Transcripts

 

Making a Living Writing Fiction -- For Real! with Jim and Joyce Lavene 9/25/03



Legend:
Questions from the Audience are presented in red.
Answers by the Speaker are in black.
The Moderator's comments are in blue.

Mary Rosenblum

Welcome everyone to our Thursday night Professional Connection Interview.

 

Our guests tonight are Jim and Joyce Lavene, the dynamic writing duo, talking about making a living writing fiction! It can be done, but maybe it doesn't mean writing one book every ten years!

 

Jim and Joyce, I was delighted that you could come back and visit with us. While I know a LOT of fiction writers in many genres...

 

I know very few who actually pay the rent with their fiction. Most of them are either married or have a day job.

 

So you are a rarity! And a lot of folk have some

 

real misconceptions about what it takes to actually live by your writing...at least in fiction.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Thanks for having us back, Mary.

 

We know what you're talking about.

 

It can be a tough business.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! And no benefits either! That

 

health insurance bill is a whopper...at least for me!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

That's for sure. But it's like any other small business.

 

You have to work it every day and know

 

what you're getting into.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, that's why I asked you to come speak to us. I know that when I began writing, I had all the usual misconceptions

 

about what it meant to make that first wonderful sale! I knew nothing about how much publishers paid, or what sales meant, or what

 

an income from a couple of novels might look like!!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

So did we. And there are plenty of misconceptions. The first sale is magical. But making a living

 

is hard to do. It's not so magical getting up early and staying up late to meet deadlines.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding! And it's not for everybody. I know that I wanted to do it, but when I realized that I was going to have to write

 

all the time, and not just work on things that moved me, but also work on things that would sell for me, I decided I'd rather teach writing part time.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

It's definitely not for everyone. You have to understand it's not 9-5

 

and you have to think about all the ugly things like sales, marketing.

sailor

Do you write strictly fiction now? How difficult did you find it to switch from nonfiction to fiction?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

No, we don't write strictly fiction, sailor. We move back and forth between nonfiction and fiction. It's not difficult to move around in different fields if you stay organized.

Mary Rosenblum

I have found that nonfiction generally pays much better than fiction...do you find that true for the most part?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Sometimes NF can pay better. There's certainly more call for it.

 

But fiction can be very lucrative. It can pay in one contract what it takes many NF contracts to make.

Mary Rosenblum

That's interesting. It runs against the word of mouth beliefs!

oma

How many hours a day or week do you spend actually writing?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We normally work 8 hours a day, usually six days a week, oma.

Mary Rosenblum

So much for a union work week. LOL. Does that include marketing and mailing time?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Writing one book at a time doesn't make much money.

 

It's after you've been at it for a while and start getting multibook deals that fiction pays off. Yes, mary, that includes everything. although there are those occasional emergencies when we work longer.

Mary Rosenblum

And I think that touches on myth number one that aspiring writers...myself included...believe before they get published.

 

which is that first book sale with support you!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

That is definitely a myth, mary. It's one we all believed

 

or were so blinded by just trying to get that first book published that we didn't want to believe it.

sailor

Working as a team, how do you divide tasks? Do you both work on the same book at the same time, or do you work on separate books? Or is one the "creative" one and the other the "business" one?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We work one book at a time, sailor, together, in front of a big monitor. We are both creative and

 

both work on the business aspect. We owned a small business together for years before we started this.

margot11111

Could you describe your average work day?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Margot, we get up at about 5:30, go for a walk, play with our dog and cat

 

then we get started writing at about 7:30. we break for coffee about 9:30, work another 2 hours, lunch, etc.

Mary Rosenblum

So much for the idyllic writer's life on a tropical island, working when the muse calls! LOL

chatty lady

Did you both begin writing at the same time or was one writing and the other jump on board?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We're both laughing! It probably was never Idyllic. That's probably why so many writers are alcoholics.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Well, chatty, Joyce wrote since she was 9. Jim was a late bloomer.

 

If any of you own your own business, you know what we're talking about. It's hard work

 

and you have to enjoy the benefits of working for yourself as well as accepting the liabilities.

info

Do you ever work on a nonfiction and fiction project at the same time, and if so, is it hard to do?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Yes, info, we frequently work on NF and fiction at the same time. We're doing that right now.

 

Deadlines have a habit of crossing over each other. It's not particularly difficult to combine the two.

 

Two works of fiction going at the same time is harder. Keeping the characters straight, etc.

Mary Rosenblum

Deadlines are a reality and publishers usually want revisions, etc, back NOW. How often do you find yourself challenged by colliding deadlines?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Constantly. We're under three right now. you just have to learn to work around them.

Mary Rosenblum

Well, I have to email off a bio as soon as I get off of the website. The publisher wants it tomorrow!!! Beeen there... :-)

twhorn

I was thinking of using writing to help pay for grad school

Jim and Joyce Lavene

if you're already published and making money, twhorn, that could work,

 

if not, it could take a while to make enough money to pay for grad school.

Mary Rosenblum

I do personally know a group of three UCSF medical students who collaborated on a series of romances

 

and used the money to pay expenses and tuition, but they ALL worked on the books.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Making money on writing is a collective process for most writers.

Mary Rosenblum

They're the exception, I suspect! Knowing a lot of grad students!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

And sometimes exceptions happen, mary. but maybe you shouldn't rely on them. Kind of like the lottery.

Mary Rosenblum

Certainly not...and they mostly paid rent. Not tuition!

traceba

Does it take a long time to get a book published?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We know a lot of writers who make anywhere from 1,000 to 3,500 dollars a year. That isn't too difficult.

 

But you can't live on it.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. And thank you for mentioning numbers.

 

In the SF and mystery fields, 5000 is a good advance for a new writer for a novel these days. Often it is less.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

In some cases, traceba, it took three years for our first book to come out after it was accepted.

 

Once you get established, the lag time becomes less.

Mary Rosenblum

And there is Common Myth Number Two, I think. That people all get tens of thousands of dollars or better for books, and that they are published instantly!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

3,000 $ is a good advance. Selling in multiples helps out a lot.

spainter

How long does it take you to write a book?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

That's true, Mary. people do have a lot of myths about writing. Kay Hooper said we should write a book

 

about all the myths associated with being published. But they probably wouldn't publish it.

 

Depends on the book, spainter. anywhere from a month to six weeks is our average.

twhorn

What is the average "lag" time before publication?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

About 6 months to a year for books. Our new mystery contract calls for books to come out every nine months.

 

Most book publishers are looking for writers who can do a good job, quickly.

mbvoelker

It must be wonderful to have a live-in, always available brainstorming partner. Do you ever both get stuck at the same time?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

It's great, mbvoelker. We tend to get stuck at different times, thank god.

 

It's also great having someone else who's so excited by an idea at 3 am that they can't sleep either.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding. That could lose you points with a nonwriter partner, LOL!

wendyhaber

Would you be able to turn out the books at the same rate writing alone? Do you feel it helps to write together? Do you recommend finding a writing partner?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Yeah. we think that's why so many authors divorce their accountant spouses and marry their agents.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing. But it's true.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

wendyhaber, we know plenty of singles who churn out lots of books. Look at Nora Roberts.

 

It works for us because we've always loved being together. Writing partnerships don't work for everyone.

 

Writing is a very intimate act. you have to trust the person you work with.

wendyhaber

You are turning out a book a month. How do you keep to your schedule so that you are producing at this prolific rate? Have you developed a formula? I'm excited that you are here tonight and to learn from you. Since you were interviewed online last, I have been telling everyone I know about your writing. You are amazing and you are both two of my real life heroes!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Writers are weirdos, mary. we all know that.

 

Thank you, wendyhaber.

 

We keep to our schedule because we like to eat and pay the rent. that's a great incentive.

 

Our formula is to do whatever it takes. Sometimes that means not going out for lunch with a friend

 

or not going to a fun writer's conference or not cleaning your house for a while. But we work at home so, we have no commute. Think about how much time that is by itself.

Mary Rosenblum

This is something I'd like to focus on for a moment.

