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Stephanie Tyler’s Advice for New Authors: “Write what you love.”

Stephanie Tyler and her pup
Photo from Stephanietyler.com

Stephanie Tyler is a well-known romantic suspense author. Her credits include the Hard to Hold Trilogy, The Shadow Force Series, The Section 8 Series, The Defiance Series, and The Harlequin, Blaze Series. Stephanie writes most of her books surrounding military heroes, which is what she enjoys reading most. She has recently ventured into the paranormal with her Eternal Wolf Clan Series. She also writes M/M-Romance and has a string of novels out using her pen name, SE Jakes. (M/M-Romance is a subgenre that contains romantic relationships between males.) Her latest quest is her Skulls Creek Series and book one, Vipers Run, is scheduled for release on July 1, 2014. Stephanie also co-writes paranormal erotic romance for Bantam Dell under the name Sydney Croft.

Stephanie graduated college with a double major: English literature and creative writing. She has a master’s degree in English Literature and finished half of her doctorate. As she was trying to find a way to support herself as a writer, she did many different things, including teaching grades from middle school all the way up to college. Her daughter was born in 2001 with some medical problems, which caused Stephanie to re-think her situation. She left teaching, went back to writing, and fortunately for us, she hasn’t stopped since.

How long did it take you to publish your first novel, and who was your first publisher?

I started reading romance in late 2001 after my daughter was born with serious medical problems. I wrote just for me in 2002, and in 2003 I got online and started thinking seriously about publishing. I sold to Harlequin, Blaze in 2006 and they published my first two books in 2007. Three weeks later I got ‘the call.’ I sold the Sydney Croft trilogy (with Larissa Ione), and then my own first three single title SEAL books, both to Random House. I had a plan—I loved category romance, but at that time, a lot of authors who exclusively wrote category were having trouble getting into single title New York publishing. I realized that I would almost have to simultaneously publish category and single title in order to not get boxed in. My, how things have changed.

That must have been an exciting time. Harlequin, Random House… that sounds like a dream come true. What is your latest project?

I’ve got a lot of them. As Stephanie Tyler, I’m working on my third Section 8 Romantic Suspense, and my second in the Vipers series for next summer. As Sydney Croft, we’ve got a story out in Riptide’s Holiday Charity Bundle this November, and as SE Jakes, I’ve got 5 more releases in 2014, and only 2 of those are written so far — it’s what I love about ePublishing! However, basically, as you can see, I’m always working on multiple projects. It keeps me creative and if I get stuck on something, I keep a forward progress. I’ve tried the ‘one book at a time, write in order’ thing, but after 50 books, it’s not my process, although I think it would most definitely be a bit easier.

It sounds like you are very prolific. Having so many works in progress must keep you very busy. What would you say are the benefits of having a pen name?

Larissa and I would’ve been fine publishing the Croft books under both our names, but back in 2006, neither of us had a ‘name.’ So the publisher wanted a single name, but they had no problem with people knowing it was us. When I started writing as SE Jakes back in 2011, it was for different reasons entirely—I wanted a fresh start, and I wanted to see if I could re-create my success without any help from my established audience. SE Jakes really saved me at a time when the online romance world, in my opinion, got really dark. I’m extremely grateful to the indie authors who broke through, because I know they changed the whole tenor of the online world for romance. I recently just revealed the SE Jakes name, because it had gotten too big to steer secretly.

A lot of people pick pen names (and my last name for all are pen-names), mainly because my real last name is very unique, and it’s also really hard to spell. Friends of mine use pen names because they have other careers in which they wouldn’t want their employers to know they write romance, and some because of family pressure. But for the most part, I think it’s a privacy issue.

That is certainly something every author should think about. Being totally anonymous with new ideas certainly looks like it has some advantages. In today’s market, when an author can write multiple novels in a year, it makes one wonder if many authors use pen names to test out unchartered waters. What do you think about self-publishing in today’s market?

I love it. You don’t understand (or maybe you do!) what a wonderful option it is! It’s completely freeing. There are no gatekeepers for that, so for someone like me, who knows the process of what it takes to get a book out (aka editing!), it’s taken so much pressure off getting the next contract. Honestly, I also think that sometimes too much editing can suck the life out of a book—some of the more unpolished writing is getting praise because it’s fresh. So I encourage people to have an editor they trust, someone who will bring out the best in their story. It’s important to work with people who love your writing and love your voice. At this point, I’m still what’s termed a hybrid author, and I don’t see that changing—I’ve never liked putting all my eggs in one basket.

Although self-publishing gives the author total freedom when it comes to having their story told, the dream of most authors is to hit one of the top commercial publishing houses. Having an agent appears to be essential for making something like that happen. What was the hardest part about finding an agent?

