Have you ever struggled with wondering how you’ll ever finish your book or meet those deadlines you’ve set as an author? If that’s you, I think you will find today’s interview super helpful!
In this interview I had the honour of chatting with bestselling romance author Nina Harrington. She is a Amazon #1 bestselling and award winning author with over 1.4 million books sold worldwide. It was so great to be able to chat with Nina about how she went from being a pharmacist and scientist to taking that risk to fulfill her dream of telling the stories really wanted to share with the world.
In the intro, I talk about how I’ve had a few breakthroughs as I’ve been digging down to the nitty gritty of storytelling structure and emotional resonance with my characters. It’s been so interesting!
I also talk about the Patreon page for Create A Story You Love podcast/videos for listeners who feel like they are learning from the interviews and would like to support the show.
As usual, I shared this weeks three books that I’ve found helpful in my own writing journey: The first two are by Nina Harrington called Head or Heart:Will Self-Publishing your Novel Make you Money? Or Cost You Money? and the other book, Keep Your Pants On!: How to Outline a Romance Novel When You Are An Intuitive Writer. Also if you’re a new writer and need help setting up your first author website, Rebecca Livermore’s book Blogger’s Quick Guide to Starting Your First WordPress Blog is easy to understand.
I really hope these books/tools save you time and money, so you don’t make all the many mistakes I did when I first started writing and blogging:)
Nina Harrington is a bestselling romance author with more than 1.4 million books sold worldwide. She writes romance as well as crime fiction, and is also writes nonfiction books to help authors and has created courses for new romance writers on Udemy.
I took Nina’s course on How to Outline Your Romance Novel Fast, and it really helped me understand how to create an emotional story map for your romance story.
Her series of nonfiction books for writers are about writing, self-publishing as well as learning how to market your books. You can find the list on Nina’s Amazon Author page here.
Scroll down to the bottom of this page to get your free printable PDF of this Interview(thanks Nina for putting together this PDF!).
1.Would you share your story and how you got started writing romance novels?
NH: I have always been a prolific reader and could read and write before I went to primary school.
Over the years, my day job as an industrial pharmacist and university lecturer had always involved a lot of technical writing and documentation, but when it came to fiction, I started writing science fantasy, crime and romance stories for my own pleasure about twenty years ago!
In 2002 I gave up a high profile business job in the pharmaceutical industry to write full time. My day job was very demanding both physically and mentally, and I knew that if I wanted to achieve my goal of being a published writer I was going to have to devote the same amount of time and energy and commitment to learning about craft and business of being a writer as I had in my career.
It was a challenging, scary and exciting part of my life. I didn’t have a contract or any connections in the publishing industry or a regular income.
I gave myself 5 years to find a publisher for my romance and crime fiction, but in the end it took exactly 6 years before I received the call from Harlequin offering me a contract for short contemporary romances.
I had found a home for my writing. And, even better, I soon discovered that there was a HUGE worldwide community of romance authors and readers, which could be accessed through the power of the internet.
2.You’ve been very successful as a romance author and as an author entrepreneur. Many authors listening, have goals of consistently writing and publishing fiction, but for many authors, something keeps getting in the way of their goals. (Like overcoming limiting beliefs and everyday resistance we experience).
Would you share with listeners your thoughts and steps to help writers overcome resistance all writers face every day – fear, limiting beliefs, procrastination – to create a successful author mindset?
Why is it important for writers – and author entrepreneurs – to really understand their reason and passion for writing and publishing their books?
Are there questions to help writers uncover their passion? Are their tips to help writers stay motivated and/or reminded of their passion everyday?
NH: I have never suffered from “creative block” but I do know what it feels like to be frustrated and angry with myself when I don’t seem to be making progress on the major writing projects that are super-important to me.
I know what it is of course – I am not just the Queen of Procrastination, I am the entire royal family.
I have struggled with procrastination for years and only recently been able to work through and analyse why I keep putting things off, and then do something about it.
As a geeky trained scientist, I only know one way to get to the bottom of a problem and that is to analyse and research and get to the fundamental cause of procrastination and then deal with them one by one.
For me, it was the fear or not realising the true potential of a project. I love my work and want it to be the very best that I can make it. My standards in what I do and publish and produce have always been very high. If I don’t do my very best then I failed to meet the standards that I have set.
Perfectionism? Oh yes. That is very real. There is a reason why I take so long to submit a manuscript and it has nothing to do with story craft. It was all about being unhappy with nit-picky aspects of the manuscript.
This all came to a head in 2012 when I was offered a 3 book contract with Carina UK at the same time as my existing contract for 3 Harlequin novels. This was it! I could finally write some romantic thrillers for Carina UK.
6 novels in 12 months. All 50,000 to 75,000 words. I know that I always overwrite, and then hack back, so we are probably talking at least 400,000 words plus revisions and marketing and promotion.
I did have doubts. Writing a single title length novel takes several months, plus there is the financial and emotional investment that you have to make.
