Q&A: Writing fun books with Maggie Dallen

Maggie Dallen is the bestselling author of sweet romance in multiple genres, including Young Adult, Regency, and contemporary adult. She will chat about how she writes in multiple genres, how that helped her find her voice, and how she gets her fun book ideas.

Q. How is your Friday shaping up? (Yay Friday!!)

A. So far so good, thanks! It’s been a big writing week for me so I’m very much looking forward to a brain break this weekend!

Q. Goodness. Give me a sec. I looked out the window and what did I see?

A. Whaaat? Are they yours?

Q. . . . cows that do not belong to me!

A. Lol. Oh dear. They don’t look happy.

Q. Luckily they left my yard before they ate my geraniums and are now mosying down the road. I called dispatch. Okay… where was I…?

A. Haha! where do you live?

Q. I live in Utah, in a city about 40 miles west of Salt Lake City. Glad your Friday is going great, ha ha! Tell me about your writing week. What did it look like?

A. Well, I typically only work on two books at a time but this week I have three on my plate, so my head is just spinning right now. LOL I usually try to write around 5K words 5 days a week—that’s the pace I’ve found works best for me while still allowing me to stay on top of marketing and editing, etc. But this week will be more like a 30-35K week when all is said and done.

Q. Three! Whoa. Are they in different genres? (And thanks for making time for me today. I am sure you will be recharged by this–I hope!)

A. Yes, I was looking forward to this break! They are each in different genres: a sweet historical Christmas novella, a sweet small-town contemporary, and a YA romance.

I typically know better than to juggle three at once but my writing calendar got all shifted around so I’m trying to make it work.

Q. That is amazing. Do you have pre-orders due soon or something?

A. Yeah, I’m shifting my calendar around to accommodate editors’ schedules and group projects. After this week I should be back on track!

Q. FYI, I have watched all your videos on the recent Writing Gals conference, and I truly enjoyed them and learned a lot.

A. Oh thanks!

Q. I know if I were to pick your brain it would be like a library of books worth, so I will do my best to dial into specific things.

A. Hahaha, hit me! I love talking about writing and publishing more than anything so I’m here for it.

Q. In your best Cliff notes version, how did you get from point A (where you started writing) to now where you are publishing wildly successfully in multiple genres? That is probably not a fair question.

Tell me about your jobs along the way. I am speaking as a former journalist myself.

A. Cliff Notes, huh? Okay, I’ll try!

Q. Write as long as you want!

A. Let’s see, I finished my first book way back in 2002. (I’d started many but that was the first full-length I actually finished.) Back in 2002 self-pub wasn’t a thing so I went the trad pub route and over the next….oh, 15 years or so, had a whole lot of close calls, heartbreaking misses, and more rejection letters than I could ever count. I never stopped writing, though! In that time I held down a crazy amount of day jobs and freelance gigs to pay the bills, including but not limited to: executive assistant, bartender, freelance editor, proofreader, news editor, journalist, and ghostwriter.

I first dipped my toes in self-pub in 2015 when I also got my first deal with a publisher. In 2016 I discovered two things: 20booksto50K (and some other indie groups) and that I really didn’t like the trad route!

Q. Yes, that’s it. I knew you had been down the writing path. The bartending sounds interesting.

A. When I had my baby at the end of 2018 my husband and I had a major decision to make. Whether I was going back to my day job or stay home. I won’t bore you with all the details there but we eventually decided that I’d stay home for the first two years and try to make a go of the writing career. It was PRESSURE! Not from my husband (he’s so wonderfully supportive) but I put a ton of pressure on myself. In my mind, this was my last chance. (I have a tendency for melodrama!) But in all honesty, I’d been writing steadily for close to 20 years with zero to show for it financially and we now had a mouth to feed and a house to buy and…you know. Adult stuff.

So, yeah….my Cliff Notes version is getting way too long. In 2018 I decided to take everything I’d been learning from these FB groups and put it into action. And…it worked!

Q. Yeah, I hear you on adulting. You are doing great. It’s the Cliff notes chat version. Tell me the top three things that you put into action?

A. Writing to market and rapid releasing were the biggies.

Q. How did you decide what market to write to? And what genre was that? What kinds of books?

A. I didn’t. LOL

When I first started self-pub I was writing EVERYTHING. Seriously. Everything. Like, steamy romcoms and steampunk fantasies and sweet small-town and…it was a mess.

Q. I know someone who did / does that. Speaking for a friend.

A. But I honestly wasn’t sure what to cut out of the mix because writing in multiple genres makes me happy! But, I did realize that I had to focus. To help me decide where to focus, I took my favorite genres and gave them each a fair shot.

Q. I really enjoyed your writing in multiple genres video and why doing so makes you happy. They make me happy too. Which were your faves?

A. The ones that ended up making the cut were sweet YA, sweet adult small-town, and sweet historical. As you can see, I finally found SOME focus, at least. I discovered pretty quickly that I tend to write sweet and that’s where my readers were. I’m so glad I didn’t just pick the one where I had the most books out because I never would have found the great niche I’ve discovered in the sweet YA (Young Adult) world.

Q. Tell me what kind of learning curve you did for YA. Because it seems intimidating though all of us were youth at one time.

You know, with YA, I feel like I had just some really good luck. I happened to hit it out of the park with one of my first attempts at YA contemporary romance and a lot of that was luck. It was one of those great moments where I hit upon a good trope, good cover, and a good premise in a hungry market. That success definitely included a lot of luck and good timing. The part that I feel like I can take credit for is how I leapt on that luck! I ended up turning that one successful book into a successful six-book series and used the momentum from a lucky break to really establish myself with the YA crowd.

