Posts by laurenswrittenword

By day, I'm a magazine Editor with a zillion responsibilities... But by night, I'm out to write the best novel I can, one red wine fuelled word at a time...

Does romance need a HEA?

This month on the blog, we’re talking all things lovey-dovey. Here, Lauren K. McKellar discusses the ending of a romance novel–does it have to follow a formula?

For many people, romance novels are a great source of escapism, providing an emotionally packed story that transports the reader away from the humdrum of everyday life. Perhaps that’s why when a romance novel doesn’t end with a HEA (happily ever after) it inspires such controversy. If a romance novel doesn’t have a HEA, is it truly a romance at all?

Let’s consider the alternative. If a romance novel doesn’t have a HEA, it usually has a HFN (happy for now). This means that while the hero and the heroine aren’t perhaps together, the immediate threat has passed and the characters are happy for now. Their future isn’t clear, though–we don’t know for certain whether they’ll end up together or not, and in some cases, when one character passes away, it’s not even possible.

In recent times, however, many readers are questioning whether a romance novel needs a happy ending to truly be part of this category. Here’s why.

man hold his girlfriend up above the city

Photo: stock.adobe.com

Many people read romance looking for the feeling that comes with a HEA. They’ve found the book in the romance category and while they’re ready to go on an emotional journey, to watch two characters go through hell to be together, they expect them to be holding hands at the end of the story (or making love, depending on the heat level of your novel). They want that sense of emotional fulfilment–they want to close the book and have the “ah” moment that comes when two people get together and everything is set for the perfect future.

In a book with a HFN, you don’t get that. I mean, sure, we could put a warning in the blurb (“at the end, I’m going to kill the hero, so don’t read this one if you’re after a wedding and a baby”), but obviously, most authors don’t want to do that, and I’d argue that most readers don’t want to know that sort of detail before they start a book, either.

That then begs the question: does all romance need a HEA, and if an author doesn’t offer one, are they breaking the reader’s trust?

The Romance Writers of America defines romance novels as having:

An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.”

To me, this implies that a HEA is required to fall into the category.

What do you think? Do you need your romance to have a HEA?

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of several romance reads, and some not so romantic ones. She loves torturing her characters and playing Russian roulette with their lives. You can read more about her books on her website, or come say hi to her on Facebook.

5 tips for a memorable villain

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking about the bad guys of the story–the villains.

When it comes to writing villains, it can be easy to fall into some bad habits. Here are my top tips for creating a worthy opponent to your fabulous lead character:

  1. Give the villain strong motivation: Why is your bad character a bad character? Sure, you could fall into the all-too-easy “because he/she is just evil”, but how realistic is that? There are true psychopaths in life, but truly memorable villains tend to have reasons for their bad behaviour. Did they suffer during their childhood? Perhaps they don’t have a support network and have battled mental health? Or perhaps again, they’re not really a bad person, simply someone who wants something that puts them at direct odds with your protagonist? Whatever the reason, make it clear to help enhance your villain as a character and make him or her a real person/creature.
  2. Give him or her at least one redeeming quality: Just like your villain should have a reason for his or her bad-assery, he or she should also have at least one redeeming quality. How many people do you know without at least one positive personality trait? Whether you only give us a glimpse of this or you show the quality in its full glory, this can make your villain not just lifelike, but possibly the tiniest bit likeable, creating a very memorable villain indeed.

    Faceless man in hood on the rooftop

    Is your villain a real person or just a shadow in the dark? Photo: Stock.Adobe.com