Unfortunately, today I think it’s much harder (and it was already difficult when I started), because of so much seemingly instant successes of indies and the like; agents are looking for the next big hit. They can usually find it easily enough these days—it’s less of a guessing game for them because those indies already have the sales to back them up. So, they can be more discerning, and they don’t necessarily have the want or need to grow an author from the ground up. But then again, the flip side is that you don’t necessarily need an agent to publish today. I don’t think New York publishing needs to be any romance author’s first goal anymore, and that’s exciting. There are other ways in. That being said, having an agent when you do get contracts is invaluable. I mean, you have to be attractive to them, but you also have to remember that they’re working for you—you can’t be ‘grateful’ that an agent takes you on. You have to remember that they make money when you do, and you work as a partnership, but that ultimately, you are the best advocate for your career. A good agent should bring out the best in you and your career.

One of the downsides to self-publishing or using a small publisher is that advertising is generally the responsibility of the author. What would you say has been your best form or advertisement?

My best form of advertising is word of mouth of my readers. Especially with the SE Jakes readers—the M/M community is very, very vocal and tight-knit and welcoming. My readers make it a joy to go online and communicate, mainly via a Goodreads group and a Facebook group, which are both moderated by awesome readers and writers. I love going there and hanging out, but what I love even more is that they’re all very close, so they don’t need me there all the time. They have fun hanging out, discussing their lives, and the books they’re reading. Although they’re my groups, the conversation doesn’t always have to be about my books.

As Tyler, I started blogging in 2003, along with Larissa Ione, Sylvia Day, HelenKay Dimon, and the like, all before we had anything to sell. I think that really helped us because we had to find a way to engage people without giving them a product. This is how we grew our social media voices.

I understand that you used to be a teacher and that you have a master’s degree in English Literature. Do you feel that education is important for becoming a successful writer?

Nope. I don’t regret my education, but a lot of that was done because I never thought I’d be able to support myself writing. It’s what I was taught, especially in college, that if I were going to write poetry and short stories, which is where I started out, I would need an education. So I love reading, and English Literature was a way I figured I could be close to what I loved. Although I loved teaching, and was creative in my methods, it did zap a lot of my personal creativity. I didn’t write a lot of fiction during those years. While I appreciate that we do have so many highly educated women who are bestsellers, I don’t like that we have to tote that out when the inevitable disrespect of our genre happens. I’ve gotten to the point where I simply blow that off because when people say to me, ‘oh you write those trashy romances,’ my husband will say, ‘and bought us our new house.’ Because romance, in my option, is about two of the best things in life—sex and love, I’m not sure why people look down on it, but that’s their issue. I’d rather work on my books than worry about not having the respect of people I probably wouldn’t want to hang out with anyway. Romance readers and writers are some of the most intelligent, well-rounded, and generally open-minded people. Whenever I’m chatting with someone who reads romance, it’s this instant bond.

With all the books you have written, there must be a few darlings in there. Who is your favorite character?

I have two: Jake, from my Tyler Hold series and Prophet, from my SE Jakes Hell or High Water series. All my characters speak to me, but these guys don’t leave when I’m done with their books. I feel like they’re my muses.

Writing every day can be difficult for some writers, but my understanding is that successful writers do write daily. Do you have a daily word count that you strive for, or do you just sit and write until your characters stop talking to you?

The latter for sure. My word count is pretty high, but it’s usually a culmination of a week or two, rather than a steady amount daily. I mean, I do write daily, but I vary between computer and longhand writing. Right now, I’ve got 20 pages to transcribe and I always add to that when I’m typing in, but you have to write daily, no matter what. Honestly, if you’re working on the right project, for the most part it shouldn’t be something you want to procrastinate. When I find myself procrastinating, it’s usually because I’ve tried to force my characters to do something and they immediately go silent, like, ‘really, lady? When you’re ready to listen to us, then we’ll talk.’ Or else it’s a project that scares me—I call them the growth books—and sometimes they hurt, but you can look back and go, ‘yeah, my writing really kicked up a notch there.’

Often whom we read impacts what we write. Is there a writer who has influenced your career? What is your very favorite book?

That’s a hard one, but Gone With The Wind is one I read obsessively over and over when I was around twelve. I also love, in the romance genre, I’ll Take Manhattan by Judith Krantz (very old school and sprawling and fun), and Cherry Adair, Suzanne Brockmann and Tami Hoag were some of the first romance authors I read, and that’s when I realized, ‘This! This is what I want to write.” So I owe them a great deal.

Anyone who reads this interview will already learn so much about publishing and how to be a better writer. Is there any other advice that you might have for up and coming authors?

Write what you love. Today especially that’s even more important advice, because we were always taught that the books of our heart weren’t always marketable. Right now, that advice is pretty much out the window with indie publishing (Hello, new adult!)… So, if you love what you’re writing, someone will love it too. It might not be your most successful book, but until you get past that book of your heart, it’ll probably hold you back. Keep writing—even a couple of paragraphs, fan fiction, anything that makes you creative.

Please be sure to give me links to where my readers can find your books and find out more information about you.

I’m at stephanietyler.com, sejakes.com, and sydneycroft.com. I’m probably the most active on social media as SE Jakes, but you can always grab me for Tyler or Croft questions at that name with no problem.

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with me today. For my readers and for me, this is certainly an honor.Thanks so much for asking me!

It’s my pleasure