I can’t help doing a happy dance over today’s post—an interview with author Sherry Thomas! She’s an award-winning, bestselling author famous in two genres. She collects starred reviews like most people collect souvenirs. And she’s one of the nicest people you could spend an afternoon with (cue image of us cavorting in New York at RWA). Today she’ll share about writing across genres, juggling multiple projects, and how combining traditional and indie publishing has enhanced her career.
Sherry Thomas is one of the most acclaimed romance authors working today. Her books regularly receive starred reviews from trade publications and are frequently found on best-of-the-year lists. She is also a two-time winner of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA Award. English is Sherry’s second language—she has come a long way from the days when she made her laborious way through Rosemary Roger’s Sweet Savage Love with an English-Chinese dictionary. She enjoys digging down to the emotional core of stories. And when she is not writing, she thinks about the zen and zaniness of her profession, plays computer games with her sons, and reads as many fabulous books as she can find. You can read more about her work at www.sherrythomas.com.
Anita: Thanks so much for visiting Word Cafe, Sherry! So excited to have you. I know you have deadlines looming, so I’ll cut to the chase!
Writers are often advised to pick a genre and focus on it exclusively. How and why did you make the transition to writing in two very different genres (romance and YA), and what advice do you have for writers who hope to do that?
Sherry Thomas: I’d always intended to write in other genres. Over the years, Kristin [Nelson, my agent] has fielded various partial and complete manuscripts from me, from science fiction, to contemporary romance, to YA fantasy. She sent them all back as not being ready. The only difference was that I kept working on the YA fantasy and sending it back to her and she finally agreed to take it out on submission after five rounds of revisions!
My view on the matter is that I should be able to write whatever I want, provided that I am fully aware of both the benefits and the costs of publishing in multiple genres. Writing in another genre affords me access to a different readership and is good for my creativity. On the other hand, there is far greater demand on my time and I will probably grow my readership in a given genre at a slower rate, since I am not producing as many books in that genre.
What’s the best part about writing romance? How about YA?
ST: The best part of writing YA fantasy is that it’s plot-driven. The best part about writing romance is that it’s character-driven. And the best part of doing both is that I can flex different writing muscles as I move from one to the other and back again. : )
Your titles come to us through major traditional publishing houses and you also indie publish. Could you tell us a little about the benefits of a “hybrid” career?
ST: I don’t indie publish much: two frontlist novellas and some overseas editions of a few books to which I hold the English rights outside North America. And most of what I have done is via my agent’s self-publishing platform. So I really can’t speak from any position of expertise to what it is like being a hybrid author, except that whatever income I derive now from self-pubbing is probably due largely to the readership I’d built via traditional publishing.
But I will say this: I very much appreciate the greater freedom that authors now enjoy. Many years ago, I wrote something of a genre-confused martial arts epic. It spanned twenty years in time, took place 1/3 in imperial Peking, 1/3 in Chinese Turkestan, also known as Xinjiang, and 1/3 in London. There was a romance in it, but it wasn’t the core of the story. There was history in it, but that also wasn’t the core of the story. Basically, it was my take on the wuxia novels that I had read growing up, except I did not set my story in ancient China, but all over the place at the end of the 19th century, and centered it around a half-Chinese, half-English heroine who is quite deadly with a sword.
This August, Berkley will be publishing my 9th historical romance, My Beautiful Enemy, which is the romance part of the martial arts epic. But what about the other half of the story, the half that isn’t centered around the romance? That I will self-publish. So the whole story will be a hybrid, half self-pubbed, half trad-pubbed, and all kick-ass. : )
That sounds amazing! And it shows the level of creativity and savviness you bring to your career. Love it.
You’ve said that you first read American romance novels with an English-Chinese dictionary after moving to the U.S. as a teenager. Now you are a two-time RITA winner, the industry’s highest award. Could you talk about what set you on this amazing career path and how your multicultural background influences your work?
ST: I did indeed read lots of romances with an English-Chinese dictionary by my side—the library was my main source of entertainment. Also, at that time, non-traditional outlets like Wal-Mart and K-Mart carried a pretty big selection of romances. Every Saturday night, my mom would spend a couple of hours at one of those big-box stores, and I, who had no interest in shopping, would sit in the book aisle and read. It is a pretty effective way to learn the language, reading. : )
And lol, I chose this amazing career because I read a book that sucked hugely and said to myself, surely I could do better. And guess what? I couldn’t for many years. It is tough to write a book, even a bad one. : )
One of the more interesting ways my background has influenced my writing is that I believe it is easier for me to recreate Regency/Victorian England than it is for many American historical romance writers, because the sexual mores of the Communist China of my childhood is much closer to that of the Victorian era than anything my American contemporaries are likely to have lived through. And the formality of conduct that I grew up around is also much closer to the rules of etiquette of the 1880s and 1890s than the casualness that typically characterize social interaction in the U.S.
What an interesting parallel— I hadn’t thought of it when reading your books but it makes a lot of sense. It also explains why your characters and stories feel so authentic!
You write multiple books at once, you manage social media, you travel to conferences and signings, you are a wife and a mother of two adolescent boys. You obviously have superpowers, but any practical advice for us mortals? How do you get all of this done and stay sane?
ST: I have no life? : )
Although I have a social media presence, I am not at all active. I try to go to as few conferences and signings as I can—and when I do, I do so mainly for fun, as no one’s career was ever made or unmade by conferences and signings.
As for superpowers, my only superpower lies in time-wasting, especially when I have to write a lot of emotional stuff and can’t sink into the manuscript to cry or feel the way I need to. Days like that you will find me frantically playing casual games, which makes me feel busy, even though nothing is getting done!
Mainly my productivity is deadline-driven. I have an abhorence of not meeting contractual obligations—or just any kind of time-sensitive agreement. When deadlines draw near, I basically work around the clock, stopping just long enough to feed myself and the children. It also helps to have a supportive husband who is really good at picking up the slack!
Thanks again for being here, Sherry, and for all your advice and insight!