  3. Avoid the villain reveal: We’ve all seen it. It’s the climax of the story. The bad guy has the good guy trapped, tied up in rope, and he’s about to slit our hero’s throat! Calamity! The end is in sight!
    And what better thing to do when you have the hero completely in your clutches, ready to die a slow and painful death, than launch into a monologue, explaining your motivation to date and exactly why you did what you did? This is a cliched action performed by many villains, and outside of scenes in Inspector Gadget (where they also use the infamous “I’ll get you next time, Gadget” line) I don’t think it flies. It’s not realistic. And not only that, but there’s no motivation for the villain to tell the hero all that information, making the villain less life-like and therefore less scary in a time when you want him to appear all powerful and ferocious.
  4. Offer up a worthy opponent: Is the villain in your story all powerful, the strongest man in the universe–but a bit low in brainpower? Often, we can get carried away creating a heap of braun to combat our good guys and leaving our villains lacking in one major department–mental strength. This doesn’t just apply to villains involved in a physical showdown with our hero–whether your bad guy is a land developer with cold, hard cash to your hero’s tree hugger, or an opponent vying for a job at the same company, fighting your hero by dismantling his or her computer and leaving her stranded at the copy machine, you want to make sure your villain has the smarts to help create believable and truly deep drama.
    Yes, some villains are perhaps unintelligent, bumbling idiots. Yes, these sort of people do exist in real life. Do they make a worthy opponent for your fabulous lead character, however? And are they helping to create the maximum amount of tension between your hero and themselves by giving readers the notion that perhaps they could win? I don’t think so.
  5. Bring the villain into your home: Bringing your villain into the “safe” place of the hero can up the tension and raise the stakes. This can work in multiple ways: you can physically bring the villain into your hero’s home ground, or you can take someone close to your hero and turn them into the antagonist. This is particularly useful in contemporary reads. Think of things like the child putting the mother in the nursing home; the parents telling the child they can’t run riot in the rain late at night; a loved one not believing the hero when he or she tells about the fantastical thing he or she has seen. Having someone close to your hero display villainous traits or become a villain by offering an opposing viewpoint he or she feels passionately about can sometimes result in the most tension-filled novel of all.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel, as well as an editor of fiction. You can get in touch with her via her website or Facebook.

3 Facebook advertising tips

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking marketing for authors.
When I first learned of this month’s topic, my first idea for a post went something like this:

  1. Hi, fellow authors. My advice is to study what I’m doing, and then:
  2. Don’t do it. It’s not working.

But that’s not entirely true. After all, I know some marketing activities have worked for me, resulting in sales of books and website views, more than I could have ever dreamed of.

Sound too to be true? That’s because in a way, it is. This method I’m talking about requires patience. It requires time and research. And worse than all that? It requires money.

Yep. I’m talking about Facebook advertising.

While this doesn’t work for everyone, I have found it to work for me quite successfully in the past after carefully choosing my target audience. Here are my top tips on making it work for you:

  1. Know your market. It can be daunting, picking the right key words for your ads, and I have to admit that it took me a bit of trial and error. Start with the basics (e.g. eBook readers) and then narrow it down to those who like reading eBooks AND enjoy your genre AND say, read books by one of three authors you would consider yourself on par with. Keep defining your audience until you are quite narrow.
  2. Have a compelling call-to-action. While I have found some generic book ads work well, the ones that have worked the best for me are either promoting a limited-time-only price reduction, or a new preorder. I think that implication that if they don’t get on the gravy train now, they could miss out, makes people more likely to one-click.
  3. Create strong ad content. Whether you’re using a teaser quote image from your book or a combination of the cover and perhaps five stars, letting browsers know this book has been positively reviewed, make sure your visual is clean, consistent, and fits with Facebook’s recommended size guidelines. I also always include my tag either in my image or in the copy of the ad, to try and intrigue the audience, for example in the below: Young woman at the beachThe quote about her world turning upside-down had quite a few readers leaving comments and I believe helped this ad convert to many sales.

There are many courses out there telling you how to use Facebook ads, including a great one by Mark Dawson. I by no means proclaim to be an expert, but these are just a few things that I have found work for me.

What about you? What do you think of Facebook advertising?

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel. You can find her on Facebook here or at her website.

Interview: Katie Hamstead

This month, we have two new members of our blog (squee! So exciting!). To celebrate, we’ve decided to interview all Aussie Owned & Read-ers, so you can learn a bit more about us.
Today, I had the pleasure of hitting up the lovely Katie Hamstead, author of many successful books including the 
Kiya trilogy. Welcome, Katie.

AO&R: When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
Katie: I feel like this is something that gradually happened for me, something that I naturally fell into. Through my teen years I enjoyed storytelling, so I would write things down as my preferred outlet … after sports that is! It wasn’t until I migrated to the U.S. and couldn’t work while I waited for my green card, then fell pregnant, that I found time to write.
I started by finishing stuff I’d began as a teen and typing it all out because the handwritten paper was deteriorating, then the Kiya trilogy happened. I felt so good about the trilogy that I decided I wanted to publish it. The rest is history.

AO&R: When it comes to your characters, who is your favourite and why?