But I knew that I could do it –BUT –I had to stop procrastinating.
Here is the strategy that I came up with. I have shared it with other romance authors and they seem to have found it useful.
I call it the MAGIC system and over the next few weeks, I shall be rolling out some additional training on how authors can use it to break through the mental barriers that are holding them back.
- MOTIVATION. Finding your True North. Everything starts with your WHY. Everything. Many of the authors I know are desperate to leave their day jobs and earn the same income working from home with their family. Others want to pay for their children to have a better education or provide themselves or their parents with a quality retirement. Being able to realise your potential as a writer and provide for your loved ones is a powerful incentive.
- ACCEPTANCE. Self-Awareness about WHO you are and how you came to be here – and WHO you want to become. The vision of your ideal self, based on your unique strengths and skills. This also means accepting that that negative “brain chatter” will always be there but you can choose whether you listen to it or not.
- GAP. I don’t like the word “goal” so feel free to call it Your Mission. Your End Results. Your Final Destination. Whatever you want to call your list of dream results and outcomes. Your future self. The key thing is to carry out a Gap Analysis and work backwards from the end result so that you know what steps you need to take to create that result.
- IMPLEMENTATION. Lists and ideas are useless without action and execution is everything as a writer. Think of this as an experiment. A fun game you are trying out new things. WHAT are you going to and in what order so that you can work smarter and faster.
- COMMITMENT. WHEN are you going to get started on your implementation plan? You may have to develop new habits and working practices and that can take time, so the sooner that you can get started the better.
By working through the MAGIC system, I was able to break down the workload into tiny chunks and focus on my WHY whenever things got tough. New habits and working systems followed and I have been using this process ever since.
There is one book which I loved and come back to every month – The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. If you have every wondered where that negative voice in the back of your head comes from that tells you to stop writing and watch cat videos instead? Read this book.
It has to be said that you do need a mindset shift when you decide to become a professional author. It can be extremely empowering to know that you can make daily progress, no matter how small, and create a book that that is totally your own. You will learn a terrific amount about yourself in the process.
4. So along similar lines, how can beginning authors, write their stories and have fun while doing it? Is it important to give yourself the freedom to write the first draft – without trying to make the story perfect? Along those same lines, how do you research what you need to for your book, without it becoming a form of procrastination?
NH: What a great question! Having fun is so important when you are writing fiction.
There are two techniques that I would recommend to keep the writing process lively and energised.
- The first is to think of the book as a game that you are creating as a fun experiment, just for yourself to read. That takes some of the pressure off and makes it more of an adventure.
- The second is to use story structure to help you plan out the beginning of your first draft, up to the end of the first act and then add a few signposts to the rest of the story, but leaves it open and flexible. This gives the characters the room they need to tell you their story once they get onto the page and interacting with one another and under the spotlight of the story situation.
You can find out more about how to outline your romance novel by using emotional story maps, on my website: http://ninaharrington.com/
5. What are some helpful ways writers can learn to be more productive?
- do you use apps like “Freedom” to block the internet for a certain time period?
- do you write in time block – like 60 – 90 minute time blocks? etc.
- Do you write at certain times of the day?
- do you just snatch time to write your story wherever you happen to be that day?
NH: I write every day and aim for at least 2000 to 3000 words a day for a first draft, but this does speed up towards the end of the book. I write in 30 to 60 minute blocks of time, with mental and physical health breaks between each block.
Top Tip. I would recommend any author to use the Pomodoro method, which breaks the work down into timed focused writing sessions of 20 to 30mins followed by a 5 minute break. An old fashioned kitchen timer or even a timer on your phone or computer will do the trick.
The ritual of starting the timer acts as a mental trigger telling your brain that you are now going to write, without being distracted by anything else, for 20 or 25 minutes. It can be any time or the day. Lunchtime at work, or on the commute, or in the evenings while the family are watching TV. Most people can squeeze in a 20 to 30 minute session.
The key thing is to know WHAT you are going to write about or work on, before you start your timed writing session.
6. On the topic of being more productive and learning to think like an author entrepreneur, what are some steps new writers can take to prepare their mindset to think like an entrepreneur?
NH: After some 15 years of full time writing, I would recommend that any new author or aspiring author should start from the very start to think of themselves as running a small start-up business.
Finance. In the current economic situation, please don’t do what I did and leave your day job without a back-up plan.
Contrary to common belief, entrepreneurs do not take silly risks. They manage risks. Author entrepreneurs pre-validate that there is a market for the type of book that they want to write, before they start writing it. They research their niche in online bookstores and in bestseller charts.
What would you do differently if writing was your only source of income and you had to find $1000 every month to pay the bills?
Clarity. You have to know precisely what you want to achieve.
Do you want to generate income, or attract a large audience and traffic to your website and email list, or both?
Do you want to self-publish or submit your book to a literary agent and traditional publisher?
You have to be able to answer these questions before you can create any kind of plan for your writing.
