Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An interview with New York Times bestselling author Jo Beverley

To celebrate this special day we have New York Times bestselling author, Jo Beverley with us today. Jo wrote her first romance at sixteen in installments in an exercise book, then went on to study history and American studies at Keele University. She later emigrated to Canada with her husband and when her professional qualifications proved not to be suitable for the Canadian job market, she instinctively turned to her passion for writing, and for history. 

And we are so glad that you did, Jo. You write wonderfully exciting historical romances and have enjoyed a very successful career, can you tell us how it all began and how you got your first break? 

I think a writer’s career begins when she first writes a story, and for me that was very young, but I sold my first novel in 1988. Gosh, it’s hard to believe it’s nearly 25 years! I didn’t burst onto the scene in glory because I sold to Walker Books in New York, which does short print runs for libraries, but the book received a rave review in Romantic Times that said, ‘The sky’s the limit for this extraordinary talent.” I’d really only been focused on the wonder of selling a book, but those words opened a vision of the future. I suppose I felt I should try to live up to them. My career began to take off when I switched to historical romance, which has a much bigger readership in North America, where most of my books were, and still are, sold. The sky really is the limit there. My last six books have been on the in-print bestseller list in the New York Times as well as other lists.

What a wonderfully inspiring story, so what would you say was the secret of your success? 

It’s a mystery. No one controls these things. Someone said that publishing isn’t a business, it’s a casino, and there’s so much truth in that. Luck plays a huge part. Publishers can put all their resources behind an author and it fizzles. Another author comes from nowhere to be a star. I have always written what I want to write, but I’ve been fortunate that what I have wanted to write has mostly been Regency and Georgian historical romance, which many readers enjoy. For example, I was itching to move out of the regency genre into historicals just when that market exploded. In fact, I’d sold three Regencies which were really historicals, but there hadn’t been the niche for them at the time. However, talent, craft, hard work, and keeping informed really do help.

You clearly enjoy writing sequels or series. What is the special appeal for you?

It was an instinct from the start and I love it, because each book makes the world richer in characters and other details. I have the Regency Rogues one and the Georgian one built around the Malloren family. Even my four medieval romances are linked, as are the six traditional Regencies I wrote first. I call the Rogues and Malloren series “worlds” because I’ve moved beyond the original characters.

For example my 2011 novel, AN UNLIKELY COUNTESS, was about new characters and set in Yorkshire, so the Malloren family only played a small part. My February 2012 book, A Scandalous Countess, spins off a minor character in the previous book, but involves a few Malloren characters because it takes place in London. Linked books enable me to keep in touch with characters from earlier books, which my readers enjoy, but I don’t have them all parade through without reason. This means I do get complaints, or at least questions about how characters are doing.

There’s a downside to all this. Keeping track of the details in a series that is written over twenty years isn’t easy, especially when I didn’t realize the longevity when I started. It’s often the little details that are most elusive, such as that dotty aunt who had a short scene in a book ten years ago. But which book? For this reason I’m now gathering details of my Malloren World in a wiki, and trying to note everything. I’ll fail, of course, but I try. If anyone wants a look, it’s here. http://mallorenworld.wikispaces.com/ 

Do you think the media is less dismissive of romance than it once was, or is this a cross we will always have to bear?

I’m not sure how much it’s changed, but it is getting better and will continue to do so. It’s so nonsensical to dismiss books simply because of their story line, and intelligent people will realize that. I think we might be at a turning point now, because in hard economic times people turn to pleasurable entertainment, and especially to guaranteed happy endings. I think it’s important for authors to set the standard by being proud of reading or writing romance novels in a commonplace way. By that I mean romance novels can be the equal of any type of fiction. Of course they’re a part of literature. Of course I’m writing the very best novels I can. Of course they’re real books, and good books. Why ever would anyone question such things?

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer wishing to break into the regency or Georgian market? 

Read as many recently published books as you can, mostly bestsellers, because there’s always a reason a book is a bestseller, even if it isn’t exactly to your taste. Try to see what makes the books popular. Decide whether you want to sell to the UK or US market, because they are different. In particular, the US reader loves to be taken into an aristocratic experience, and explicit sex scenes are nearly always essential. Remember that the romance reader is primarily seeking entertainment. Though a book is enriched by your knowledge of history, she’s not reading for a history lesson but for a powerful, emotional story of love overcoming great odds. Save the details for an author’s note at the end. Many readers are also interested in history and will appreciate your research there.

You have an impressive list of titles so are clearly a busy lady, if you could clone yourself, what job would you hand over? 

I’m coming at this from another angle. I find I need variety for my health and creativity. Over time I’ve shed many jobs and duties, but in some cases I’ve been the worse for it, so I’ve put jobs and hobbies back in.

Since you must spend hours at your desk, do you have an exercise routine to help you avoid writers’ back, and does it work?

Not an exercise, but a chair. The Herman Miller Aeron chair truly is wonderful. Expensive, but worth every pound.

I know you are painstaking over research, but have you ever made an unfortunate error in one of your books and got away with it? 

I’ve made errors, though none too horrendous. Some have been caught by readers and others not. Despite doing lots of research, I never assume I’ll be perfect, so I always accept corrections with true appreciation, especially those that educate me. I won’t make that mistake again.

All writers love chocolate, does it help you in your writing? 

Ah, chocolate. I was never much of a chocolate eater until I found really dark chocolate. I like Lindt 90% chocolate, and at that intensity it’s more for the chemicals than any sweetness. I’m sure it keeps my brain working.

And lastly, since this is Valentine’s Day, what would represent a most romantic gesture to you? 

Always the truly thoughtful action or gift rather than the conventional. Not every woman wants chocolate or roses.

It has been fascinating talking with you, Jo, thank you so much for sharing some of your secrets with us. We wish you continuing success and hope to have you back on the RNA Blog at some point in the future. 
Best wishes, Freda

If you wish to know about Jo’s books you can find her here: 

Or watch this delightful video of Jo talking about her latest book.

Interviews on the RNA Blog are for RNA members, although we do occasionally take guests. If you are interested in an interview, please contact me: freda@fredalightfoot.co.uk


Joanna Cannon said...

What a fascinating interview. I love the idea of a wiki page, I'd never really considered how difficult it must be to keep track of a long series!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

An inspiring and interesting interview, thank you.

Jo Beverley said...

Thanks, Joanna. The wiki is very useful.

Thanks, Rosemary. Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks to Freda, of course!


Liz Fielding said...

Wonderful to hear from you, Jo. Truly interesting.

Grettelab said...

Hola desde Costa Rica! Eres una excelente novelista. Gracias por compartir tu talento.
(Greetings from Costa Rica! You are an amazing writer. Thanks for sharing your talent.)

Jo Beverley said...

Grettalab, thank you! Nice to think of you in sunny Costa Rica when it's chilly and gray here.


Susan Bergen said...

The wiki looks very interesting and great fun. Thank you for sharing, Jo.