 

because I know that a lot of new writers feel guilty about saying, 'can't do that, I need to finish this story', but that's what is involved in writing seriously --

 

putting the writing first when you need to.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

That's true mary, and it's a part beginning writers don't want to hear. they want to hear about the publishers

 

parties in New York and agents taking you out for lunch {which does happen} but not until you've

 

put your butt in front of the computer for enough time to be taken seriously. Publishers want to know they

 

can count on you to get the work in.

Mary Rosenblum

Amen!!

mbvoelker

When you say selling in multiples do you mean series books? A commitment by the publisher to publish a whole series?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

It can mean a series, mbvoelker. or it can just be a commitment to publish three or more random books.

Mary Rosenblum

Again, this is the kind of deal that gets made after you have proved to the publisher

 

that you can write a good book, it will sell, and you can get work in on deadline!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

That's right mary, we didn't

 

sign a multiple book deal for a couple of years.

Mary Rosenblum

Me neither. I had three on the shelves, first.

margot11111

Do you still have to query articles in detail?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We published wherever we could until someone noticed what we were doing.

 

Not sure what you mean by detail, margot. we send in short queries, a couple of paragraphs for articles.

Mary Rosenblum

The standard query letter, in other words.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Yeah, mary. There's no getting around that, unless you write for the same people all the time.

chatty lady

What if you strongly disagree, how to you get a final judgement?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We thumb wrestle.

 

No, really, chatty, we keep arguing until we are either exhausted or we know which way to go

 

but it doesn't happen often. We seem to share a similar vision of what we're writing most of the time.

Mary Rosenblum

What, no scissors, paper, rock? :-) And who wins most often? I just have to ask!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Joyce

 

No take that back. We never understood the whole rock, paper, scissors thing. and we'd probably both do the same one.

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing!

chatty lady

How do the two of you critique your work? Do you have anyone do it or do you feel it's not necessary?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We critique every word we write as we're writing. We write a rough draft that tells the story

 

then we do 3 revisions, chatty. We seriously don't have time to send out for a critique.

 

The associate editor, senior editor and line editor mostly find any left over bugs.

Mary Rosenblum

Editors ARE useful that way!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Just a word about critique: be careful that you don't let a bad critique ruin your writing.

Mary Rosenblum

I certainly want to ditto that! And just because someone has sold their work does NOT mean that they can give you good input on YOUR story. It is your story and only you know what you mean to say.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Editors are good for that, mary. good thing too because they aren't much good at answering the phone.

Mary Rosenblum

Phones? Editors answer phones? LOL

Jim and Joyce Lavene

That's exactly right about any critique, mary. Agents, editors, authors, they can only give you their OPINION

 

and that's all it is. Develop a little confidence in your writing. you have to have at least a little ego

 

to get published.

rachel

Do you write under your own name always, or use pen names?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We have the bulk of our work under our own names, rachel. We have used pen names but are trying

 

to avoid doing it again. It makes life more complicated than it needs to be.

margot11111

To what extent do you have to make the changes the editors want if you want to get it published?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Well margot, it all depends. We only make changes that we don't feel totally change the story.

 

On the other hand, you have to ask yourself, to what extent do you want to get published?

 

Our first silhouette romance had a ten thousand word rewrite that affected the storyline.

 

We did it gladly to get published. We knew we had more than one book in us. and it's easier to

 

negotiate what you want to do after you get your foot in the door.

Mary Rosenblum

And that is a BIG reality!

info

What if you know what you are saying and the editor says change it, is it bad to say no if it is your opinion?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

You're not kidding, mary. writers have to accept that their work is a product. it's not their baby

 

or even their faithful canine friend. it's a book.

 

Only you can decide that, info. we've said no and pulled books from publishers because

 

we didn't want to change what they wanted to change. most of the time, you should listen to what

 

the editor suggests and think it through. if you just can't do it, oh well.

Mary Rosenblum

Before we move on, I think that I'd like to really dwell on the point you made in response to the earlier question. It IS a book and not your baby. I believe that this is a major dividing line between aspiring writer and pro. Your words are NOT cast in stone.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

And they aren't handed down to Moses on the mountain either, mary.

