In our first Friday interview for our new Friday Wordsmith series, we’ve thrown some questions at historical romance author Elizabeth Cole. Ms. Cole is the author of the Regency spy series Secrets of the Zodiac, the medieval romance series The Swordcross Knights, and the paranormal romance series The Brothers Salem. Her latest book, Breathless in the Dark was published earlier this year.
What’s the difference (at least for you!) between being a writer and an author? How do you shift gears between the two?
For me, writing is a creative act that is highly personal and even self-indulgent. I can be as detailed or as extravagant as I want to be when I make up my stories. I can channel my emotions into a scene, I can take revenge on a real-life idiot, or I can test out a wild notion to see if it works. I can write any style or genre. I can write a poem. I can head- hop. It’s very much a Jackson Pollack, throw-stuff-at-a-wall-and-see-what-it-looks-like process. As an author though, I need to consider the needs of real readers. I may not simply write to market, but I do need to think about how each book fits into the market, so I can promote it accordingly. For example, historical romance readers have very strong opinions on what certain characters are allowed to get away with, and how the stories should end. Authors ignore reader expectations at their peril. I’ve always been an indie author, and that’s allowed me to control not just my story, but every aspect of publishing, from the editing and proofing to the cover design. I have a great editor who I trust to call out my BS. I tried different proofreaders until I found one I loved. I’ll swap a cover out if the existing one isn’t helping to move the book. And above all, I try to listen to reader feedback and examine my sales carefully. This is why, for example, I’m not putting out more contemporary paranormal romances any time soon — while I loved writing them, my series sells terribly. That right there is the writer/author divide. You can write whatever you like. But if you want to work as a career author, you’ve got to give readers what they want. Hopefully, that’s also what you want. Usually, there’s a bit of compromise involved. Since “author” is currently my job title, and I sure as hell don’t want to find another job, I try very hard to work consistently, to publish on schedule, and to offer only really good books to my customers. What that means is that I sometimes have to put aside “me” projects to hit all my deadlines. And that’s ok. The most wonderful thing about writing is that it’s always there. I plan to keep writing until I die. If you could write any other genre, what would it be? I have actually written detective fiction, fairy tale retellings, and speculative fiction under different pen names. I’d love to do more of all of those when I’m ready to expand from romance. And of course, I’ve got an epic fantasy series planned. (I mean, who doesn’t?)
What’s the oddest thing a reader has ever asked you?
Nearly every female romance writer (married or otherwise) has had to field the question “Does your husband help you with your research?”. It’s super weird and creepy, and yet depressingly predictable. No one ever asks a mystery writer if her husband helps her bury bodies. No one asks a science fiction writer if her husband taught her how to build FTL drives. Pro tip: NEVER, EVER ask a romance writer if the sexy bits are autobiographical, especially if you think your question is somehow witty or original. It’s not. It’s both puerile and prurient, and we think less of you as a person the second the words are out of your mouth. (Obviously, Paper Lantern readers are too classy and discerning to ever do this.)
How long do you read until you bail on a book you don’t like?
Unless I’m obligated to finish it, such as for a book club or because I’m a contest judge, I have no problem closing a book that doesn’t capture my interest. I’ve ditched books after one page (usually I’ll give them 20, though). Life’s way too short to read a story you don’t love. If I find a book dull, or if a character is mean or abusive, or I just don’t care for the writing or editing….I’ll nope right out of there.
Is there another profession you would like to try?
Oddly, I’ve always been very interested in survey design! When I read an article that reports “7 of 10 people agreed that ice cream is great”, I’m always wondering how the question was phrased, and who was asked, and what brand of ice cream was used for reference. As a society, we focus so much on what people think, but we don’t always know how to ask what people think. Surveys and polls are a fascinating part of qualitative research, and I’d love to study this more…if I ever get bored of writing kissing books!
Elizabeth Cole writes romance novels like it’s her job (because it actually is her job). In some of her former lives, she was a bookseller, special librarian, archivist, cubicle drone, and popcorn popper. She adores tea, basketball, and cats, not necessarily in that order. She was born and raised in Wisconsin, where people are nice even to their enemies. She now lives in Philadelphia, where everybody just grunts. A grunt could mean I love you. It usually doesn’t. Her Secrets of the Zodiac series is like Jane Austen crossed with James Bond, and if you want some smart, sassy, sexy escapist reading, you should start with A Heartless Design, the first in the series.
Find her on the internet at www.elizabethcole.co
Elizabeth Cole’s Books:
Secrets of the Zodiac (regency romance)
The Swordcross Knights (medieval romance)
The Brothers Salem (paranormal romance)
Edie Cay writes award-winning feminist Regency Romance about women’s boxing and relatable misfits. She is a member of the Regency Fiction Writers, the Historical Novel Society, ALLi, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can drop her a line on Facebook and Instagram @authorediecay or find her on her website, www.ediecay.com