Q&A: Breaking into Harlequin with Danica Favorite

Danica Favorite is a hybrid author—traditionally published with Harlequin’s Love Inspired and also an indie author of historical novels. She will chat about how she got started writing for Harlequin, the top three social media/marketing must-dos for authors, and what points she includes in drafting her romance novels.

Q. I have been reading some of your blog posts, and I have been enjoying them.

A. Thanks! I’m kind of embarrassed since my blog is so old.

Q. How long have you been blogging for?

A. Years! I’m not sure how many. I’m not good about it these days, so I’m glad to see people still look at it. I guess that’s motivation to update it.

Q. I hear you. I probably should have put together a list of questions. I would read your blog and nod to myself, yeah, I should ask her about that…and that… First of all, can you tell me why there is a rooster in your profile?

A. Well, actually, it’s not a rooster. It’s a hen. Her name is Nyssa, and she’s the last remaining of our original flock when we started with backyard chickens. I put it as a joke a while back, because I was starting to get a reputation as the crazy chicken lady. Now, I refuse to change it, because I weirdly think it’s protecting her.

Q. Hen…good to know. How long have you been a published author and how many books do you have out?

A. My first book with Love Inspired Historical came out in November 2014, and my 10th with Harlequin came out in July. I’ve also got 9 indie books out, so 19!

Q. That is awesome. I read your account of how you got your first book in Love Inspired Historical, but for the sake of our readers, can you tell me how?

A. I was trying to sell to Love Inspired, and I just couldn’t quite get it right. My agent knew I loved reading historicals, so he dared me to write one. I didn’t want to turn something I loved into work, but to get him to shut up, I wrote one. I told him that if it didn’t sell, he could never bring it up again. But if it sold, well, that was okay, right?

I did eight books for them, before the line closed, and now I AM writing for Love Inspired, so it all worked out.

Q. Funny dare. Tell me about that first book. When and where is it set, and how did you come up with the storyline?

A. It’s set in Leadville, CO during the silver mining boom in the 1880’s. My husband’s family settled in Leadville when they came to America in the 1890’s, so I’ve spent a lot of time there, immersed in the history. I know it well, so it was an easy setting that I also love. I like to read old newspapers, and in one of the newspapers, there was an ad for a debate between two preachers about whether or not miners could be saved. Back then, some people believed that certain classes of people were beyond salvation, and miners were in that class. So, I wanted to write a book about a ministry that believed everyone was worthy of salvation.

Q. That is great. I have never been to Leadville, CO, though I lived in CO for several years. Now I want to visit it. So you started with historical and made the switch to contemporary with Love Inspired? How did that transition go?

A. Yes. For me the transition was easy, because contemporary is where I’d started writing, and I’d done a few contemporaries in indie. I’d also been working with the same editor for several books, so I knew what points I needed to hit with my writing.

Q. Walk us through your drafting process. What points do you need to hit in a romance?

A. Since I sell on proposal now, I have things pretty well fleshed out before I start writing. I might write a chapter or two to get a feel for the story, but I always have a detailed synopsis before I get too far along. That doesn’t mean I stick to it precisely, but it’s a good road map for me.

I usually start with the idea of what the main story is. For example, my July book, The Cowboy’s Faith, is about a horse trainer with a past who is looking to redeem himself in the eyes of a woman he’d hurt. She desperately needs a horse trainer, and he’s the only guy who can do it.

From there, I figure out what their conflicts are. What makes them tick. Who they are as people. I try to have the internal conflict, external conflict, and romantic conflict pretty well fleshed out, because when you have those things, everything else can move organically through the story.

Q. You listed romantic conflict as a separate thing. I always thought it was the same as internal conflict. Can you explain why it’s a separate thing on its own?

A. I think this is the biggest mistake romance writers (and I!) make. It’s still 90% of why I will get edits on a book. Basically, the romantic conflict boils down to why they cannot have a romantic relationship. Sometimes it’s similar to the internal conflict, but a lot of times, the internal conflict is only something that points to the romantic conflict. I’ve found that when I do not separate them very clearly, I’ll get edits on it.

For example, my heroine in The Cowboy’s Faith, Nicole. Her internal conflict is that she struggles to trust in general after her fiance left her at the altar for her best friend. The romantic conflict is that she can’t trust Fernando, the hero, because 1. He helped cover up the affair (past baggage), 2. He’s being secretive about some things, and she has reason to believe he’s lying now.

So, internally, she’s dealing with trust issues, but those are issues she has in general and with everyone she meets. Romantically, to work, you have to make it specific to the other person.

Trying to think of an example where it’s not as linked, but I can’t right off the bat. It’s not as linked in the current story I’m writing, but I don’t want to share too much about that yet.