 

For the most part, editors know what their bosses expect to see. They know what will sell.

 

Besides going out to lunch a lot, that's their job. Your job is to be creative and work with the editor.

chatty lady

In my writers group we were told the last thing you want to be known nas is a hard-ass (excuse me) because the word spreads fast and has ended careers that never started because they would not change (cooperate) with the editors etc. Your opinion????
-

Jim and Joyce Lavene

You are right, chatty. We’ve known many writers that this happened to. we've known writers who

 

wouldn't sign a contract unless they had a clause that said there wouldn't be any revisions.

Needless to say, they didn't sign a contract. Publishing is a business like any other.

Mary Rosenblum

I also know examples of this sort including one writer friend who has now lost two book contracts because of his unwillingness to permit changes.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We’ve known too many good writers, mary, who couldn't get over themselves enough to get published.

 

When we say you need some ego, that doesn't include feeling like you are ALWAYS right.

 

The idea is to work with your editor as a team to create the best possible product

 

and sell lots of books.

isa

Does the editor usually say exactly what section should be redone?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

yes, isa, in most cases. they don't tell you what to do to fix whatever the problem is.

 

That's where the creative part comes in.

chatty lady

From now on I suggest all of us newer writers change our middle names to Flexible, LOL

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Not just new writers, chatty. The market is constantly changing. We have a good friend who wrote

 

historical romances for the past fifteen years. the market has shifted away from those books

 

and now our friend is having a hard time writing something that can be sold to the publisher.

Mary Rosenblum

Be aware of the market, in other words. And be willing to write to it.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

for sure, mary. That’s one reason we decided to write in as many different fields as we could.

 

That way nobody can stereotype us. it may have been a little harder to begin with

 

but suddenly finding that your genre is gone isn't any fun either. kind of like being a panda who

 

wakes up in the desert and wonders where the food went.

Mary Rosenblum

Good analogy, folks!

sailor

Can you give us an idea of how important your web site is in terms of generating sales?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

It's really impossible to tell, sailor. We have about 15,000 visitors a month and it links our work

 

from different publishers, in different genres, under different names together.

Mary Rosenblum

Just the fact that it links your various genres is probably a big plus, Jim and Joyce.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

It's definitely a big plus, mary. before the internet, it was hard to keep up with your favorite authors work.

 

Now you know everything they're doing, almost before they do it. we keep our backlist of books

 

as well as books that are current and books coming out in the future. We also use it to list clips of

Jim and Joyce Lavene

our NF articles.

mikey1871

If someone sends out a story and it gets picked up for publication with the sale of first US serial rights can the writer make the short story into a novel and if so how long do they have to wait to do it?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

First serial rights on a short story should mean that the author still owns the rights to the characters.

 

There shouldn't be any lag time for that, mikey. but you should check it out BEFORE you sell anything.

Mary Rosenblum

Actually, I can answer this very specifically, because I have done it with every SF novel I've published.

 

Serial rights apply only to magazine sales. They don't affect use of the story in a novel...BUT...if you publish the book first

 

and then want to excerpt part of it as a magazine story

 

you will have to sell Second US Serial rights since it was published previously.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Thank you, mary.

isa

What would you say the easiest field to write for is?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

if you

 

are talking about fiction

 

and novels, romance is still the easiest to get published in

 

although the guidelines can be difficult to understand. As far as the actual writing is concerned

 

no field is actually 'easy' to write for. But if you love to write and can handle the rest of the stuff

 

we've been talking about, being an author is a great life.