Katie: It’s a toss between Naomi/Kiya and Cadence from the Cadence Duology. Both feel like they live in my heart and soul and opened my eyes to their stories rather than me telling their stories.

AO&R: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Katie: Stay true to you and write from the heart.

AO&R: Which path do you enjoy more – indie or trad and why?
Katie: I’ve tried self-publishing but I prefer working with my publishers. My books sell better when they have that extra support and outreach.

AO&R: Being an Aussie, what about our culture/country do you bring to your writing?
Katie: I have several books set in Australia: Cadence Duology, Branded, Dancing in the Athenian Rain, and Brownlow Baby. People have commented that the alternate setting to the U.S. is fun, while still having a parallel culture they can empathise with. Even my space opera/fairy tale series has a strong Aussie influence in the characters and settings.

AO&R: What’s coming up for you this year? Katie Teller
Katie: So far, I have released one book, Brownlow Baby, but I also have the second book in my fairytale galaxy series releasing 28th March, Myths of Mish. Then later this year I have an Aussie historical romance releasing. All this while I’m trying to work at an elementary school, but luckily, I get summer off. I also have editing projects and rewrites for my FTG series. So, busy as always!

FAST FIVE with KATIE HAMSTEAD

Pantser or plotter? Pantser
Coffee or tea? Hot chocolate
Contemporary or historical? Historical
Novella or full-length? Full-length
Series or standalone? Series

Keep up-to-date with Katie’s releases via her Facebook page, her publisher’s page, or find her on Goodreads.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel. You can get in touch with her sleep-deprived, newborn-raising self via her Facebook page or website. P.S. Send wine!

Three romance-writing lessons

In honour of Valentine’s Day, we’re talking all things love here at Aussie Owned and Read. So I thought I’d look at three lessons in writing romance we can all take from a relatively unknown playwright I grew up with, one Mr Walt Disney.

  1. Sometimes, you need a knight-level romantic gesture. Now, let’s get one thing straight. I’m very pro women saving themselves. I’m not exactly at bra-burning level of feminism, but I sure as hell don’t believe in waiting around for a knight in shining armour to ride in on his horse to save me or my fictional princesses (although give me a few glasses of wine and I’ll karaoke to the contrary if I Need A Hero comes on).
    However, what I do think works well in fiction is a grand gesture from a leading man toward the leading lady, or vice versa, or a leading lady to another leading lady, or a leading man to another leading man (just not a leading man to a leading dog. Because bestiality and no).
    But I digress! Romantic gestures. They rock. Sure, in Sleeping Beauty it might mean fighting through a thorny garden and slaying a dragon to deliver true love’s first kiss–but in a modern-day romance, it could be Heath Ledger singing “I Love You Baby” on the grandstand at the high school in Ten Things I Hate About You. It’s all relative to the story’s scale. Either way, a romantic gesture, whether from the hero to the heroine or vice versa, is a great fictional tool.sleeping-beauty
  2. Love can come in unlikely packages. Whether you’re talking Beauty & the Beast or even to a certain extent Cinderella,  delivering love in a place we wouldn’t traditionally expect it is a great tool that can be used in writing romance today. The reason this works is because not only can it surprise the reader, it also follows something we all know to be true–to a certain extent, opposites attract. At the very least, they make for strong conflict, which creates great scope for some tension-filled scenes (and the potential for a follow-on best-selling movie. Fifty Shades, anyone?).
  3. True love is 4 reals. In Disney movies, the hero and the heroine always end up kicking arse. True love conquers all, baby–there’s nothing it can’t do!
    beauty-and-the-beastI think, when writing fiction today, that’s something we can take on board, too. Sure, there are some HFN endings in which perhaps the hero or the heroine passes away, which obviously implies that it doesn’t quite conquer all (or certainly not death)–but in those novels, invariably we have true love existing or the impact of a hero/heroine dying wouldn’t hurt us as much as it does. If the person passing away was just some guy or gal the leading man or woman was a little close to but didn’t really love, would we care so much when they left us for a walk on the fictional rainbow bridge? No.
    In real life, many people either have found their true love, or are searching for him or her–while we don’t mind reading about the kind-of-almost-maybe loves, what gets readers truly invested, particularly romance readers, is knowing that the love they’re watching unfold is true love. The Big Love. The all-consuming, everlasting love.
    That’s why I think having “true love”, Disney-style, is a great fictional tool we writers can all employ.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads to make you feel. Her latest new adult contemporary romance, with lots of true love and a truck-load of love in unlikely places, is on sale now for $0.99. Get your buy links for Seeking Faith now via her website here or find out more info over on her Facebook page.