And, going back to Nicole, she still has to deal with her trust issues in general as part of her growth arc in the story. It isn’t enough that she can get past her issues with Fernando, but she has to learn to trust others as well.

(Read additional advice from Danica about how to add conflict to your romance novel.)

Q. Perfect! I was about to ask you for an example, but you read my mind! When your proposal is accepted, how long does it take you to draft your novel? And how many words do each usually run? How long of a process does it take from submitting a proposal to a published book?

A. The answer to that question is that it varies.

Q. Fair enough. How about The Cowboy’s Faith?

A. It totally depends on where your editor is at in her schedule and the publisher’s schedule. So, I just submitted a proposal in May, sold it in July, and book one is due Sept 1. That book will likely be out in July. However, I submitted another proposal about two weeks after on a different project (a little more complicated, admittedly), and that editor has not read it yet.

Q. Harlequin is a big name in romance publishing. Very competitive to break in. What do you think makes them sit up and take notice of an author? What in your background or preparation do you think led you to be published with them?

A. I think if you have a compelling story that fits one of their lines, it’s a lot easier to break in. They want a story that’s going to grab them, but it also has to be something that they can sell. For me, I read a lot of the lines, and I know Love Inspired really well. I joke with my friends that I can almost always tell if a book will sell to them because I read so much of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have that power with my own.

Q. You handle social media for authors at Harlequin, correct? What do you think are the top three things authors can do to improve their media/marketing presence?

A. Yes! Top three:

1.Have a good online presence. I can’t promote an author I can’t find online, and if their info is outdated, it doesn’t give readers the chance to find them.

2. Even if it’s not perfect, do something. I joked at the beginning of the interview that my blog was outdated, and I’m kind of embarrassed about that. I don’t have time to keep it up the way I’d like, and I hope someday I can. But at least it’s something for people to get to know me. I do keep other things up to date, so if people manage to get to my blog, they’ve seen the important parts.

3. Don’t make it all about you and your books. Authors who are nothing but “buy my book” don’t attract readers. Use your media/marketing presence to build a relationship with your readers and share things that are interesting. At most, you should only share 25% about your books.

Q. Yes, that all makes sense! What is your take on traditional vs. indie publishing, as you have observed in the past five years? What are the pros and cons for each?

A. I think there have been a lot of changes over the past five years. There’s this idea going around the author world that says you can make a lot of money doing indie, so people rush into it with dollar signs in their eyes, not understanding the work that it takes. So, you get a lot of beginning writers who think they know how to write a book putting books out there and they haven’t taken the time to learn the fundamentals. They think the awesome book they wrote that got rejected by traditional publishers deserves to be published, so they go indie, and maybe it’s not such a great book. But they haven’t learned enough about writing to learn that.

And that’s not to say that books rejected by traditional publishers aren’t good. I know a lot of indies whose books were rejected, and those books are phenomenal. So, it’s a tough call. But I do think too many people rush into indie when they really should be learning how to write better. I’m actually relieved my first efforts aren’t out there, because they’re pretty bad.

Pros of indie: you can publish whatever you want, whenever you want, and you have total control over all of the pieces of publishing. There’s not the same wait time as with traditional publishing.

Cons: You do have to do it all yourself, including paying for cover, editing, etc. And, because you can put out whatever you want, it doesn’t mean you should.

For traditional: The pros are that you’ve got someone doing a lot of those pieces with you. They do the cover, editing, formatting, etc. You also typically get an advance. You do not have to pay out of pocket for anything.

The cons of traditional are that you don’t have control over some of it, like your cover. You get input, but your publisher decides. So if you don’t like your cover, that’s too bad. And there’s a wait. Like I said, my book is due Sept 1, but it won’t be on shelves probably until July 2020. And you have to wait for your editor to approve things. It’s not a fast process.

Q. How do you decide which indie projects you want to take on?

A.Originally, it was projects I loved and was passionate about. The next couple books I’m working on are ones I feel like I owe to my readers so they aren’t left hanging. After that, I’m not sure what I’m going to do, to be honest. I have a couple of passion projects I want to do, but my agent is hoping for another proposal, which is also a passion project. So we’ll see. At this point, I really just want to write about the things I’m excited about.

Q. I love your last name. Is “Favorite” your real name?

A. Yes it is. Says so on my birth certificate. I am legally entitled to be everyone’s favorite author.

Q. Ha ha ha! I’m going to end on an upbeat note…specifically the #upbeatauthor movement you mentioned on your blog. What is that about and why are you excited about it?

A. It’s something a friend put together a couple years ago in response to all the negativity out there, especially on social media. It’s really about sharing positive messages out there and encouraging one another. Our world desperately needs some light and positivity, and I love doing my part to contribute to that.

Read additional advice from Danica about how to add conflict to your romance novel. Find Danica Favorite on Amazon or on her blog/website.

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