TOO FAR AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Trust me on this. I’ve been there and done that and it rarely goes well. Back at the beginning of my career I tried to do a futuristic/paranormal. That very first manuscript had all of the elements that I now work with freely: romance, suspense and a psychic twist. I can’t tell you how many rejection slips the manuscript garnered. They all had the same theme: “Really enjoyed the writing but unfortunately there’s no market for this kind of romance”.

Never one to learn from my mistakes, I tried more futuristic/paranormals again a few years later. By this time I had my Jayne Ann Krentz career up and running. But I killed it stone dead for a time when I finally succeeded in publishing those dang “books of my heart”: my futuristic/paranormals. Anyone remember Sweet Starfire, Crystal Flame and Shield’s Lady? Those are the books that did me in. Folks lined up around the block NOT to buy those books. My printruns crashed and burned.

With my Krentz career on life-support, I decided to retreat to a new pen name and a sub-genre I knew had an audience: Regency romance. That was when I fired up my Amanda Quick career.

The next time I tried the futuristic/paranormal genre I wised-up and did it under a name which had no bad printrun baggage attached to it: Jayne Castle (which just happens to be my birth name). This time it worked.

The takeaway lesson here is that it is very risky to be the first writer in a brand new fictional landscape. Editors look at the books and worry that there won’t be an audience. Readers look at the books and find the backdrops too strange and unfamiliar. It takes time and usually more than one author to create a new fictional landscape that a lot of readers will find comfortable. Today we are all at ease with alternate realities and futuristics that feature vampires, werewolves and the supernatural but it was not ever thus, believe me

KNOW YOUR CORE STORY: (and where it belongs!) My career has experienced several other harrowing near-death experiences but I’ll spare you the grisly details. What you probably want to know is how I survived.

The answer is that I followed one simple rule: Each time I found myself standing on the edge of the abyss, I went back to my core story and looked for a fictional landscape that could accommodate it.

Example: After my futuristic/paranormal career went off a high cliff I took a look at the basic story that I was trying to tell. I realized that if I stripped away the otherworldly settings, the exotic animals and the space ships what I had left was, essentially, a marriage-of-convenience plot. I realized right away that there was a natural home for such stories: Regency romance. That was the start of my Amanda Quick career.

The very best advice I can give you is to know and understand your core story. The themes, plot elements and the kinds of characters you love to work with will show up again and again in your books. They are the source of your power. There is usually more than one market for your core story but you may not realize that if you don’t recognize and comprehend the raw fuel that drives you.

DON’T GIVE UP ON YOUR SPECIAL WORLD: Yes, it took me a long time to publish the psychic and futuristic stories that I longed to do from the very start of my career but eventually I got where I wanted to be. I am now writing my books the way I have always wanted to write them.

I took a few detours before I reached my destination but I loved the journey at every stage because, when you get right down to it, regardless of the sub-genre in which I was working, I always found a way to tell my core story.


Jayne Ann Krentz

The author of a string of New York Times bestsellers, JAYNE ANN KRENTZ uses three different pen names for each of her three "worlds". As JAYNE ANN KRENTZ (her married name) she writes contemporary romantic-suspense. She uses AMANDA QUICK for her novels of historical romantic-suspense. JAYNE CASTLE (her birth name) is reserved these days for her stories of futuristic/paranormal romantic-suspense.

"I am often asked why I use a variety of pen names," she says. "The answer is that this way readers always know which of my three worlds they will be entering when they pick up one of my books."

In addition to her fiction writing, she is the editor of, and a contributor to, a non-fiction essay collection, DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: ROMANCE WRITERS ON THE APPEAL OF THE ROMANCE published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. Her commitment to her chosen genre has been strong from the very beginning of her career. Each year at the annual convention of the Romance Writers of America she participates in a special day-long workshop for librarians and speaks on the importance of the romance genre.

"The romance genre is the only genre where readers are guaranteed novels that place the heroine at the heart of the story," Jayne says. "These are books that celebrate women's heroic virtues and values: courage, honor, determination and a belief in the healing power of love."

She earned a B.A. in History from the University of California at Santa Cruz and went on to obtain a Masters degree in Library Science from San Jose State University in California. Before she began writing full time she worked as a librarian in both academic and corporate libraries.

She is married and lives with her husband, Frank, in Seattle, Washington.


Fired Up

The New York Times—bestselling author presents her latest Arcane Society novel and introduces the first book in the Dreamlight Trilogy—the story of a curse that spans generations, and the love that can heal it. . .

More than three centuries ago, Nicholas Winters irrevocably altered his genetic makeup in an obsession fueled competition with alchemist and Arcane Society founder Sylvester Jones. Driven to control their psychic abilities, each man's decision has reverberated throughout the family line, rewarding some with powers beyond their wildest dreams, and cursing others to a life filled with madness and hallucinations.

Jack Winters, descendant of Nicholas, has been experiencing nightmares and blackouts—just the beginning, he believes—of the manifestation of the Winters family curse. The legend says that he must find the Burning Lamp or risk turning into a monster. But he can't do it alone; he needs the help of a woman with the gift to read the lamp's dreamlight.

