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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Writing the Magic of Life: Author Interview with Julianne MacLean

The prologue for your newest release, The Color of the Season, begins with… This past holiday season, I received the greatest gift imaginable—the gift of love. Tell my readers a little about your new book and why you wrote it. 
This book is part of my Color of Heaven Series, and it picks up exactly where the previous book leaves off - just as the heroine is about to dump her soon-to-be fiancé, a Boston police officer named Josh Wallace. This is Josh’s story, and when it opens he’s pretty bitter about relationships, and then he hits rock bottom.

What would you like readers to take away from reading this book?
I’d like readers to follow him through his journey and come away with the belief that everything happens for a reason, and that even the worst experience of your life can turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, though you didn’t know it at the time. The book concludes during the holiday season and I hope readers will feel the magic of that special time of year. 

What makes the Christmas holiday season special for you? What is your favorite Christmas tradition?
I love spending time with my family and one of our traditions is a lobster dinner on Christmas Eve where we all dress up. Then on Christmas Day, after the gifts have been opened, we get together again at my aunt’s house for a traditional turkey dinner. So I guess it’s all about the food! 

This is your 7th book in your Color of Heaven Series. They do not follow the same character or series of characters. What ties all the books together?  The books in the Color of Heaven Series are tied together by two things: First, they all explore the theme of real life magic (things like fate and destiny, the existence of soul mates, and the possibility of life after death). Secondly, each book picks up where the previous book leaves off by continuing to tell the story of one of the secondary characters.

 What inspired you to write this series? 
I was inspired to write the first book because I’ve always been fascinated with near-death experiences and I wanted to combine that element with a love story I had in mind. I originally wrote it as a standalone novel, but after I received a flood of letters from readers asking for more books like it, I decided to continue by giving stories to other characters in that story world. 

You’ve now written 6 different series from contemporary mainstream to contemporary romance and historical romance. Is there one genre you feel the most comfortable writing in?
As far as which genre I feel most comfortable in… As long as there’s a love story to be told, I feel comfortable in any setting. And I like to switch gears every once in a while just for change of pace creatively. Research is half the fun, and I don’t ever want my writing to feel stale - to me or my readers. Right now I’m enjoying telling stories with a contemporary voice, but I’m gearing up to write another Scottish historical next.


Back in 2011 you released a time travel romance called, Taken by a Cowboy. Do you think you will revisit that theme in other books?
Funny you ask that! The next book to come after THE COLOR OF JOY will be THE COLOR OF TIME, and that one will touch on some time-travel elements in a contemporary setting.

You published your first book with Harlequin back in 1999. Back then did you think you would be as prolific a writer (with 30 books and counting) as you are now?
I honestly hadn’t thought that far ahead when I sold my first book. Back then I was just trying to sell one book at a time and it was tough to break in. But once I started writing, I didn’t want to do anything else, and I’m stubborn about not giving up, so I suppose the cards were laid out for a long term career. I expect to be writing novels for the rest of my life.

 What did you learn in writing that first book that brought you to where you are in your writing career now?
I think it’s important to mention that my first published book was actually the fifth book I’d written, as the first four didn’t sell. So I suppose by then I had found my voice, and I’d learned how important it is to start something new if you want to keep growing as a writer. I’ve been doing that ever since, and I’m still learning and growing with every new book I write.

What do you know now about book contracts that you wish you had understood then?
I wish I had known how important the rights reversion clause would be, and I wish I had requested my titles from Harlequin when they became “vulnerable.” Back then, there weren’t any other realistic options to re-publish a book, so I didn’t ask for them back.

By the time I did ask, the emergence of ebooks made it possible for Harlequin to re-issue the titles, so they weren’t keen to let go of the rights. I wish I had them back now because they could use a little love.

Before your first book was making the rounds with the publishers when you signed up with an agent. What was it that she saw in your writing that publishers did not pick up on immediately?
I think she simply liked my voice. She said when she started reading my novel, she immediately pushed everything aside so that she could finish it.

And I can’t fault the publishers for not buying my earlier manuscripts. I don’t think they were as well written.
How do you find an agent who will represent you when you are not a known entity? How important is it to have an agent?
If you want to sell to a publisher, I think it’s important to have an agent to help get you in the door and negotiate the contract. To find one, you just have to keep submitting your work according to their guidelines and not give up when you get rejected. As I mentioned before, it took me five books and about five years to finally get a “yes” from an agent.

Of course, times have changed a lot since 1999, and now a writer has other options. Self-publishing is a very viable path and you don’t need an agent to take that step. If you do well at it, you may have an easier time getting an agent.  

Can you point to any one person or event that helped jump start your writing career and made you think – I can make this a career? 
Moving from Harlequin to Avon to write for an amazing editor there—and actually being paid a respectable wage—made me believe it was possible. More recently, my move to become an independent publisher of my own work has given me the ability to commit to doing this for the rest of my life, as I’m no longer dependent on whether or not a traditional publisher will choose to acquire my next book. As long as I want to keep writing, I’ll be able to reach readers. And I can write whatever I want. I love that!

