Well, well – hasn’t it been a long time between drinks?! I’m thrilled to be back on the blog with a NEW author interview, especially given the author in the hot seat is the fabulous Belinda Williams, who is celebrating the release of her latest novel, Modern Heart, this month.
I met Belinda at this year’s Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne (she was a finalist for the RWA’s Emerald Award in both 2013 and 2014, doncha know), where we bonded over our love of chick lit (and shared frustration with the way the genre is often pooh-poohed and misunderstood, but that’s another post). I downloaded The Boyfriend Sessions, the first book in her City Love series, for the flight home, and have been hooked on Belinda’s brand of fun, sexy and sophisticated contemporary romance ever since.
Take it away, Belinda!
Tell me about your writing life… did you always dream of being an author? When did you start writing ‘seriously’?
I was the quintessential book nerd as a child. I liked nothing more than having my head in a book (still do). The only thing that beat that was a trip to the library. I happily spent hours there discovering new authors and different worlds.
Not surprisingly I always wanted to write a book when I grew up. Of course I forgot all about then when I was an adult and things like responsibility and the big wide world beckoned. Although I started an Arts degree at University I ended up swapping to a Business degree majoring in Marketing because I thought I’d have more chance of getting a job.
It worked out well and I’ve worked in marketing for fifteen years, although I started to feel like something was missing. I missed having a creative outlet, which is what prompted me to start writing again five years ago.
Once I started, I discovered I didn’t want to stop! Now I’m lucky enough to juggle my writing life with freelance marketing work and looking after my school age son.
And what about your journey to publication – how did you find your publisher? What was it like the day you got ‘the call’?
The very first book I wrote was a paranormal romantic suspense and it made the top ten finalists of the Romance Writers of Australia Emerald Award. This gave me the confidence I needed and I decided to self-publish to put my toe in the water, so to speak. It seemed like a logical step for me due to my marketing background.
When that book received good reviews but sales didn’t rock my world, I changed tact slightly and wrote a contemporary romance, the first in my City Love series. I felt like this book would be more attractive to publishers based on research I’d done. Also going it alone self-publishing can be a lot of hard work and I liked the idea of working with a team of professionals so I decided to pitch it to publishers. Before doing so I employed a professional editor to work with me on the manuscript so it was as polished as it could be.
I only pitched to a handful of publishers and I’m pleased to say the publisher I most wanted to work with, Momentum, signed me!
For readers who aren’t familiar, what’s your City Love series all about? Do the same characters feature in each book?
The City Love series is about four women friends living in Sydney. They all have their respective professional careers and love lives (or lack of love lives!) Each book is focused on a different girlfriend so you can read the books as stand alones or as a series. Along with the romance, their friendships are a central part of every story.
The latest installment is Modern Heart – give us the rundown!
Modern Heart is the story of tough girl, Scarlett Wong, a Creative Director at an advertising agency and also a talented artist. Scarlett doesn’t do relationships but is finding this increasingly difficult with good guy, John Hart, around. Definitely a case of opposites attract. He’s the reason Scarlett has been offered an exhibition in New York to exhibit her artwork. By the end of the book, Scarlett will have to face up to the reasons why she pushes everyone away and why she’s been reluctant pursue a career in art, which is what she’s truly passionate about. It will be a bumpy ride but there’s plenty of laughter, friendships and love to enjoy along the way.
When you started writing book one, The Boyfriend Sessions, did you know it would be a series, or did it evolve more organically?
The concept for The Boyfriend Sessions came to me in an ‘aha!’ moment and it was just about that one book at the start. However, once I began writing all about Christa’s girlfriends, I fell in love with them! They were such an awesome group of women and I loved their dynamic. By the end of The Boyfriend Sessions I knew I had to write a story for each of them.
What are the best and worst things about writing a series as opposed to a standalone single title?
I suppose with a series you can get ‘series fatigue’ and tire of that world and the characters. Fortunately for me, I didn’t find that to be the case. I think because each book is focused on a different character, rather than a continuing storyline, I was always discovering something new.
On the plus side, once you’ve created a series it’s like returning to a group of old friends. You don’t have to spend hours doing character profiles like you do at the beginning of a series or with a stand alone, because you know them so well already!
Do you have a favourite book and/or character in the series? (I know, I know – it’s like being asked to choose a favourite child!)
No, I honestly don’t. At first I thought I would, but by the end of the series I love Christa, Maddy, Scarlett and Cate equally (that’s a very responsible motherly reply, I know!)
Contemporary romance and romantic comedy – aka ‘chick lit’ (shudder) – is perhaps the most misunderstood of the romance subgenres (even among other romance authors!). What do you love about the genre, and what are your thoughts on some of the tired clichés and stereotypes it’s still saddled with?
Sometimes I feel like it’s a minefield. I pitch my books as contemporary romance but they could easily fall into the chick lit and romantic comedy subgenres, although I’ve been told that those two subgenres aren’t really a thing anymore!
I think whatever subgenre of romance you write you are still going to get saddled with that ‘romance’ stereotype. For my part, I try to own what I write with pride. If people choose to turn their nose up at it, that’s their choice. But I hope in being open and proud of the genre I write in, this will help to dispel the myths.
What I love about the genre? It’s contemporary (duh!) which means it’s relevant. The stories are about women in our world that we can relate to and I love that. The variety is great too because contemporary is a very broad genre. Lastly, I love that romantic comedy and chick lit are an enjoyable escape.
What does a day in your writing life look like? Do you have a set routine or are you more of a go-with-the-flow kind of author?
It varies. At heart, I’m a routine girl, but because I juggle freelance work and my family, every week is different. I try to squeeze writing in whenever I can. I’ve learned to accept that there’s an ebb and flow but I do go through phases of ‘binge’ writing, usually when I’m writing a first draft. Around these times I write A LOT, usually over a period of two to three months. Then I need a breather!
It’s a tough climate today for e-pubbed authors keen to spread the word about their work, but in your ‘day job’ you work in marketing. Have you found that’s been helpful in terms of promoting your books?
I do feel like I’m at an advantage with my marketing background (I work for a digital marketing agency). Honestly, though, I haven’t hit on any proven formula. The biggest issue for any author, self-pubbed or otherwise, is discoverability.
If I’m to put my marketing hat on, you need to step back and look at your books as products and your author self as a brand. Then consider who you are selling to before working out what marketing avenues to undertake.
All that being said, the market is so crowded and it’s very difficult to speak directly to your target market when you’re starting out. I think the best approach any author can take is to view it as a long-term venture. Sure, there are a few authors who make it big with their first book, but that’s rare. If you want to build a readership, give them something to read!
So I guess the best bit of marketing advice I can give, is to keep writing.
What’s next on the writing agenda for you?
The last book in the City Love series, Wish List, will be out in May 2016. This will be Cate’s story, who is the most romantic of the group. Quite a fitting way to end the series I hope.
From there I’m starting work on a whole new contemporary romance series. Stay tuned!