I am extremely pleased and honoured to welcome renowned romance writer, Virginia Henley as my first guest on Share The Wealth Wednesdays. She does indeed have a wealth of experience to share with us.
Tell Us About Yourself, Virginia.
I was born in Bolton, Lancashire, England, and when I turned twelve, my parents and I emigrated to Canada. I married my high school sweetheart, Arthur Henley, and we have two sons, two grandsons, one granddaughter, and one great-granddaughter. We became permanent residents of the United States sixteen years ago, and we live on the Gulf of Mexico in St. Petersburg, Florida.
History is my passion, and as an English school girl, I absorbed a great deal of British history. I didn’t start to write until I was forty years old and my sons were in high school.
How Did You Get Started Writing?
One day around 1978 I read a book by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss that combined history with a sensual love story. I realized immediately that I could do this. My mother had died and my father came to live with us. So I had my husband, two sons, and my father, all watching men’s programs on TV and I knew I had to do something for myself.
I forbade the men to touch my writing on the coffee table, and it took me a whole year to write my first historical romance in long hand, and a month to type it. Then for the next four years I sent out the manuscript to various publishers. They’d keep it for about six months and return it saying they didn’t read unsolicited manuscripts. In the meantime I wrote a second book that I called The Irish Gypsy.
One day I was in a bookstore and I found a historical romance where the author had dedicated her book to her editor, Page Cuddy at Avon Books. So I wrote her a letter, told her a bit about myself and a bit about my book. She said to pop it in the mail and she would read it. She bought the book for $1,500 and it was published in 1982.
I wrote two more for Avon. Then the publisher left, my editor got married and left, and the new people didn’t want my next book.
So I decided to get myself an agent. I had met Jay Acton in New York at a book conference, who represented some big-name authors, and he agreed to take me on. He sold me to Dell Books and it wasn’t long before I started to make the bestseller lists.
I wrote a medieval called The Falcon And The Flower. It was extremely sensual, and to this day I remember word for word the dreadful review it got from Publishers Weekly: “Only a hard core fan of soft core pornography could slog their way through this one.”
I got a terrible case of hives from what they said, but, the book jumped onto the bestseller lists and it won an award from Romantic Times for the Most Sensual Medieval Romance of 1989.
The tenth book I wrote, SEDUCED, made the New York Times Bestseller List and I got up on the roof and shouted it to the world!
I consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of what I call the golden age of publishing. In the 90’s publishers did marvelous things for their successful writers. They flew me to New York to be professionally photographed—hair, makeup, the whole thing. They sent me to all the major cities in the U.S. on book tours, meeting me at the airport with a driver, and putting me up at the best hotels. They held contests for my readers with prizes like a tropical vacation at a Sandals Resort and amazingly, they bought me full-page ads in Cosmopolitan Magazine that cost $60,000. Those were the days!
How many books have you written? Do you have a favorite?
I’ve written 28 full length historical romances, 5 novellas, and one short story.
My favorite would have to be A Woman Of Passion about Bess Hardwick, a real historical woman in the Elizabethan Era. She began as a servant girl with nothing, and by her own willful determination, and four husbands along the way, she became the wealthiest woman in England, after the queen.
I collected research material on Elizabeth Hardwick for many years until I felt competent enough to write her story.
How much time do you spend promoting your books? What works best for you?
I began at Avon, moved on to Dell where I wrote 15 books, then moved to NAL/Signet, and also wrote a few novellas for Kensington. The publisher always gave me a publicist and paid for some advertising. The only thing I did was buy either the cover or a full-page colored ad in Romantic Times Magazine. Over the years I’ve attended the yearly conferences of the RWA Romance Writers of America, and RT Romantic Times. I’ve always believed that the best investment you can make is in yourself.
What was the deciding factor in self-publishing your books?
I belong to a small eloop of authors who are good friends. At one time we all worked for Dell, then moved on to other publishers: Connie Brockway, Marsha Canham, Jacquie D’Alessandro, Sherri Erwin, Jill Gregory, Julia London, and Julie Ortolon.