Story Craft. It is always useful to build relationships with other authors in the same niche and work on story craft to make sure that the ideas and characters that are burning to be brought onto the page will find an audience.
Writing Process. Rig the system by setting yourself small goals every day. It might only be 2 pages. Small wins every day are both motivational and build into a writing system.
Many authors work a day job and write in timed writing sessions at lunchtimes and in the evenings and weekends.
This not only validates that you have the focus and internal motivation to see a project through to completion, but you will learn an enormous amount about the publishing world and the specific niche that you want to write in, as you work on your fiction.
Deadlines are essential, but you have to mean them. There is nothing like a publishing contract with a fixed date to get your seat in the chair and your fingers to the keyboard. Make your own contract if you don’t have one, then get those words down.
7. What are some very practical steps beginning writers can take to set up their author business? For example: website, email list, banking, taxes, etc.
NH: I have learnt that the real challenge is “Discoverability”. If readers don’t know that you exist then they will never find your amazing book which is lost in the thousands of new books that are released every day.
That’s why building an author platform and an author brand is so important. I spend at least 40% of my day on business and it is a challenge, there is no doubt about it.
That’s why you have to be very clear about WHY you want to write. The power of your internal motivation has to be able to drive you to work at 11pm writing a blog post or editing a chapter in your latest book.
It you want to run a business then you have to recognize and accept that you are going to take on all of the aspects of the business that a publisher would normally do.
You have to work, then work harder, then work even harder to make the book the very best it can be before it leaves your desk and then spend at least 20% of your time building your platform so that readers know your name and your work.
I have focused on my author website and Facebook and Twitter to a lesser extent. Other authors like Pinterest and Instagram.
Find out where your audience is and work on building a real relationship with them by providing them with some incentive to join your email list. The sooner the better!
Even with a traditional publishing contract, authors have to be proactive every day and work hard to build an author platform and a readership
Hope-based marketing is not a strategy.
Sorry if that seems hard, but I don’t think I truly understood how tough it was until I was published and more aware of the commercial side of creativity.
8. What are some of your tips for writers who are just starting out as author entrepreneurs – how should they go about goal setting as far as setting up a production schedule and marketing their books?
NH: Have a very clear vision about where you want to go in your writing career. Print book or eBooks? Traditional or self-publishing?
Understand your personal limitations and how many hours you can allocate to writing in your life every week.
Scope out the specific writing project, and work backward to calculate how many words you need to complete this book. You may have a first draft of 70,000 words but don’t forget the revisions.
How many words are able to create in the time you have every week. It could be 3,000 or 15,000. They all add up. If you set yourself a specific deadline, then you have to commit to a minimum number of words every week. And do it!
I would recommend that you spend at least 20% of your time establishing your author platform when you are just starting out.
9.What’s some great advice you wish you would have had – that would have helped you in productivity or mindset – when you first started building your author business? And what tips would you give to writers who are just beginning to grow their author business?
NH: I do wish someone had told me how important it was to become a prolific author. Readers need to know you exist and the best way to do that is to write more books.
The days when an author can write one fiction book a year and generate enough sales through a traditional publishing route are long gone. Unless you already have a huge fan base that will pay for a hardback printed book the income per book will be low and more often, the sales figures will also be low.
Market and business savvy authors see their future in digital publishing.
There are benefits to being published by a traditional publisher like Harlequin and I would recommend any pre-published romance author to submit to a publisher who will:
- Pay you an advance on royalties
- Produce a printed book which will be sold in bricks and mortar book stores
- Take care of the cover design, editing, copy-editing and foreign translation sales side for you, so that you can learn your craft doing the creative writing side of the business.
- It is a great way to build up fans of your work.
- Royalty rates are very low compared to online publishing platforms.
- Your book will not be released for 6 to 18 months.
- You may have no control over the title or the cover design.
- The number of print outlets are shrinking. Supermarkets can make more money stocking the latest from a TV chef or bestselling crime authors.
If you want to know more, I wrote a whole book about the raft of decisions that any author has to consider.
Since this eBook was published, the self-publishing world has become swamped by a deluge of low cost books which makes it even more difficult for readers to find your work if you don’t have an existing platform and fanbase.
The world of print publishing and online publishing are pulling apart into two very different demographics.
If you look at the bestsellers in an online bookstore like Amazon, there will be a few well established romance authors who have worked hard to maintain an online and print presence, like Nora Roberts for example, but they built their platform out from a traditional publishing base.
You CAN start a writing career and write exclusively for the digital market but this is an extremely competitive marketplace with 1000s of new titles being released every week.
Right now, I am happy to stay a hybrid and publish romance through a traditional publisher like Harlequin and self-publish non-fiction guides and courses for writers.
10.Thanks for sharing your tips today Nina. Would you talk about new books and/or other courses/projects you have on the go right now? And where can writers/readers find you online?
NH: Right now I am working on one of the biggest challenges that we all face – how to work smarter, more focused and faster and a series of books and online courses will be released over the next few months.