Kris Tualla retired from teaching school in 2006 after the youngest of her four children started college. She figured it was time to do something for herself, and she wanted to write romance novels.
Of course, she had to learn how first.
To do that, she joined the national Romance Writers of America, along with several chapters. She networked at meetings and conferences and took the advice of anyone who seemed to know what they were talking about.
She wrote her first manuscript in 10 months, 100,000 words that grew to a 140,000-word behemoth before she trimmed it back to 105,000.
She created a fictional family from Norway, the Hansens, and has self-published seven books in The Hansen Series, with another five hunky and damaged Hansens featured in The Discrete Gentleman Series through Desert Breeze Publishing. The latest, out in December 2013, is The Discrete Gentleman of Mystery.
“It took four years to get that first manuscript up to publishable status,” Kris said. “I made all the normal mistakes: head hopping, passive voice, unnecessary scenes, scenes that needed to be punched up.”
She started pitching her series while she was still in the learning and networking phase. One agent said it would be impossible to sell a novel about Norway. Kris said, “Oh, yeah? Norway is the new Scotland.” And that became her brand.
She created a website, Facebook author page and business cards. On the cards, she put the brand on the front and her three-sentence pitch on the back. She started pitching her brand as much as her novel when she spoke to agents and publishers at conferences.
“I’d let them read my pitch off the back of my card,” she said. “They’d look up and ask questions, and I never had to get tongue tied and trip over words. When they asked why Norway is the new Scotland, I said it was time for a hero that didn’t wear a kilt.”
And that takes us to today’s advice from the expert:
Start Branding Early
Kris says that you’ll be more effective in both your writing and your pitching once you have a clearly defined brand.
“When I figured out my brand, it laid out a groundwork for what all my books would be about,” she said. The stories and characters are different, but they’re historical, and the characters are big, blond, buff and beautiful Hansen men with strong, intelligent women who complete them, all between the ages of 25 and 35.
To help define your brand, Kris recommends that you decide what you like to write and figure out what are the common elements that can run through a series of at least three books. She also suggests you add a quirky element. For example, in the 1970s television show, Kojak, the main character always had a lollipop. Maybe you carry the same characters throughout your series, or the same setting or the quirky element.
“Apply the quirky thing to at least three books that fit that brand,” she stressed. “After three, your readers will forgive you if you write something different—if you let them know in advance. My brand is so broad that I can go on a long time with it.”
Here are some more helpful hints from Kris.
- Develop sketches of characters and settings. If all the heroines and heroes are damaged, add depth by knowing what happened to them, and have other characters poke the bruises to create both external and internal conflict.
- Don’t write in a vacuum. Go to conferences, join the local chapter of national organizations and either join or start a critique group.
- Get people reading your work and making constructive criticism—and develop a thick skin so that you can get the most out of what they have to offer without having your feelings hurt.
- Keep up with what’s going on in the marketplace. Reader preferences change, and to be competitive, you need to know the current trends.
Find Joy in Everyday Life
“I have so much joy,” Kris said. “My faith in God is where I get joy. This path was laid out in front of me clearly. I’ve had people come into my life, they offered what I needed at that time, and then I never saw them again. I’m not worried about the sales. I wouldn’t be doing it if that’s what was driving me. I’m having so much fun.”