AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Allison Brennan, Part 3
How can you wring the most suspense from your stories? Therese and Kathleen recently chatted with best-selling romantic suspense author Allison Brennan to learn juicy secrets on technique and about her fantastic promo machine! Missed part one of her interview? Read it here, move on to part two here, and then be sure to come on back for part three!
Allison has generously offered to answer reader questions about the genre, writing in general, or specific queries about her books, so take advantage while you still have the chance!
Part 3: Interview with Allison Brennan
Q: What techniques do you use in order to keep the suspense high in your writing?
A: I don't plan anything, really. I just write what I see in my head. I do a lot of play acting. And if I'm bored with a scene, chances are my readers will be bored, so I usually delete it.
I like to end scenes on a revelation, a cliffhanger (man walks into the room with a gun, then the next scene or chapter we're someplace else), or a question. The questions can be an internal problem for a character, or a clue, or new information.
I try to keep the introspection to a minimum while still getting deep enough into my character's heads so that my readers feel like they know them. This is probably the hardest part of the process for me . . . I don't like lengthy narrative, but I fear I'm shortchanging my readers into really knowing the characters so sometimes I get repetitive. I'm working on it!
Q: What are you doing to improve this aspect of your writing? What techniques have you tried, and what do you find works best for you currently?
A: When I sold THE PREY, the one thing my editor kept asking for for "more introspection" or "more internalization." She wanted to get more into my character's head, especially the heroine. I'd completely misapplied the "show don't tell" advice. That doesn't mean don't show what the character's thinking!
Because I had the spots in the manuscript where my editor wanted more internalization, it was very easy for me to thread in a couple sentences of introspection.
So when I was writing THE HUNT, I kept in the back of my mind: internalize more. Well, I went overboard in the opposite direction. Too MUCH introspection. Because I don't think I've "got it"--meaning, it's something I have to really think about as I'm writing and particularly as I'm editing, I need to keep working on it so it because easier for me to layer in on the first pass.
The way I've been doing it is primarily in my own edits. I write the book, then I go back and edit on hard copy (if I have time.) I'll mark areas of the story that feel like they need a little more internal thought or where I don't think I've conveyed the emotion or feelings well enough of the viewpoint character. So far, this is working, but I'd like to get it down right the first time!
Q: Will you chuck a whole chunk if you think it isn't working?
A: Yes. I have no qualms about deleting a hundred or more pages.
Q: How important is the rewrite in your process?
A: I rewrite as I go. So it's important, but not as important as getting the initial story down.
Q: You have a terrific website that reflects your "brand" to a T! Did you know ahead of time exactly how you wanted it to look? How did it come about?
A: Thank you! I love my website.
I hired a professional designer, gave him my covers, told him about the tone and feel of my books, and said that I wanted a website that said (with the words) "professional suspense author." I felt it was important to not design around my covers, but to design around my voice, without clashing with my covers. He asked me a lot of questions about what I did and didn't want, we worked out the navigation early on, and then I let him do his job. He gave me a fantastic design. I asked for a couple very minor changes, but I think he nailed it on his first time at bat.
My designer also put together my book trailers. I felt very strongly that the book trailers needed to be short and in a format that most people can view. Even on dial-up, the trailers take less than a minute to load and are not more than 30 seconds. The trailer for each book is unique, reflecting the pacing and feeling of the individual books.
Q: How important has Internet presence been for you as a new author? What have your best promotional efforts been?
A: That's a good question, and one I don't really have an answer to. I have had a lot of positive feedback on my website and book trailers, and having the website up when my books were released was invaluable--my hits tripled the week of each release and it makes contacting me easy.
A professional website shows readers and industry people that you're a serious writer.
In terms of promo, I don't know what has been the most effective. Collateral (bookmarks, magnets, etc) are nice to have to hand out to people who you're chatting to. They're relatively cheap.
Seriously, so much is out of the author's hands. It depends on the publisher, distribution, and buzz. Tess Gerritsen also makes note of the very scientific "fairy dust"--that no matter what you do to promote your book, you have no control over the bottom line.
Word of mouth is powerful, but authors can't control it. What you CAN do is fuel it. Meaning, talk up your books when appropriate, even with strangers. Don't be a pest, listen carefully to people, both to what they say and their body language, but share. Talk about your books and writing. Talk about their interests and other books they like. Essentially, just be friendly and don't be afraid to hand them a bookmark.
I was getting a new social security card a couple months ago and after waiting for over an hour, and being the end of the day, I was beat. So was the gal behind the counter. So I just chatted with her about how it was almost quitting time. She saw on my form that I was a writer, and she asked what I did, and I gave her a bookmark and said I wrote romantic suspense novels. She loved the covers and said she was writing a memoir. We talked about publishing in general. Will she buy my book? I don't know. Doubt it. But she has that bookmark on her desk and there are a dozen or more people who are in her office. Maybe one will be intrigued enough by my blurb and cover or order it . . . or when they see it at the store, they might think, "Oh, I saw that on Jane's desk."
Building readership can't be done overnight. The BEST promo is good distribution which you have no control over. Getting your book everywhere (Walmart, grocery stores, face out on the new release table, etc) will help sales. Delivering on the promise of the package YOU have control over (quality of the book) which will help create buzz which in turn will help generate sales of your NEXT book.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I have another back-to-back trilogy coming from Ballantine early 2007. SPEAK NO EVIL (Feb 07) is Nick Thomas's story (the Sheriff from THE HUNT). When he learns his brother is accused of a brutal murder, Nick goes to San Diego to prove his innocence. Homicide Detective Carina Kincaid is working just as hard to prove his guilt. SPEAK is followed by SEE NO EVIL in March and FEAR NO EVIL in April. The three books center around the Kincaid family in San Diego.
Q: What would you recommend for authors who'd like to pursue the RS genre?
A: Read everything you can get your hands on, from suspense to romantic suspense to thrillers to mysteries to romance. Read what's selling, not to copy but to compare the rhythms of the bestselling books. You'll find that there are a lot of different commercial voices, but that the rhythm is going to be comfortable. Write fearlessly and don't be afraid to break the rules, but know WHY you're doing it. It might take awhile to uncover your natural voice, so be willing to play around, try and fail and try again. It took me five books to find my voice.
I think the best thing any writer can do no matter what you're writing is to be true to your voice. We get into this mindset that we have to write for the market. While I agree that you need to keep the market in mind as you decide what to write, you need to first write what you love--develop your voice, work on your craft--and then, when you have the confidence in your writing, find and hone your work for the market.
Thank you so much, Allison, for being so generous with your time and sharing your expertise with us!