Mary Rosenblum

I do suggest that aspiring writers read the genre they wish to write for! It's easy, otherwise, to miss the market or reinvent the wheel!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

No doubt, mary. To understand any field of writing, you have to read it. even then, it can be daunting.

chatty lady

I don't believe you were asked what kind or fiction you write, mystery, romance etc. A couple of titles please, that we could look for?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Sure thing, chatty. Thanks for asking. We write a mystery series for Avalon books. The August 2003 release

 

is titled LAST FIRES BURNING. We have a romance out this month with Awe-struck books called

 

TREASURES OF THE HEART. Next year, our book for Adams media, EVERYTHING NOVEL WRITING

 

will be out. and our new mystery series with Berkley Prime Crime starts with

 

ANEMONE WHITE.

wendyhaber

I've read a couple of your Sharon Howard mysteries. She is a strong character you can believe in and care about.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Thanks wendyhaber. we love her and Diamond Springs. We just wrapped up the ninth book in the series

 

yesterday. We’re not sure we could ever get tired of her.

chatty lady

We really need a book that dispels all the myths of writing and publishing. You could self publish a book such as this couldn't you?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

You could, chatty. And we put a lot of that into the Novel writing book. but most people seem to feel

 

that new writers would totally give up if all of the myths were dispelled. something like knowing

 

right away that there wasn't any Santa. Most people don't want to know the harsh details of writing

 

and the rest will find out for themselves.

Mary Rosenblum

And those who simply don't want to do anything else will simply keep on writing, even though the reality can be daunting!

 

Because that's what you want to do. Period.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Exactly, mary. Some people have compared writers who get published to dogs who clamp on

Jim and Joyce Lavene

to something and refuse to let go. Knowing what we know now wouldn't have stopped us.

Mary Rosenblum

Yep. :-)

isa

Would you say the av. writer makes <30,000 per year?

Mary Rosenblum

I'm laughing. I do!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

According to publisher's weekly, the average writer makes 3500 dollars a year. Of course

 

that's averaging between writers like Stephen King and the guy down the street who sold his first

 

short story. But we know lots of writers who aren't particularly famous who support themselves on their writing.

Mary Rosenblum

And there is a big difference between someone who sells a few stories and works for Microsoft to pay the bills, and someone who lives on their income from writing.

 

If you average them together, the per year income is tiny!

 

But people DO live on their writing income.

 

The ones I know do not drive brand new SUVs!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

There are certain sacrifices one has to make to live one's dream.

Mary Rosenblum

Before we end here, I'd like to touch on one or two of the nuts and bolts issues of working as a writer...such as living on an income which does not arrive as a weekly paycheck!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Good point, mary. Paychecks are irregular for writers. It’s the same for small business owners.

 

Sometimes they come in right on time and sometimes they don't. They definitely don't come every week

 

and don't get us started on trying to have credit that way.

Mary Rosenblum

Credit???? Whazzat?

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We're laughing now.

 

Banks tend to like people who get paid on the same day every week.

Mary Rosenblum

But I think, to sum up, the reality is that you don't write to become rich. You write because it's a dream you want to live, rather than to live in order to dream. And you will have to make sacrifices, but if that's what you want to do, those sacrifices are worth it!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Definitely. Anybody can have a new car or a two week paid vacation. We get letters from people

 

around the world who've read our books and enjoyed what we had to say. We've interviewed

 

interesting people doing astonishing things and got paid to write about them. for us, that means more

 

than a new car every year. There’s something to be said for personal job satisfaction. And we love our bosses.

Mary Rosenblum

Amen!

Mary Rosenblum

Jim and Joyce, do you want to insert your url here? It'll appear as a link in the transcript so that the website regulars who read it can connect directly to your site.

chatty lady

Last time you were here the forum was lively and interesting, this time was even better, thank you both.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Thanks, mary, for the shameless promotion.

Mary Rosenblum

Joyce and Jim website
(Click here to visit!)

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Thanks for being here both times, chatty. We hope it was helpful.

Mary Rosenblum

Sharon Howard mystery website
(Click here to visit!)

Mary Rosenblum

There you go. Links. :-)

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Thanks

Mary Rosenblum

Thank you both so much for coming!

 

A little reality is a good thing, when you're starting out.

Jim and Joyce Lavene

We enjoyed being here, mary.

Mary Rosenblum

Saves some headon crashes into disappointment later!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

It keeps things interesting anyway.

Mary Rosenblum

No kidding about interesting!

 

Thank you very much, and I'll stay in touch!

 

I hope you'll come back again some time!

Jim and Joyce Lavene

Bye, everyone. Happy writing.... and publishing.

Mary Rosenblum

Bye and thanks! Good night, all!

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