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WF: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Kate: I'm still not sure I want to be a writer - it seems like an awful lot of work!
But I've always been a reader. An omnivorous, voracious beast of a reader. And about seven years ago I stumbled across a story online, started reading, got sucked in, and only when I was almost done did I realize it was fanfiction, for a show I'd never heard of. (Supernatural). I watched the show and wasn't actually all that impressed (pretty boys, but... not much else), but I read more of that fanfic author's work, spread out from her to some others, and was hooked on the fandom for a show I didn't even enjoy.
Somewhere in there I thought I'd give it a try myself, and I really enjoyed it. I felt like I was contributing, I got lovely feedback, and the characters were fun. A writer was born?
WF: What was your first success?
Kate: My first commercial success was the first full-length thing I tried to write, a story that started in fandom (as 'Real Person Fiction', a somewhat creepy practise of casting actors from the show as characters in your story, but leaving them with their names intact (and, in some cases, keeping details of their lives, as well. But mine was RPF Alternate Universe, so it was really only using the actors' names and, of course, the image of them in the eyes of their fans)). Anyway, I adapted parts, cut parts, added parts, and massaged it into the Dark Horse series, which is still the series that gets me the most attention in the m/m genre. I've had other books that sell better, but Dark Horse has a bunch of free extras available and seems to be what's really stuck with most readers.WF: When you mention that Dark Horse has a bunch of free extras, what does that mean?
It's actually been a bit discouraging to have my first book be the one that everyone likes the best - it makes my other books feel like failures in comparison!
Kate: Because Dark Horse was my first book, I really had no idea how long books should be or what 'shape' they should be. I mean, I knew as a reader, but hadn't thought about it as a writer. So there were a lot of scenes that got cut from Dark Horse (critics suggest there should have been even more cut!). And when the main books got such a good reception, I started putting the 'extras' together for free distribution. Well, they're free at All Romance eBooks, because they allow that, and they're on sale for $.99 at Amazon, since they don't want things to be free. And it's an interesting commentary on the 'convenience' factor in book buying that I've made a couple thousand dollars off those books at Amazon, even though I've made no secret about them being available free elsewhere. At .33 per copy? That's a lot of people who care more about convenience than they do about spending a little money.
Anyway, for anyone interested, the whole series is listed in order, partway down the page at http://katesherwoodbooks.com/series/
WF: How do you feel about the growing market and acceptance of erotica?
Kate: I think it's completely entwined with the growth of e-books, and I love e-books, so I'm good with the growth of erotica, as well!
In terms of my own writing, though, I'm moving away from the erotic romance. I mean, m/m seems to be automatically rated one or two notches steamier than a m/f romance with equivalent content, so as long as I'm writing m/m I guess I'm going to be seen as someone who writes erotic romance. Which is fine, but it's not really the part of the process that interests me. My characters have sex and I describe it in as much detail as is needed for the reader to understand why this sex is or is not special, but I think I'm at the tame end of the m/m heat spectrum.
That's just based on my own writing preferences, though - I think it's great if people are reading and writing erotica, and if it's getting more acceptance in the wider world. It's fun!
WF: Do you have any writers that you think of as influences on your work or on your desire to write?
Kate: Honestly, I've lost track of the fan-fiction authors who inspired me, unfortunately. In terms of "profic" authors? Probably the ones I loved when I was a kid. S.E. Hinton, Anne McCaffrey... oh, maybe a trace of homoeroticism with A Separate Peace by John Knowles. Although that same trace was probably in a lot of S.E. Hinton's work, too. These young men, thrown together and so full of love and anger and inability to really understand their feelings - that's definitely been an influence on what I write now.
WF: How would you describe your process?
Kate: I'm very practical, very prosaic about it all. I like that quote from some famous author who says (paraphrased): I only write when the muse strikes me. And I make damn sure it strikes me at nine a.m. each and every weekday.
I start at the beginning of the story and type through to the end. For some sub-genres I plan things out a bit more (like, romantic suspense needs more planning b/c I need to be able to plant clues as I go, and SFF romance needs some thought given to world building before I get too far into the story), but mostly I'm a pantser. Then I leave the MS for a good chunk of time so I can get fresh eyes to re-read it. I usually try to have a sort of cycle going - write C, then leave C while I go back and do edits from my publisher for A, and then do my own edits on B, and then write D. Then I come back to do my publisher edits for B, my own edits on C, and write E. It's rarely quite that tidy, but the general idea is to have lots of different projects at lots of different stages all at the same time.