Have you ever been halfway into a story and think, this isn’t working?
Yes, that happens to me all the time, and I usually have to take a step back and figure out where I went wrong. So far, it’s always been fixable, but sometimes that means I have to throw out a big chunk of what I just wrote. I’ll have to go back to the place where I took a wrong turn and set a new course.

 How do you know you’re “hitting the mark” in your writing?
In terms of knowing if I’m hitting the mark—or not hitting it—that’s a gut feeling and I’ve learned to trust it. Sometimes if I get blocked and can’t seem to move forward, it’s because something isn’t working and deep down, I know it. It might take me a few days or a week to figure out what is wrong. Stepping back and putting it aside for a little while is always helpful. I believe my sub-conscious works on the problem. 

I also have an excellent critique partner who is honest with me about what isn’t working in a story, so I revise accordingly based on her comments before I send the book to my editor.

Since your first published book, have you had any books that haven’t been picked up by publishers?
Yes, after I sold two books to Harlequin, they rejected my third. That book has never been published. I recently dug it out to see if I could polish it and self-publish it, but I discovered that the editor was right to reject it. It just wasn’t that good, so it will remain forever unpublished.
Later, that same Harlequin editor accepted my fourth book, but rejected my fifth. This time I strongly believed she was wrong and my agent, Paige Wheeler, agreed with me. Paige shopped it around elsewhere and that book went on to receive offers from three publishers and became a Rita finalist. It was TO MARRY THE DUKE, the first book in my American Heiress series with Avon.

How much time daily do you have for writing? 
I write about 5 hours per day, in the late afternoons and evenings after I spend about 6 hours on the business side of publishing, which includes working with editors, formatters, attending to audiobook production, general promotion and social media. I do take a supper break during that 5 hour stretch.


Do you do individual character development before doing the full plot?
Yes, I flesh out the characters and their backstories, and I outline the complete plot before I begin writing a single word. Along the way, however, as I become more acquainted with the characters, they may reveal themselves differently from what I originally imagined, so I allow myself the freedom to veer away from the outline if necessary. That happens more often than not in the second half of the novel.

 How much does social media play in your promotion of your books?
I feel it plays an important part in my ability to connect with readers. I love hearing from them and they often find me through my Facebook and Twitter pages. It’s also a great place to share news and keep my readers informed about new releases and what’s coming next.

What suggestions do you have for enhancing a writer’s social media platform?
I have grown my platform organically by continuing to remain active through the years and by being “present” on a daily basis. But it takes time to build a large following, so if an author wants to use social media, my suggestion would be to start now. Don’t wait, and remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re in it for the long haul, and you’re going to reach one new reader at a time.

 What type of publicity do you do to promote your book? What has worked best for you in generating sales?
I do everything I can think of, and I invest my revenue back into my business by purchasing ads in Bookbub, ENT, and other effective ebook websites and newsletters. Bookbub has worked the best in that area. I also keep the first book in my series free and I run short term, 99 cent sales on other titles on a regular basis.

For THE COLOR OF THE SEASON, I did a book trailer for the first time just because I felt like it. I’m not sure how many books that will sell. It’s not something I can easily measure, but it has provided me with some extra opportunities to get the word out about the book, and I really love it! Here’s a link: https://www.goodreads.com/videos/72953-the-color-of-the-season

What do you know now about writing/publishing now that you wished you had known sooner?
I wish I had known sooner that I could self-publish my books successfully and reach just as many readers that way (and make more money, too). I wasn’t sure in 2011, so I signed a three-book deal with a publisher for more historicals when I should have been writing and publishing my Color of Heaven Series, which was where my heart was at the time. 

What is the best advice you've been given about writing or that you've learned that you would like to pass along?
The most important thing is to write a great book. So if you are a beginning writer, you need to dedicate yourself to that task and make the effort to educate yourself about improving your style and honing your craft. I once heard that you have to write a million words before you become truly masterful, and I think those are wise words. At the end of the day, the writing and your creativity is everything. Be disciplined about it. Don’t just talk about doing it, or dream about doing it. Do it. 

You've won numerous awards. Is there one that touches your heart more than another? is there an award you hope to someday win?
They’ve all been special and I am grateful for each one. I used to dream about winning a Rita, but these days, that accolade isn’t as important to me as it once was. (Besides, I can’t enter my Color of Heaven books anyway because they got rid of the women’s fiction category for books with romantic elements.) 

What I get the most pleasure from now is the direct feedback from readers through online reviews, messages on Twitter and Facebook, or through my website contact page. That means more to me than any award. I got the most amazing letter from a reader the other day. It gave me goose bumps and brought tears to my eyes. I think it’s the nature of the series, but readers often share very personal spiritual experiences with me. I feel very blessed to hear their stories. It has changed my life. 

What other works do you have in the process?
I am writing THE COLOR OF JOY now (Book 8 in my Color of Heaven Series) and I have my next Highlander book outlined from start to finish. I can’t wait to dive into that one for a change of pace!

If you would like to learn more about Julianne and her books, here are some links to get you started.

View the book trailer for THE COLOR OF THE SEASON.
https://www.goodreads.com/videos/72953-the-color-of-the-season

Website: www.juliannemaclean.com

 Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/186987.Julianne_MacLean

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JulianneMacLeanRomanceAuthor?ref=hl

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