Spring cleaning my mind

This month at Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking the benefits of spring cleaning, whether through edits or literally. Today, I want to talk about something I believe benefits my writing greatly–spring cleaning my mind.

Sounds a little strange? Sure, it does. But when I think of cleaning, I think of freeing a space from the clutter. Stepping back from something after being involved at a level of extreme and minute detail and looking at things anew.

Let me give you an example. I’ve been working on a manuscript for two months. I then moved house, became heavily pregnant, and had an increased workload, meaning that even though all I really wanted was to work on the manuscript again, to refine and edit the work both on a small and large scale, I wasn’t able to.

At first,  it saddened me. It made me so frustrated to know there were so many changes I wanted to make but that I simply didn’t have the time for. Life had gotten in the way.

Now, however, I feel as if my perspective on the book ahas changed. I feel as if I could make greater, bolder edits that I wouldn’t have been able to before. I can instigate greater change within the work, all because I’ve stepped away for so long and in doing so, spring cleaned my mind and my perspective of the manuscript. I have space. Mental room to breathe that I didn’t have when the emotion and hype of the manuscript were fresh.

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Give yourself some mental space.

I think giving your book an ample amount of space and breathing time to clear it from your mind and get a new perspective is one of the most valuable things you can do. It’s something that can be hard, especially given we live in such a world of instant gratification, but it’s rarely not worth it.

So for all of you fabulous NaNo participants out there, I challenge you to spring clean your mind and step back when the month is over. Not just for a day, or a week, or a fortnight. Let’s go big. Give yourself one month. Two. Take extra time until there are details about  your novel you’re not even sure about anymore. Give your manuscript time to rest, as you would a steak after it’s sizzled away on the barbecue. Hopefully, you get as much out of it as I did.

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Lauren K. McKellar is the author of romance reads that make you feel.  You can find her on Facebook or learn more about her at her website.

Three Pitch Tips

This month here on Aussie Owned and Read, we’re talking pitching. Make sure you stay tuned for ur best pitch info and advice coming all throughout the month.

When it comes to pitching, I’m a bit of a novice. I’ve done an elevator-style video pitch (that’s actually how fellow Aussie Owneder Stacey Nash and I met) and a few Twitter pitches, both with varying degrees of success.

More than that, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few pitches in different competitions and for a small publishing house I used to work for. Here are my top tips for an effective manuscript pitch:

  1. Write your book. Sounds pretty obvious, right? But the amount of times I’ve seen pitches where a full or partial has been requested, only to be met with words similar to ‘I just have to … uh … well … you see the dog ate it, and so now I need to …’
    Most pitching opportunities are for finished manuscripts, not for ideas (unless it is a concept pitch, in which case, fire away).

    The Dog Ate My Homework!!!

    Photo: Big Stock Photo

    Think of a pitch a shortcut to the top of the slush pile, a pile that can consist of thousands of potential novels. If a publisher hears your pitch, loves it and requests to see the manuscript, but the manuscript takes weeks, maybe a month to arrive–how likely are they to remember it as the one they got excited about all that time (read: maybe a few hundred pitched manuscripts) ago? For this reason, I recommend only pitching finished works.

  2. Target appropriately. Before you pitch your manuscript, make sure you do your research. Is the agent or publisher you’re pitching to interested in your genre? Do they have a book that’s too similar to  your own? Should you be pitching to him or her, or an Australian/UK/American correspondent instead?
    Knowledge is power, and the more info you have on your pitchee, the better!
  3. Practise, practise, practise. Sounds obvious, right? But if you’re giving an in-person pitch, you cannot practise it enough. You want to know that sucker so well that the words float from your tongue, just in case those nerves kick in.
    Personally, I like recording myself giving my pitch, then playing it back to see how I come across. After all, it’s often not until you see yourself in the (sometimes unforgiving) light of video that you’ll learn if you speak clearly, if you make good eye contact, or if you look like you’re begging.

For anyone pitching this month, whether in an online competition or at Australia’s RWA, I wish you all the best.

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Lauren K. McKellar is an author and editor. She loves reading, writing romance, cute boys and puppies. You can visit her at her website or on Facebook, or laugh at her first ever video pitch here.