In the last few years I've been committed to 520K new words a year, but this year I'm going to cut that down to 365K new words - at 520K words it was beginning to be a bit of a grind, and this is still my hobby/side-project, not my day job.
And as you may have noticed, I really try to avoid procrastinating on anything. As soon as a project's on my desk, I want to get to it, keep it moving, get it done!
WF: So you often have many projects "on the stove", so to speak. What advice do you have for the writer who feels in a rut?
Kate: For me, it's important to keep refilling the inspiration jar. When I first started writing I totally blitzed it, and I went probably two years without watching TV or reading any books because I was so busy writing. It was like I had a lifetime of inspiration and it was all just POURING out of me. But eventually that dried up a little. Not completely, for sure - I've never really suffered from writer's block. But it got so I had to work to get the ideas out instead of just having them oozing out from my pores.
And I addressed that by starting to read again. At first I read way too critically, looking at technique and style and trying to analyze everything. And I'm not saying there's not a time for reading like that. But I think it's also important to just let yourself go and get lost in a story sometimes. Live with the characters, whether they're on TV or in a book or a movie, or even a video game. Get sucked in, get inspired, and then when you go back to your own work you don't copy the other characters but you draw on the energy that they gave you. They can remind you how exciting fiction is!
WF: Knowing there is no magic incantation to make publication of one's work smoother or more realizable, what would you say is an important place to start in the search for a publisher that best fits the given writer?
Kate: I think this really depends on the writer's goals. If publication is the main goal? I'd say stop worrying about finding a publisher to fit your work and start finding ways to fit your work to the publisher. It sounds really mercenary, I guess, but publishing is a business and there are a LOT of writers out there producing a lot of work. If your main goal is publication, you need to make sure your work is EXACTLY what a given publisher is looking for. You can find out what they're looking for by reading what they're publishing, and by reading editor blogs and the "Open Calls" that some publishers put out.Many thanks to you, Kate, for sharing your time and experiences with us at Writing Forums. May you continue to have success and fulfillment through writing.
At the other extreme, obviously, are the true artists who see their books as their babies and their chief form of self-expression. I have no problem with writers who think this way, but I do get a bit impatient when they expect publishers to beat a path to their door. Publishing is a business and publishers need to make money; if they think there's a market for a book, they'll publish the book. If they aren't sure there's a market? Publishers do still take chances, now and then, but not that often. And, honestly, from my experience on writers' sites there are a lot more of the "my book is my baby" type writers than the "I like writing and will write what you want" type writers. So when publishers are looking for manuscripts, they can choose from a relatively small number of authors who are writing for defined markets and will be easy to sell, or from a relatively large number of authors who are writing for themselves and may or may not produce anything that anyone else wants to read. So if you want to play the odds? Match your writing to the publisher, not the other way around.
Now, obviously there's a lot of middle ground between the two extremes, and my own work isn't at the "completely mercenary" pole. There's stuff I won't write, even though I know it would sell, because I just have no interest in it. But I really don't mind writing within limitations. I find they produce their own form of challenge. I have a two-book deal with Penguin right now, and when I was working on Book 1 for that series I had a phone call with an editor (not from Penguin) who said she liked my writing style but was concerned that I hadn't hit many of the tropes of Small Town Romances. I hadn't actually set out to write a Small Town Romance, so I had no idea what the tropes were, but she gave me a quick run down, and it was really interesting. I should have an older character who could impart wisdom to the MC? Really? Well, okay, yeah, I can add that. The female MC should do some sort of a craft, like knitting? Seriously? She should knit? Well... how about crocheting? So in the second book I added a "Stitch and Bitch" group that she joins (with bonus older characters offering advice!) and it actually added quite a bit of richness to the plot. Weird, but if it works, it works.
I think it's also really important to know your genre, or your sub-genre, and the publishers who are working in that field. In m/m romance, my home genre, this is pretty easy because the market is still fairly small. And it was easy for me to experiment because I'm quite prolific, so it's not that big of a deal if I send an MS to a company and it doesn't go that well. I'm risking three months of work, not three years' worth. So when I first started writing m/m I sent books far and wide, evaluated the experience of working with the different publishers and, of course, the sales, and eliminated those that weren't a good fit. It was just trial and error, but it was interesting and worked for me.