Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Confessions of a Sophomore Author - Part I - Jennifer Hayward

I’m so thrilled to be here at PHS for my new monthly column, Confessions of a Sophomore Author! So much has happened over the past year since I was signed with Harlequin Presents. I’ve had four books accepted, launched my first book, The Divorce Party, and wrote a serial on the glamorous northern Ontario cottage culture for Harlequin called A Wedding at Ruby Lake. Which might be the most fun thing I’ve ever written.

In May I traveled to London to meet my wonderful editors who surprised me with my first cover, I signed books at Harlequin’s distribution centre in Buffalo and sat on a palette of my first book and did a book signing at Harlequin HQ. All in all, an amazing first year in my dream job. And yes, I did pinch myself a few times!

I’m looking forward to sharing my journey through year two with you. I thought I’d start off with some of the things I’ve learned in year one. Because there were lots. And I hope you’ll chime in with your own thoughts!

I’m happy for the backstory
Some authors are naturally brilliant storytellers who’ve never opened a craft book in their life. For me the courses I’ve taken and the craft books were invaluable. Almost every time I get stuck, it’s because I’ve missed a crucial element that makes a story work. A sequel I left out, a logical piece of the action-reaction process human beings go through. Or my character’s GMC has gone awry. There are no hard and fast rules in writing, but knowing what makes a classically great story is a great start. It not only makes the process of writing easier for me, it helps me work more effectively with my editor.

A partial and a manuscript are not equal
Until I sat down and committed to writing a full book, to taking that entire journey with my characters, to knowing how they evolved and what mistakes they would spontaneously make, I didn’t really know them. Sending in partial manuscripts and waiting to hear if lightning struck may have made me feel like I was doing something, but it wasn’t making me a better storyteller. They were surfacey, without depth. And although that first manuscript I finished will never see the light of day (nor should it), my second will be my fourth book with Presents.

Revisions aren’t a monster to chase you under the bed
Well not really J. My heart is still in my mouth when I get a revision letter. And rightly so I think. You put your heart and soul into a book. You want your editor to love it. On a couple of my books I’ve had virtually no revisions. On another I loved but I was struggling with – they made all the difference in the world. ‘Take an entire plotline and source of conflict out’ might sound terrifying, but it focused the book and made it exactly what it needed to be. And without fail, my editor’s revision letters have always been spot-on, invaluable advice that have made the book better. And when something didn’t ring true to my story, I stuck to my guns. You can do that. You must do that if the story is going to be yours. Not so scary.

It is a scary thing launching your baby into the world
Sending your first book out into the world is a nail biting venture. There’s promotion, reviews and the hope that everyone will love it as much as you do. Then there’s the expectations for book two, and three and so on… A very wise mentor once said to me, ‘all you can do is write the best book you can’. And that advice has stood me in good stead. We all have unique voices. We can only write our stories. And as I’ve navigated this past year, that’s what I’ve tried to do – write the story I’m in love with. Write the story I’d want to read. And with it comes a kind of peace.

There’s lots more I’m looking forward to sharing with you in the coming months. I’d love your feedback and if you leave a comment, I’m giving away two copies of my Jan 21 release, An Exquisite Challenge – book two of my Delicious De Campo series. You can read an excerpt here.

So what have you learned lately? Share!


  1. Jen, I am so proud of you and you deserve every big and little thing that comes your way. I can't wait to see what the future holds for you and your budding career as a bona fide author!

  2. Go Jen! Am so happy that everything's working out so well for you - thoroughly deserved xxx

  3. SO true!! In addition, I've recently learned it doesn't get any easier when you've written more books. :) Congrats on the new release (it's my favorite ya'll!)

  4. Aw Jen, it's wonderful to see you over here - fantastic post! Every word bang on the money. Craft is a long practice to master - I learn something new every day and make plenty of mistakes along the way but it's all down to that never-ending learning curve that makes us far better writers in the end.
    I remember a great author friend of mine saying, 'selling is the easy part'. It's not something we want to hear when we are desperate for an editor to fall in love with our voice and the unique way we tell our stories but my goodness, how right she was! Deadlines and the pressure we put ourselves under to create the next fabulous romance is a killer, that for many will shatter the magic. Luckily for us we have each-other and many great friends to hold our hand as we walk the awsome-yet-often-perilous path to success. So I would say surrounding yourself with like minded people makes the journey so much brighter.
    Super congrats on Gabe hitting the shelves - he is one mighty fine hunk of deliciousness!

  5. This is great Jen. I think you've invented a new genre here, 'armchair publishing.' I feel as though I'm right there with you on the rollercoaster. I keep having to pinch myself as you describe what's happening to you, even though I haven't done any of the work! Ax

  6. Love the column Jen - and can't wait for more CONFESSIONS ;-) Have to agree with everyone that your advice is not only spot on but always so freely given - thank you! You and the lovely Ms Parker are two inspirational ladies! I haven't had a sniff of Gabe yet so am really keen for the 21st to roll round - will open the excerpt now… Lorna x

  7. Thanks for the lovely column and the great advice! It's so neat to get an up close and personal glimpse into the world of a published author. Congratulations on your latest!

  8. Thanks all for dropping by! So great to hear from you! The excerpt for Gabe & An Exquisite Challenge is actually on my website if you'd like a peek :)

  9. Dear Jen (I hope you don't mind my calling you Jen instead of Ms. Hayward), Thank you for the advice. I am trying to learn craft and am absorbing what others have to say. I'm having trouble right now figuring out the right amount of backstory to put in the first chapter vs. figuring out how to provide a hook for the reader to want to read the second chapter. To answer your question, right now I'm learning the importance of feedback: to put your work out there (you have to be aggressive a little in getting people to read it, but if they don't mind waiting a couple extra days they will get my feedback in return) and to listen to what others have to say. If more than one person says the same thing, I know they are onto something I might not have seen. It usually opens my eyes. Thank you for the article. Good luck with your writing. I hope you had fun in London (that may be one of the most rhetorical statements I've ever posted) and best of luck with your next book.

  10. Ha ha Tanya! Thanks for dropping by! And I love your comments. :) And Jen is me :) It is so tempting to start putting in the backstory in chapter one, but try and write a sizzling, fast first chapter that pulls people in, then gradually layer the backstory in in coming chapters. If you write a compelling first chapter readers will only need the minimum of hints as to backstory. Just enough to know the who, what, where, why and when - minimally! Even chapter two should really keep pushing your momentum forward. And trust your reader. The more questions they have, the more they'll turn pages - within reason. You can't leave them totally clueless either obviously. But I will say those first few chapters are all about forward momentum - driving the reader into the story. Then you can start building the characters/the complexity of the story.

    Thank you for the lovely thoughts! London was amazing :) And I think your thoughts about feedback are so great. It's not easy putting your work out there! Victoria and Kat, who commented, above are critique partners of mine. I am so lucky to have found them :) Finding someone who understands your voice but isn't afraid to say "Whoa Jen" is a very precious thing.

    Best of luck with your writing! Can't wait to hear your progress! Drop in over the year and let me know how it's going :)


  11. Hi Laney and Tanya! You're the winners of a signed copy of An Exquisite Challenge. If you could email me your address at I'll get those out to you! :)

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