Publishing has changed a lot in the past twenty years, and those who are willing to adapt are continuing to succeed and thrive in the new market. Jo Ann Brown has made some changes over the years, so she’s enjoyed a long, successful publishing career. Here’s how she does it:
Thank you for being here! Let’s start with what you write and how you picked your genre.
I write Amish inspirational romances. I’d been writing other types of inspirational fiction for several years, including cozy mysteries, when an editor asked me to do a story with Amish characters. Because I have lived (and now again live) near the Amish, I was excited to try. That was several years ago, and now I write exclusively Amish books for Harlequin Love Inspired and Annie’s. My next book will be the launch book for the new Love Inspired Trade line, and it will be an Amish inspirational romance.
If you’ve written multiple books, which was harder: the first book or the following books? Why?
The first book was the easiest to write and the toughest to sell. I came into the project with unbridled enthusiasm and incredible naivety. I didn’t know the “rules” so I could break them. POV, what was that? Or maybe it’s because I typed it on a standard typewriter (all 500 +pages). Seriously, when I move from one genre to another, I find it so much easier to write the first book in the new genre because all my ideas are new and there wouldn’t be any chance I’ve used them before. I’ve been known to spend hours looking through past files to see if I’ve used a phrase or a plot twist before. I didn’t have to do that with the first book. Also I’m not much more conscious of how story structure and other writing skills work, and I use them to enhance my book.
What conference do you most want to attend? Why?
Any in-person conference at this point! I love the energy that comes from being in close proximity with other writers. The shutdown hasn’t been that bad for me because I’m accustomed to working by myself. Yet, I need those times when I can be with other authors to talk business, to talk ideas, to talk life. Zoom just isn’t the same!
I hear you! I can’t wait to meet in person again.
What’s your writing day like?
I’m a night owl. I start my day (around 10 am) with writing that doesn’t have anything to do with the work-in-progress. I answer emails, check Facebook and do any other tasks. After lunch, I go to work on my current manuscript. I work for about four hours, then take a break for supper and spending the evening with my husband. I go back to work after the late news, which is my best writing time because nobody interrupts.
How do you combat writer’s block?
When I get blocked on what comes next (usually a comeback to a comment the hero or heroine have made), I just move on to another part of the book. I’ve got a structure for the book in mind, so I go to the next spot where I know what’s going to happen. I’ll always jump ahead or back when inspiration hits and I see a better way to do a scene. This way, I’m always writing a scene that I want to work on instead of slogging through one that I’m not interested in at the moment.
If you have an agent, how did you find/pick your agent? What tips do you have for others looking for an agent?
I’m currently working with my fourth agent. I’ve been with her for almost twenty years. For my first agent, in 1985, I selected six agents from a list in a guide by Writer’s Digest, three from the beginning of the list, three from the end. Fortunately one was interested in my work, and he did go on to sell my first six books. But that’s not the right way to find an agent. With my current agent, I got to know her through workshops and through conversations at writers’ conferences before I thought about changing agents. I like her market savvy and her sense of humor that fit with mine. I also liked her no-nonsense point of view on what makes a manuscript marketable. When the time came to change agents, I contacted her. We had a long conversation about what I wanted to do and what she could do for me before I hired her.
The most important tip I can give to anyone looking for an agent is to make sure the agent has read your material before offering representation. This has happened to me and other writers. I insisted the agent read my published work and the proposals I had to market before I’d talk with him. He did, and I hired him. On the other hand, I know authors who’ve signed the agency contract without pushing for that, especially when they have an offer on the table. When things hit a bump (as they inevitably do in this business), the agent stopped returning the author’s calls. The agent had gotten the 15% commission from a quick sale, which was all the agent was interested in. You want an agent as invested in your career, both short-term and long-term, as you are. Don’t settle. A bad agent is worse than no agent.
If you’re self-published, why did you decide to go that route? If you’re traditionally published, why did you decide to go that route?
Deciding to become traditionally published wasn’t a real choice. I sold my first book in 1987 when that was the only route (other than vanity presses) to publication. As I’ve gotten the rights back on my earlier books, I’ve placed them with other publishers rather than publishing them myself. There is a whole, huge learning curve to self-publishing, and it involves a lot of self-marketing. I learned a long time ago that my talents were writing books, not promoting them, so staying with traditional publication has been the best choice for me.
How do you self-edit your manuscript?
The most vital aspect of self-editing is being able to see it in a different way, a true “re-vision.” I don’t begin editing until I’ve finished a first draft. I print out a copy of the ms, so I can see it differently than I do on the screen, and get out my red pen. As I overwrite, it’s cut and burn time. Every book, I have a word that I use over and over, so I’ve got to look out for that. Fortunately, it becomes quickly obvious. Less obvious things like pacing and POV need to be checked as well. If I start getting bored with a scene, I know readers will, too. Then I look to punch up the emotion wherever I can.
Publishers Weekly best-selling author Jo Ann Brown has created characters and stories for as long as she can remember. After college, serving as an US Army quartermaster officer, getting married, and increasing her blessings with three children, she sold her first book in 1987. Since then, she has sold over 100 titles. Romantic Times called her “a truly talented author.” She loves teaching and established the romance writing course at Brown University. She lives in Pennsylvania Dutch country with her husband of over forty years. Find out more about Jo Ann and her books at: