Luncheon Keynote Speaker, Saturday Presenter, The Subtle Art of Pacing Workshop Co-Panelist, What I Wish I'd Known Five Years Ago
Nancy Herkness is the author of the award-winning Wager of Hearts and Whisper Horse series, published by Montlake Romance, as well as several other contemporary romance novels. She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America RITA® award, and has received many other honors for her work, including the Book Buyers Best Top Pick, the New England Readers’ Choice award, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award. Nancy graduated from Princeton University where she majored in English. In addition to her academic work in literature, she was accepted into Princeton's creative writing program, and her senior thesis was a volume of original poetry. After graduating, Nancy had a varied career which included retail management and buying, COBOL programming, computer systems sales and marketing, and a brief stint as a receptionist at a dental office. Once her children were in school full-time, she sat down and wrote A Bridge to Love, her first romance novel to be published.
A native of West Virginia, Nancy now lives in suburban New Jersey with her husband and a goofy golden retriever. She cheers loudly for the New Jersey Devils hockey team. For more information about Nancy and her books, visit www.NancyHerkness.com.
Is there a conference workshop you’ve attended that really helped you, or that you remember because it was something new or different, helpful or interesting? I tend to remember particular pieces of advice from workshops rather than whole sessions. Here are a few pearls of wisdom I have found helpful/interesting:
Colleen Thompson gave a workshop at RWA in which she quoted JoAnn Ross about how to perk up a book’s sagging middle: “Throw another bear in the canoe.” So vivid!
At an NJRW workshop, Susan Mallery recommended the use of scent to put you in a writing mood. Scent is a powerful trigger so she wafts a specific essential oil around her office to flip the writing switch in her brain. (I am holding this idea in reserve for a desperate time.)
April Kihlstrom’s Book-In-A-Week workshop freed me to complete my first novel when she advised her audience not to allow ourselves to revise any pages until we reach the end of the first draft. Up to that point I had a highly polished first fifty pages and nothing more.
April also made the wise observation that writers solve their problems by writing. So if you’re stuck, don’t push away from the computer. Keep writing and you’ll find a way out of your dead end. This has worked for me many times, although sometimes I have to walk the dog first.
What is the biggest challenge a romance writer faces in today’s market? That dreadful word: discoverability. The market is very crowded these days, so you have to work hard to make your books stand out enough to catch a reader’s eye and convince her to buy them.
Do you use a critique group/partner, beta reader(s), your editor and/or agent, or some combination for feedback? I have a fantastic critique group, which I found through New Jersey Romance Writers. Four of us meet once a month to go over the pages we’ve submitted to each other. Once my critique group has examined my chapters under its collective microscope, I am quite confident they are ready for primetime.
What methods of promotion have been the most successful for you? In which week? Seriously, what works in marketing changes so fast these days that it’s hard to keep up. The one thing I constantly work on is building my list of reader emails because direct email is the single most effective element of my marketing strategy.
I collect those email addresses every way I can think of: I give away a free novella, run a contest, have an old-school paper sign-up sheet at book-signings, run Facebook ads, have a sign-up link in my email signature line, put a pop-up on my website (despite my webmaster’s objections)… whatever method I can use to entice a reader to join my mailing list. The dynamic Marie Force makes no bones about the importance of this; she is willing to beg her readers to sign up.
What does your writing day look like? Do you have a certain time of day you write? How many days a week? A certain word goal per day? I write in the afternoon and evening because I need to get “real life” out of the way first, so I can concentrate fully on the work. I usually write at least six days a week because it keeps my head in the book. I try to hit 1,000 words a day but it doesn’t always happen. Of course, as my deadline approaches that word count often has to increase significantly.
Do you edit as you go or purge and go through after? Do you write multiple drafts or edit as you go, barely needing revisions when typing, The End? Honestly, it depends on the book. Some require more wrestling than others. However, I generally write a fairly clean first draft because I sweat over the sentences before I write them down the first time. I’m a pantser, so I start at the beginning and write through to the end.
After I hit “The End”, I try to let the manuscript sit for a week before I do what I call a “speed read-through”. I print the whole book out and read from start to finish in two days, marking things, large and small, that bother me but not stopping to fix them. Then begins the laborious work of revising all the problem passages I’ve marked.
What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you start at page 1 and write your book sequentially or do you skip around? Do you start with your characters or the plot? I tried outlining a book once years ago. I started writing it and got bored by chapter three because I knew what was going to happen. Hence, I am firmly in the pantser camp.
I start with the main characters, a sketch of their back stories, and what I believe are their main internal and external conflicts (which often change as I write). I think about all of these things a lot before I write “Chapter 1” and go from there to the end in a straight line…hopefully.
What are you working on this very moment? I just finished Second Time's a Charm and handed it in on August 15th. Oh, the joy! It’s the first full-length novel in my new Second Glances series, which my editor sums up as “billionaires with heart” because the series includes not just sexy, rich men, but cute kids and dogs, as well.
What was your most memorable pitching experience? Pitching terrifies me, so my memory wipes the whole experience out as soon as the pitch is over. Thank goodness editors and agents always handed me their business cards when I pitched to them so I had a written record of their name afterward.
Can you share with us a fan letter, email, or meet and greet experience with a reader that stuck with you? A couple of years ago, I got a Facebook message with a photograph of a somewhat battered original mass market paperback edition of my first novel, A Bridge to Love. Its owner, the wife of a now-retired military officer, wrote to tell me that she had bought it in the PX at a base where her husband was stationed. At the time she had two small children and moved constantly when her husband was re-assigned. She carried A Bridge to Love with her through all their moves and re-read it whenever she felt lonely and stressed, saying my story cheered her and gave her comfort every time. She wanted to thank me for that. When I finished reading her message, tears were streaming down my cheeks. To know that my book could help a young mom through such difficult times made me understand that what we write is truly important.
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as an author? A writing career is a marathon. You have to be in it for the long term; there are no shortcuts. You have to keep producing great books year after year, so eventually you may become an overnight success.
What skill would you like to master? Instantaneous transportation. Wait, is that not a real thing?
What are some small things that make your day better? Hanging out with my goofy golden retriever, Brodie. Seeing my rose bushes bloom. Getting a surprise text from one of my kids. Receiving an enthusiastic email from a reader. Eating a really great dessert.
Who’s your go to band or artist when you can’t decide on something to listen to? Please don’t judge me, but I like pop music. So I enjoy the Backstreet Boys, One Direction, Shawn Mendes, Shania Twain, and Kelly Clarkson. I know, I know… no sophistication at all. To redeem myself, I also like Beethoven.
What TV channel doesn’t exist but really should? An HEA TV channel where there is no graphic violence and no matter what happens during the show, none of your favorite characters die, and everything works out for them in the end. And the acting is spectacular.
What is something that a ton of people are obsessed with but you just don’t get the point of? Game of Thrones. Tried the book, tried the show. Couldn’t get into either. See my comments about graphic violence above.
What is special about the place you grew up? I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other… or knew of each other. There was something very comforting and secure about that. I also loved the fact that I could ride my pony everywhere; he was a lot more fun than a bicycle.
What do you regret not doing or starting when you were younger? I regret not studying abroad. When I was in college, it was not common to do that, so I never experienced the challenges and pleasures of living in a foreign culture for an extended period of time.
Favorite food? Chocolate chip cookies.
Would You Rather:
Would you rather be transported permanently 500 years into the future or 500 years into the past? The future, for sure. I think it smelled bad in the past. Besides I’m curious about what happens.
Would you rather give up bathing for a month or give up the internet for a month? Give up the internet! My morning shower is like other people’s morning cup of coffee. I couldn’t function without it.
Would you rather have an unlimited international first class ticket or never have to pay for food at restaurants? Unlimited international first class ticket! That would make flying almost pleasant.
Would you rather have free Wi-Fi wherever you go or be able to drink unlimited free coffee at any coffee shop? Too easy: I don’t drink coffee (it upsets my stomach), so free Wi-Fi works for me.