About three years ago, two of these authors, Julie Ortolon and Marsha Canham, had gotten the rights back to some of their backlist books. They had put them up as ebooks on Amazon, were doing very well, and they urged the rest of us to try it.
At this time all my books were still in print and I couldn’t get the rights back. A year later I managed to get the rights back to two 28-year-old books from Avon. I had them scanned, but it took weeks and weeks to make all the necessary corrections and I decided then and there that in future I would just retype them into documents.
Over the next couple of months I got the rights back to a short story and two novellas. My Canadian friend Marsha Canham checked my formatting and designed some great covers for me.
Then six of us decided to write novella-length stories for a book about an ancient antique mirrored pendant that was passed down through the ages. We published the ebook entitled Masters of Seduction. We agreed that after a year we would take it off sale and each of us would put our own story up separately. My story is set at the end of the Elizabethan reign, and the title is A Rough Wooing. (Taken from the historical period when James the Sixth of Scotland became James the First of England, and tried to force England and Scotland to co-exist in peace.)
The only book I wrote that was never published was a plantation novel set in South Carolina in the Civil War period. There were two reasons why my publisher turned it down. First, they only wanted England, Ireland and Scotland from me, and second, it was about slavery, which was considered politically incorrect.
So I retyped the book and put it up as an ebook on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, and Kobo.
The five books I’ve self-published are by no means bestsellers, but altogether they earn me about a thousand dollars each month.
The only promotion I have done is on my website www.virginiahenley.com and on my Facebook page
What advice do you have for other authors wanting to self-publish?
My advice to other authors is WHATEVER ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Get your books up as quickly as you can. Even my agent admits that authors no longer need a traditional publishing house, an editor, or an agent.
Julie Ortolon does extremely well. She has two 3-book series, as well as single titles, and series books get downloaded far more often than books that are not connected.
Marsha Canham was able to get the rights back to all her swashbuckling masterpieces and they are extremely popular.
It seems to me that the more ebooks you have, the greater your success. Product attracts readers.
What do you have planned for the future?
At the moment I am writing a Regency story that will be the first of a series. I’m a slow writer and it will likely take me all year to complete the 3 novellas, but I’ll put each one up as soon as it is finished.
Can you list some Pros/Cons of self-publishing?
I’ve not found many negative things. You are responsible for everything, making sure it is edited well and properly formatted, with a good title and cover, but the advantages are liberating. You can write whatever you choose, you have no deadline, and there is no waiting a year for a publisher to release your book. You can decide your own price, and of course you earn a far greater percentage of the cover price than a traditional publisher will pay you.
Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am what they call a pantser, not a plotter. Of course I do about six week’s research before I start a book, but then I just sit down and write it, and I do it from start to finish without jumping round. I edit and polish what I wrote yesterday, and do that every day, and when I reach the end, I’m done. I don’t do rough drafts, etc. Because my books are character driven, the easiest part for me is the characters and the dialogue. The hardest part is plotting. This is the reason I take a real historical event and interweave my hero and heroine into the story. I use real history as the bones of my skeleton and hang my story on it.
I give my readers the authentic history and the sex. It’s a one-two punch that satisfied the reader and it has been a successful formula for me. I don’t have critique partners—I simply have to satisfy myself.
Tell us about your next book.
I’ve just turned in my last contracted book to my publisher. LORD RAKEHELL is the fourth and final book of a series I call Peers Of The Realm. These books are about real people in history, starting in the Regency period with THE DECADENT DUKE, THE IRISH DUKE, and THE DARK EARL, which takes us into the Victorian era.
LORD RAKEHELL tells the story of Lord James Hamilton who was Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria’s son, Prince Edward, who married Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The scandalous exploits of these real people of history are far more shocking, and therefore fascinating than anything I could make up.
LORD RAKEHELL will be published in Trade size paper in November 2013.
I would like to thank Anna Markland for this wonderful opportunity to be guest author for her blog. She too is a great lover of history.
Thank you, Virginia for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with us.