Jack is convinced that private investigator Chloe Harper is that woman. Her talents for finding objects and accessing dream energy are what will save him, but their sudden and powerful sexual pull threatens to overwhelm them both. Danger surrounds them, and it doesn't take long for Chloe to pick up the trail of the missing lamp. And as they draw closer to the lamp, the raw power that dwells within it threatens to sweep them into a hurricane of psychic force. Click here to view video


tcw said...

I read Sweet Starfire and Crystal Flame just a couple years ago. They're both very awesome. Severance delivers the MAIL.

Alexis Morgan said...


Just so you know, I have Shield's Lady, Crystal Flame, and Sweet Starfire on my keeper shelf and have since they first came out. I still love those books.

And I would really, really love to have a dust bunny of my very own to keep me company!

Alexis Morgan

Lori Brighton said...

It's so great to read your story and advice. I've always loved your books and so appreciate everything you've done for the romance world.

Lisa Kessler said...

Ha! I had no idea you were also Amanda Quick! LOL I feel like sucha dork! :)

This was a great blog! Thanks so much for sharing your stories! Perseverance is always inspiring...

Lisa :)

Katie Hines said...

I've loved Jayne Ann Krentz's stories from the get go, and have read her pseudonym also. I'm always looking for the new one that she has out. It's a read I can always find thrilling.

Boone Brux said...

I am a huge fan of the Ghost Hunter series. The alien world is unique and your descriptions are wonderful. I'm pretty sure I was a kick-ass trap tangler in a past life.

Thanks for the career advice. I know it will be incredibly helpful once I have an actual career.

Linda Wisdom said...

Great post Jayne and very true!

Sometimes the detours take us in interesting directions but with determination you end up where you want to be. And you definitely did!


LLRosser said...

I also have Shield's Lady, Crystal Flame, and Sweet Starfire on my keeper shelf. I bought them when they were first published. Regardless of which pen name used, I think I have every single title you've ever had published. I do enjoy your books.

I had wondered why you wrote under so many different names. I like the way you take an ordinary job and make it interesting.

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I had the great pleasure of helping Jayne one year during the author signing at national. She is such a great lady and getting to meet her was one of the highlights of my time at nationals. I have always been a fan and applaude her "never-give-up" attitude. My bookshelves are graced with many of her books. What great advice to follow. Thanks for the great blog.

Edie Ramer said...

I've got Sweet Starfire, Crystal Flame and Shield's Lady. I can remember how excited I was after reading the first one, waiting for the next to come out. Like Alexis, I want my own dust bunny!

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

TCW:Thanks! So glad someone finally read Sweet STarfire and Crystal Flame!

Alexis Morgan: I appreciate that more than I can tell you.

Lori Brighton: Thanks and good luck to you in your own writing.

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

LISA KESSLER: Don't worry about it, Lisa. Sometimes I get confused, myself! I never set out to build three careers, trust me. And I don't really recommend it.

KATIE HINES: Thanks so much!

BOONE BRUX: Glad you like the Ghost Hunters and best of luck to you in your own writing.

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

LINDA WISDOM: Yes, I guess we both know a thing or two about detours. Just showing up still counts, doesn't it?

LL ROSSER: Good to know someone bought those books when they first came out! Guess we were both ahead of our time. And as I keep telling folks, I never intended to build three careers.

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

PAISLEY: So we meet again! Hope to meet up with you again at National this summer.

EDIE: Yep, those dang dust bunnies have taken over the Harmony series. I'm afraid to do a book without one now!

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a wonderful post, Ms. Krenz, and such great advice. I think we all find a place in our career where we must reinvent ourselves. I'll have to go back and search for those lost titles. Though I write paranormal, I think I'd have to say I love your Amanda Quick books the best. Late for the Wedding will always be my favorite.
Bethany Cagle w/a Brynna Curry & Brianna Roarke

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

BETHANY: I agree, sooner or later, if you want to survive in this business, you'll find yourself in a place where you'll need to reinvent yourself. Thanks for letting me know that you like my AQ titles!

Vanessa Kelly said...

Jayne, I also have Sweet Starfire and Crystal Flame on my keeper shelf. I had to buy them through AbeBooks, but I was really lucky to score a hardcover edition.

Your suggestion that writers identify their core stories is one of best pieces of advice I've ever heard in this business. I read that a few years ago when you wrote a piece somewhere else, and it really changed my perception of how I wrote.

Thanks so much for giving us many, many wonderful stories, and for hanging in there so we could enjoy them! And thank you for all your support for other writers.

Anonymous said...

Bought FIRED UP as an ebk in hopes of sneaking & reading it on my laptop at work, but no luck so far. Drat those IRS W-2 deadlines!

Rcvd J&J bus card & tatoos in y'day's mail; the Arcane Society twitter feed was also completely awesome. JAK, you are promo GENIUS.

If you hooked up with toy manuf to produce dust bunnies, you'd make a bloody fortune, you know that, right? Just sayin'...;-)

Linda Wisdom said...

Oh yes, just showing up does count. And the reinvention, which sounds nicer to me than calling myself an old warhorse.


Paula said...