Q. Nice! Which book was that?

A. Out of His League.

Q. * Looking it up right now * Whoa. I am scrolling for miles (you have a lot of books!) and I still can’t find it…

A. That was one of my earliest self-pub books, my second YA.

Q. Found it. Briarwood High series, correct?

A. Ha ha yes!

Q. So how did you come up with the concept for this book?

A. This cover was a premade cover by Shari Ryan and I took one look at it and was inspired to write a book about a tomboy who tries to start over as a girlie girl. This was the first (but definitely NOT the last) time I wrote a book based on a cover.

Q. Yes! I totally can relate. Sometimes it is much easier to write to a cover than vice versa.

Q. How many words was it more or less? On average how long are your YA books?

A. My YA books are 45-55K on average. I have a series of novellas releasing right now which are around 30K.

Q. Was it semi-autobiographical? You seem to write a lot of sports romances.

A. NO! Not at all. I love sports romances but was never into sports, which is sometimes (embarrassingly) glaringly obvious to readers. Ha!

Q. Seriously? That is surprising. I have noticed your Regency romances recently since I am jumping into the genre myself. Lovely and FUN covers. They have a YA vibe. I mean, one of your series is about a finishing school, right?

A. Yes! I’m working on the last book of that series right now. With writing in multiple genres, I’ve tried to find this balance between my brand and being to market. By that I mean, I want people to see my books and know they’re written by me…but also be very clear what genre they’re picking up. Yes, I try to keep a lighthearted, fluffy, romcom vibe across the board!

Q. I read a sample of one of your Regencies, and I definitely get the rom-com vibe. I mean, the cover and title set it up for it. Was that a conscious decision on your part?

A. Yes! You nailed it with that question.

Q. I definitely think it fits your brand. Everything about you, how you convey yourself on a webinar, your covers, etc. Good job!

A. Thanks! I joke with my friends that my tagline should read: You will never cry reading my books.

Q. LOL How did you research your Regencies? How did you segue from your contemporary stuff to Regency? Because again, that’s a hard mental block to overcome. At least it was for me. PS Of course, it may have been helpful you were already doing steampunk.

A. Yeah, funny story about that. That steampunk book actually started off as my first attempt at regency romance. I got so overwhelmed with fears about historical accuracy that on page three I added an airship and declared it steampunk. THAT was how scared I used to be of messing up historical accuracy.

Q. I just laughed out loud. I totally understand that fear. Hey, I think an airship makes steampunk. No quarrel with me there.

A. Yeah, once I realized that with steampunk I could create my own rules, I was into it! I was like “how would she have received word so quickly?” An AIRSHIP! Done and done. That’s the beauty of fantastical worlds.

Q. No kidding! That is great. How did you transition to Regency then? You make me think Regency is gowns without the airships.

A. Hahaha! I was reading historical romances more than any other for many years, and finally I took the plunge. (After the steampunk endeavor.) I tried again, and this time I did all the research. And then I tried again. The first one I actually published was maybe the fourth novella I’d written in that genre.

Q. How do you write in multiple genres where the language might be somewhat or starkly different? Like contemporary to Regency in the same week?

A. It took me a while to get a handle on historical. Not just the historical accuracy, but my voice. I’m still working on that. My first series that I published…it feels so slow and clunky to me when I go back and read it now.

Q. Yeah, that makes sense. I am sure you get more confident of your voice as you keep writing in that genre.

A. I’m working to try and take what makes my contemporaries fun and lighthearted and try and translate that into my historical voice. I think I am making progress but the key, for me, is to just keep writing.

A. I feel like progress in writing isn’t as linear as any of us would like. There are going to be leaps forward and then steps back, right?

Q. Yup! I need to know why you are so funny. There’s prob a funny story behind that.

A. You think I’m funny??

Q. It’s your delivery.

A. Ha! Oh, that’s good to know.

Q. I will just have to refer everyone to the Writing Gals Conference to hear more of your brilliant advice because we are out of time (I was going to say sadly but it doesn’t fit your brand, ha ha).

So I will wrap up with a question that goes back to how I first heard of you. You used to make book trailers. And they were brilliant. Watching three-second trailers made me want to write all your sweet book ideas. How do you come up with yours?

A.Oh thanks! I hope to get back to the video ads. It got put on hold thanks to COVID but that’s my favorite pastime. As for how I get my ideas…I have no idea. LOL. Honestly, I’m a little afraid to overthink it in case I mess with whatever magic brings about new ideas! Some books have come about because of premade book covers, others started with an opening line and then took on a life of its own from there. (I can tell you the first line, actually: “It was a butt dialing disaster of epic proportions.”) Some come about as I’m writing (my secondary characters are LOUD and they demand stories.)  The other day I was watching The Wizard of Oz with my son and had to pull out a notepad and jot down notes because the wicked witch gave me an idea… So yeah, they come from all over!

Q. That is awesome, like you. I wish we had more time. I will have to do another Q&A with you someday between deadlines (ha ha), just focusing on another genre. Thanks so much Maggie for your time. Good luck with all the words this week; you will rock them I am sure.

A. Thanks so much for chatting…that was fun.

Check out Maggie Dallen’s Amazon page.

Subscribe to my newsletter for Q&A alerts, writing tips and publishing news. Learn how to write & publish fast for profit in my Rapid Release publishing series.