Quality over quantity… a delicate balance

As I research what makes a successful writer, I continually come across the advice that quantity is the key. “Still not done with the first book? Start the second and meanwhile, market, market, market!! Oh, and don’t forget to read other authors, and don’t forget to network. And that whole family you have, screaming for your attention, just ignore them. They are not important!” That last part was hidden in code, but I heard it loud and clear.

While juggling all these balls in the air, it’s a wonder that I haven’t passed out from concussion based on how many fell on my head. How am I supposed to produce quality work if I’m multi-tasking?

Now, I know there are some of us who struggle with perfectionism. Perfectionism, experts say, is just an extension of insecurity and anxiety. If our work is not perfect, then it won’t be loved, right? Yet love, true love, is appreciating something despite its imperfections, be it man, woman, or writing.

A wonderful fan recently sent me a list of typos that she had found on my second book. There weren’t that many, about four, but I was mortified that they existed. I was certain I had hired the right people for editing. I even read my entire book backwards (yes, backwards) in order to find any extra errors. It apparently forces an editor to scrutinize the sentence and not get too caught up in the story. Maybe I should be flattered the original editors missed some of these typos. They must have just been too engrossed in my story. Here’s to positive spins!

Still, this very special fan went out of her way to help and she still continues to support my writing with kind and encouraging messages. For her, the book was still good even though it wasn’t perfect.

Of course, I went back and corrected every mistake and thanked her profusely for her help. Maybe she should be my new editor?

However, if I spent more time editing and looking for tiny mistakes, it would have slowed publication. Could I have lost her and other fans simply because I didn’t produce books fast enough?

Is it better to just put the novels out there and correct them later?

Of course, everything is a delicate balance. A handful of typos shouldn’t hinder the pace of a story. For those of us who don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on top quality editors, you just have to grit your teeth, pour yourself an extra cup of black coffee and be prepared to read how your characters get to “unknow” each other. It’s the driest, most painful process ever. But I’m willing to go the extra mile. Because, honestly, I don’t want to frustrate my readers. I care about their experience delving into my world and I want that experience to be incredible.

You see, I’m one of those “re-readers.” When I find a book I truly love, I can easily read it ten times. As I grow (and yes, even though I’m well in my thirties, I never stop growing), I love rereading the books I enjoyed as a teenager or as a twenty-something and noticing little details that were overlooked the first time around. How honored I would be if any of my books made it to someone’s “re-read” list!

So I guess, in the end, the question is one of definition. What makes a “successful” writer?

Usually, the metric is wealth. Everybody hopes to achieve a certain level of financial reward for all his or her hard work, but it’s still too early to gauge at the moment. A common saying among writers is that becoming a successful author is a marathon, not a sprint. If one perseveres long enough and continues to work on their craft, success if more likely. Oh, and let’s not forget the many talented writers who became famous post-mortem! Not anyone’s ideal, I’m sure, but late is better than never! I just hope my daughter won’t spend it all on My Little Pony dolls.

However, when I think of the real reason I love writing, I come to a warm realization. I have a fan, at least one, who loves my work, and told me that she plans to reread two of my books before the third book is out so that she could refresh her memory. She loved them despite their imperfections.

As far as I’m concerned, I am already a “successful” writer.

So without any more procrastination, pour me another cup, no sugar today, I don’t have time to run it off. Let’s put the “labor” into this “labor of love.”

Book three, last sentence, “The End.”

Looking good!

Jendela, why the pseudonym? What are you hiding?

“Jendela Tryst, why the pseudonym? Are you ashamed of your work?”

Ouch! Nothing feels more like a kick in the gut than someone thinking that you’re ashamed of your own work. But I have gotten this comment from close friends who claim they love me. What is it about love that makes someone think you are impervious to hurt?

No, people, I am not ashamed of my work. I simply feel more creative freedom in the guise of anonymity. That is what my response usually is, well-crafted, well-thought-out, and about as fiction as my stories.

So… if you catch me at a truly honest moment, sometime between that second and third glass of wine when I am incredibly uninhibited but at the same time, suspiciously lucid (I am a light-weight, two glasses will do it), I may reply this: Yes, I am a little ashamed of my work.

I’m ashamed because I’m a strong, educated, and at times, bitingly sarcastic woman who loves to debate the vices of the International Monetary Fund as well as whether Girls is a step back for feminists. I’m ashamed because I put all my strengths upfront for everyone to see but none of my “weaknesses,” like being a die-hard romantic.

Which, of course, is not a weakness. In trying to hide this absolute fact about myself, I present a true actual weakness: a fear of revealing the real me. Jendela Tryst, in many ways, is more authentic than my actual persona. She represents the sweetest, most human side of me. Her subject is always about love, her philosophy simple, with a steady core of optimism. Love is all that matters for Jendela.

