Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Interview with Historical Romance Writer, Jeanette Baker
Publishing has never been easy. The competition was, and continues to be, fierce when courting major New York publishing houses. The difference between 1992 and 2011 is that e-publishing has made it possible for anyone to publish.
The challenge is distribution. Without the enormous promotional clout of major publishers ratcheting sales figures into the tens of thousands in a single month, an unknown writer will sell no more than 50 books in a 6 week period. The upside is that the books don’t go out of print after 3 months and may, eventually, establish a web presence.
Do you do more to promote your books now than then?
I do the same amount of promotion for my books but, due to the Internet, today, the promotion is mostly virtual.
Your first book was a historical book on Scotland and then you moved on to Irish history. What type of research do you do in writing something with a historical base?
My inspiration always begins at a particular site with a particular event that intrigues me. For example: NELL began with a visit to Maynooth Castle, home of the Fitzgeralds, the uncrowned kings of Ireland. Henry Tudor, a cousin, was terrified of their power and on a trumped up charge executed all 5 male heirs in one fell swoop. He made the fatal error of misjudging the courage and determination of one member of the family, a woman, Eleanor, who made it her mission to save the last male left in her family, an 11-year-old boy.
After the initial premise, I spend time reading as much as possible about the era and the family. This part, I think, is the most essential part. Historians help the fiction writer bring authenticity to her story. Finally, I spend time at the site, walking, breathing, imagining what it must have been like.
So much has changed in 500 years. The giant forests are gone, bogs have been drained, there is more sunlight and grass covers the hills. Still, many times, the ruins are still there and if one has an imagination, the ideas come.
When you spend time in Ireland in the summer do you stay in Innishmore or do you travel around looking for ideas for stories?
I live in my house in Tralee, a town in Kerry. My husband is a Kerryman and although he has acclimated to California, his heart is Irish and he can’t be away for too long. We do travel throughout Ireland and have yet to see it all.
Do you read contemporary Irish writers? If so, who are your favorites? I happen to be a fan of Maeve Binchy and I love her husband’s picture book illustrations.
I, too, love Maeve Binchy and Nuala O’Faolain, as well as English writers, Johanna Trollope, Elizabeth Buchan, Marcia Willett, Georgette Heyer and American writers, Anne Rivers Siddons, Joan Wolf, Elizabeth Berg and so many, many more.
How much “artistic license” do you use in creating locations for your stories? How do you react when a reader complains that your descriptions of areas aren’t correct?
Not much artistic license actually. Sometimes I combine a bit, but only when I think it makes for a better story. Not that I haven’t made mistakes. Of course, I have.
I usually ignore reader complaints because usually the criticism is accompanied with words like, “I loved the story and I will definitely read more of this author’s works,” or “this author writes beautifully so I won’t cross her off my list.” How can a writer argue with reviews like that?
Sometimes I thank the reviewer for reading the book because a bad review is always better than no review and the person has taken the time to read my work. Writers cannot be thin-skinned and most of the time, we can learn from our readers.
Your bio says you won a RITA award. What category was it for? How did winning that award boost your ability to get publisher’s attention?
I won the RITA for my novel, NELL, in the paranormal romance category. Pocket, a division of Simon & Schuster had already published six of my previous books. What the RITA did was boost my advances and create an interest with several different publishers. Ultimately, I made the decision, with my agent’s advice, to change publishers and go with MIRA books.
I remember when Barbara Cartland was the biggest name in romance writing (and the most prolific author)and the books that she wrote were termed as “bodice busters.” Now it seems that Nora Roberts is almost perennial the winner of a RITA award. How do you see the publishing of romance books changing?
I don’t know that the perception of romance has changed. People still think of romance novels as bodice rippers. Some, I suppose, are, but most are not. Romance novels, meaning novels with a romance in them, span the range between the bodice ripper and those that have a romance somewhere in the book but it isn’t really the focal point of the story.
I haven’t kept up with RITA winners because I haven’t written romance for quite some time, although 4 of my romances, LEGACY, out in March, CATRIONA, an August release, with IRISH LADY and NELL to follow, are being reissued by Sourcebooks. Romance sales represent 25% of all fiction sales.
Romance readers are extremely loyal. Publishing for the romance market is marginally easier than other genres because publishers must fill that demand. For perspective writers, it can be a foot in the door.
I see you’ve written for several publishers Sonnet, Pocket & Mira. Why the changes?
Sonnet was label created by Pocket books to feature historical novels. I’ve written for several different publishers and moved on when I was offered contracts that offered more money, greater exposure and more liberal artistic license. Ultimately, when the kids need braces, the money comes in handy.
Your current book, WITCH WOMAN, is only available in an e-book format. Why is that?
WITCH WOMAN is still only in e-book format. I was interested in determining exactly how e-publishing would compare with print publishing. Because the book is relatively new, I have not yet determined the advantages and disadvantages of this method of publishing. I am always looking for a print publisher who shares my vision for my books.
What advice would you give new writers who want to write historical fiction?
Read historical fiction. Watch period films. Travel. Join a critique group. Take classes. Attend conferences.
That's it for today's interview. If you would like to learn more about Jeanette and her writing go to jeanettebaker.com or visit her on her Facebook pages: Jeanette Baker, Jeanette Baker – author, Witch Woman. You can also learn more about her on her blog: http://Everythingirishfromanamericanperspective@blogspot.com