My guest today is Holly Jacobs. Holly is a successful romance author who started writing category romance. Not as easy to break into as some may think and not an easy career track given how quickly the writing market changes. Still, despite the many changes, Holly persevered in her dream, learned her craft and now there are 2.5 million Holly Jacobs books sold worldwide. Not bad at all.
What has she learned from this? I'll let her tell you about that.
I started writing in the late 90’s. My goal was writing for Harlequin’s comedy line, Duets. When they picked up I Waxed My Legs for This? I thought, here I am…writing comedy, which I love. Then a book got picked up by Silhouette romance and I started writing sweet humorous stories. It was just a short jump from comedy and I loved writing about real women in sweet, fairy tale-ish stories.
Then Harlequin Duets folded, but I got picked up by their new more chick lit comedy line, Flipside. It was a bit of a stretch, writing younger, more sassy heroines, but I enjoyed stretching. It took my storytelling up a notch. And I sold a single title book to Harlequin’s new line, Signature Select. It was the same comedy, just longer. Writing longer books was a bigger stretch, but it was fun adding extra bits to the story. In the midst of all that, I did one trilogy for Harlequin Romance that I loved, but they wanted me to write cowboys. Now, Erie is a great place, but we don’t have many cowboys...and by then I got picked up by Harlequin Everlasting love. I loved those books. They gave me an opportunity to tell a story that wasn’t a traditional romance. The characters did more than meet, overcome an obstacle and get a happily-ever-after. The books looked at the evolution of the relationship, but also looked at what comes next. The ups and downs that comes with any relationship.
Then…I know, I know, you can hear it coming. Then Everlasting folded and I moved into Harlequin’s SuperRomance, which is their most single title-ish line. There is a wide diversity in the books they publish. Mine center around family dramas. Super was a line that let me explore cancer, Alzheimer’s, homelessness… I wrote bigger issues against the backdrop of a family and romance.
I gave you the abbreviated tour of the evolution of my writing for a reason.
First, to illustrate how quickly the industry can change. One minute, comedy’s hot, then it’s not and chick lit is the cat’s meow. Sweet romances are in, or hot sexy ones. Here’s the thing…with all those different lines, the framework of my stories altered. From humor, to sweet, to serious…
But here’s the thing…my voice didn’t change. I still tell stories about characters I believe in…characters who are sometimes more real to me than my neighbors. (One of the biggest compliments I get is when someone tells me that they feel that ‘realness’ in my characters, too.)
And maybe, all those bumps in the road, all those times the industry forced me to stretch my writing, it helped me become more of a real writer I want to be. Rather like The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.
'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.’
I’ve been working at my writing for more than a decade and a half. Recently, I digitalized some of my first books because readers asked. In the Dear Reader letters, I remind them that these are my earliest works…I think my writing’s improved since them. I feel as if each book I write is a bit better than the last, and maybe that I’m a bit more of a “real” write with each.
Each time a line folded, I had to learn to look at a story from a different angle. From comedy, to sweet, to drama. And from that I realized in my writing what I’ve always known…life is never all one thing or another. It’s glee, it’s sadness, it’s hard work and finding your niche. I also learned that no matter what direction a story took, it needed characters who were…well, real.
Maybe that’s a good life lesson as well. Life throws all of us curves, forcing us to move in a new direction.
We can grumble, or wail about it.
Or we can pick ourselves up and see what gifts that new direction brings us. Maybe those detours are how life helps us grow more real…at least I like to think so.
Where love is a laughing matter...except when it's not