I'd never really thought about taking your core story and rewriting it in a completely new genre, but it makes complete sense. Now that romantic suspense is a tight market, I may need to take that to heart. :)

jessi said...

I've always wondered about the three names; thanks for sharing. Can you imagine if you'd given up instead of reinventing yourself? A world without JAK...scary! Seriously, thank you for the encouraging advice.

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

VANESSA: Thanks for tracking down those older books and I'm so glad you found the advice about identifying your core story helpful. I swear, I meet so many writers who have never figured it out -- which doesn't matter when things are going well. It only becomes a critical tool to employ when the market goes south and it's time to move on. And sooner or later, that always happens.

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

KARIGREGG: Fallon's little case on Twitter was fun to do. Wish I had more time to do more cases. I'm hoping to get in another one in the spring.

LINDA: We are not old warhorses, we are survivors!

PAULA: All I can tell you is that looking at your core story and finding other venues for it has served me well over the years.

JESSI: I never gave up because I could never walk away from the writing. It's an addiction for me. Something of a love/hate relationship, like any good addiction.

Nina Pierce said...

I love your Jane Ann Krentz books, have read everyone of your Amanda Quick books available to me in the library and now I discover you have a paranormal side ... yee ha! Can't wait to pick up this newest series it sounds amazing!

Thanks for sharing your writer's journey with us. Note to self: perseverance pays off. :D

Danica Avet said...

Wow...Amanda Quick! Yours were the first Regency romances I ever read! I LOVED them! I had no idea...wow, just wow! You're an inspiration to all of us budding authors!! (Lots of exclamation points there, but c'mon! Amanda Quick!!) lol

Suz Gioimo said...

I, too, have read all of your books under all three pseudonyms and would also dearly love a dust bunny. I was curious why you did not write the current series in a linear fashion. Why did you start with Fired-Up (excellent by the way) instead of the historical Amanda Quick? Not that I won't happily read them out of context, especially the Harmony one (dust bunny, please). Just curious.

EilisFlynn said...

I have all three of your early paranorms. I was charmed by them when they first came out, and inspired me. And you inspire me still! Thank you, Jayne!

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

NINA: Thanks and, yes, perseverence does pay off!

DANICA: LoL! Back in the old days, exclamation points were considered standard punctuation in romance and other genres.

SUZ: Sigh, nothing I do in this career goes in a linear fashion. Aack. Of course it would have made more sense to write the books in a straight line, starting with the historical. But I did not have that option because of my publishing schedule. The only way to do the trilogy and get it out between Jan. and August was to start in the middle and work back and then go forward. Curious, I know, but in a weird way it worked for me.

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

EILIS: Thank you for your very gracious comments. I'm so glad you enjoyed those early paranormals.

tcw said...

I think we're all glad that those books didn't actually do you in!

So how can a writer identify when something is too new for the market? Or do you have to wait until after you've written it and hear from agents and editors?

Jayne Ann Krentz said...

TCW: Well, for what it's worth, my advice is that if you can't find any obvious market out there for what you're writing, try to fake it. Find a sub-genre that everyone does recognize and tell the editor "my book is a fresh version of the story that fits into the Blah, blah, blah, market because it incorporates blah, blah and blah. Give it that kind of cover and you've got a shot.

Lois K. said...

I loved Shield's Lady, Crystal Flame, etc. and all of your stories, from Stephanie James, etc. tho I'm not a regency buff. Your Guenivere Jones mysteries were super and again, maybe "ahead of the curve" for suspense. You've been great whenever and thanks for giving this "shooting in the foot" post, which really helps other writers, like me.

Maggie Toussaint said...

I have Shield's Lady, Sweet Starfire and Crystal Flame. I've had them for years and could scarecely believe my luck when I came across Amaryllis, Orchid, and Zinnia. And then the Harmony books - I have all of them too, and now, I can't wait for them to come out in paperback. I've got hardcovers on my shelves. Same is true for your JAK and Amanda Quick books. Your core story really resonates with me.

Thank you for blazing the trail and for doing it so spectacularly.

Allison Brennan said...

Yes, I read Crystal Flame, Shield's Lady and Sweet Starfire! Loved them. I've read most of your books (except Amanda Quick--sorry! I'm not big on historicals.) I got my best friend reading all your Jayne Castle books and her online screen name is Amaryllis :)

Fantastic article and information. Very wise advice. I'm heading toward the abyss now. Hoping I don't fall off.

FantasyAuthor RobinDOwens said...

I just bought (and gulped down) Fired Up. Love the Arcane/Dreamlight Series in all it's eras.

Your books are always rewards for doing my own writing.

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Thanks for this, Jayne. It's hard to me to strategize about writing, to treat it like a business. But I'm in the "love the writing, don't see a market" trap. Move my core story to another venue? Maybe so...

Liz Kreger said...

I have to say that I've been a fan through all of your reincarnations, Jayne. I still have all three of your first paranormals, Shield's Lady, Sweet Starfire and Crystal Flame. Gonna have to dig them out and give 'em another read.

I also just read "Fired Up" and loved it. I think I inhaled it in all of two days.

Great advice and terrific blog.