My actual name, which, by the way, is very long and hard to pronounce, is one I am less proud of simply because she shies away from admitting certain truths. I do, in fact, love love. I get excited when I read, watch, and listen to stories about people finding one another. I get tingles when I read about that first, long overdue kiss!

Even as I roll my eyes, my heart sings! I absolutely love romance.

In writing these books and in telling everyone I know about these books, the real me is starting to overcome the scared me. I am proud to contribute to the promotion of romance, hope, and love. I am doing something that I’ve always been too afraid to do.

However, the intellectual me (and my core group of friends) does like to poke holes at my philosophy and ask the Big Questions. Am I hurting feminism? Is romance itself, a step backward? Does it breed co-dependency? These are great questions, ones I love discussing.

For me, the answer is “no.” At least, not my books. I, and a lot of wonderful romance authors out there, make sure that our heroines are strong and extremely self-sufficient. Love does not have to mean weakness or a loss of independence. A healthy relationship helps a person become what they’ve always wanted and were meant to be.

At least, that’s the message that I hope comes across between the pages.

However, some relationships are not so healthy, even the ones that seem to start out like textbook romance. Some novels push the envelope of decency and at times, really do make us ask, what is the purpose here? Is our heroine truly this insipid? Such novels may hurt the genre of romance and make people like me cringe at being associated with it. There was one best-selling series in particular where the male protagonist clearly sexually assaulted the heroine. Is my name to be sullied?

Unfortunately, bad romance novelists will continue to muddy the waters for the good ones because really, “good” and “bad” is all subjective. We read what we need to at the moment, not always to make us better people, but to pass the day. No need to be judgmental. In this modern day, however, we have an endless buffet of reading choices and a limited number of “genres” available to label the cuisine.

How others perceive me, however, should not effect how I see myself. I, and many authors of my genre, are doing a wonderful thing: providing entertainment, excitement, and hopefully, a little bit of self-reflection. There is so much wisdom to be had between the pages of romance fiction, if only more people would give them a chance!

I, for one, am extremely proud to be adding my name to the list of amazing authors who rejuvenated my faith in love and allowed me to embrace the warmest side of myself. Love is a worthy subject, and romance is far from dead. I, and many others, will make sure of that.

So, next time, anyone asks me why I have a pseudonym, I will simply reply this, “My name is so hard to pronounce, you probably can’t even say it three times fast without stuttering. But Jendela really is the best side of me. I hope I can introduce you some day.”

Romance Novelist and Love Expert… apparently

What is it about becoming a romance novelist that makes everyone want to come to you for advice? I’m not complaining, I just find it one of the fascinating perks about being a novelist. There have always been a certain gravitas to authors. Visions of brooding philosophers come to mind, looking out of their window at stormy beaches, pondering the Big Question(s).

Do I ponder? Well, certainly I love to delve into the dark and twisted realms of questions that need never be answered, but really, when I look out my window, all I see are screaming kids in a suburban neighborhood with homes too close together, and neighbors who enjoy tolerant, cordial, but thoroughly disengaged relationships. I’d love to open the window and breathe in that fresh, almost-autumn air, but honestly, my neighbor’s grill smoke seems to be aimed straight at me. My flower garden that held such promise in the early spring, with visions of spilling petunias and noble lavender, is a dried up and neglected compost pile. What is it about Summer that makes Spring dreams seem over-ambitious and pointless?

Well, autumn is here and I’m ready for a new start, in this case, putting the final touches on my series about Eros and Psyche entitled, Origin of Love. Just say the word “romance novel” to anyone and mostly you get one of two reactions: a blush, or a leer. But sometimes, just sometimes, you meet a kindred. Someone who gives you a flash of something in their eyes, a recognition, as if we’re old friends who went to the same kindergarten many years ago. Romance novelist, ah, I am in the presence of someone who gets it.

I love these moments. I have learned, albeit very painfully, to appreciate these rare moments when I meet such people, and they remind me that this is really the reason why I write: to connect with like-minded people. The ones who worry that they are alone. The ones who think that there are no more romantics left in the world. The ones who are embarrassed to admit that they, too, love love.

There are lots of us. I enjoy sharing what I know about my understanding of that ever complicated emotion that makes monsters or heroes out of all of us. So do you want my advice? Sure, I’ll do my best. But really, the best advice is in the pages of the novels we love, between the lines, in the raw emotion we feel when the characters we love do the right or wrong things. We are all protagonists in their story. We are all protagonists in our own story. Let’s make it a good one.