Thursday, January 13, 2022

Interview: On Romance with Author Roland Hulme


I always looked at book writing as sort of tales of love and war. One where the author goes about faceting words together into these tiny little weapons they call their story, poking and proding about against the critics of the world, in attempts of striking at the heart box of human emotions. 

I think novels have a more intimate relationship between author and reader than most forms of entertainment. Which is why writing a book seems scary to me. It’s all so… personal. You’re basically selling you and your words, with no little departments or creatives in-between.

There’s just something to be said about the power behind that. Your voice. Your genre. Your brand. It’s something that I’m incredibly uncomfortable in doing, which is why, for my first interview with ATB Writers, I wanted to speak a bit about genre literature. What it is and why it’s relevant. Since Valentine’s day coming around next month, I figured, why not bring on a dear friend of mine to talk about finding your brand: romance author, Roland Hulme. 

Several years ago I’d met Roland through a mutual friend. He attended a writing workshop that I was teaching, where I discussed a bit about story structure and Roland had shown me about how his career evolved over time into becoming a successful romance fiction author. WIlling to sit down and share his journey with Across the Board, we spoke about Romantic fiction and what it is about authors finding their genre that’s sort of special in that… “I love you, writing process,” sort of way only writers understand.

First and foremost, can you tell us about your writer’s journey in finding Romance as your brand? What about it feels so compelling?

I grew up reading Tintin, The Saint, and Ian Fleming’s James Bond books (interspersed with Jules Verne and Sherlock Holmes.) Therefore I’d had plans to write “old-fashioned adventure stories” as I grew up - except the problem is, every boring British white man does that, and they eventually all kind of read the same. There are so many books with characters “like Jack Reacher” for example that it’s difficult to stand out.

On the other hand, I’d also grown up reading my mother’s racy romance and blockbuster novels (think Jackie Collins and Harold Robbins.) I loved those stories because of the structure of romance, and how certain stylistic choices (like writing in first-person) make it much easier to thrust a reader into the action.

I found my success when I found my “schtick” which was to write the old-fashioned adventure stories I wanted to write, except I focused on the romance between the hero and heroine and wrote them in first-person and through the narrative structure of a romance novel. It made them more fun to write, more fun to read, and because my thing remains fairly unique, it enabled me to create a level of success as a writer that I’d have never achieved trying to stick to traditional men’s adventure books. 

Romance is just a GREAT way to tell a story - it’s a totally misunderstood and misrepresented genre. Given the sheer volume of romance written today (it’s something like 70% of all new books published), I don’t doubt that the best (and worst) of all modern writing goes undiscovered and unappreciated in books that snobs dismiss as “only romance.”

Okay, so you’re a successfully published romance author who’s released tons of books, but also, experimented in the genre. Can you talk a little about that? Particularly your interest in Ian Flemming?

Consistency is the only way to be successful as a writer. I often tell people that if they do what I’ve done – write and publish 29 full-length novels and invest thousands of hours and dollars into learning how to self-publish – they’d probably have raced straight past me and be far more successful. The only thing that stands me apart is the stubborn, pig-headed insistence on continuing to write even when it’s difficult.

The secret to that is to write books that you’d want to write anyway, regardless of whether somebody would ever buy them or not. If you keep writing a “product” you’ll burn out, but if you can write the stories you want to write (for me, it’s adventure mixed with romance and lots of naughty sex) then you can keep on writing no matter what. It’s like a calling or an obsession.

Once you find your groove, it becomes a little more dangerous to experiment. I derailed some great earning streaks by shifting from motorcycle club romance (the core of my writing) to paranormal romance (a less popular genre) but ultimately, the books that I experimented with have often been the best ones I’ve written, even if they’re not as successful as the “regular” ones.

My current project is to write a series of books paying homage to the original James Bond movies, and the opportunity there is to write what I love (all that nerdy James Bond stuff) and write it in a way that appeals to my audience (all that romance) and it’s a hell of a thing to gamble weeks of your life and tens of thousands of words on a book that might not work; but then again, if it does, it’s going to give me years of stories to tell. 

Writing is such a weird thing because we writers are both total narcissists (“the world needs to read this”) and also completely insecure (“who would read this crap?”) and only by experimenting can we learn what works not just for our readers, but also for ourselves.

If you’re not excited about the book you’re writing, don’t expect readers to be excited about it, either.

Is there a trick to this wizardry of the heart? Do you think romantic fiction has a formula or is each book more like semi-awkward dating?

Romance is like long-form poetry. It’s one of the most rigidly structured genres of writing and I love it for that. The advertising legend David Ogilvy once said: “Give me the freedom of a tightly defined brief” and that’s the same with romance books. Each one has a step-by-step structure that forces you to shed the stuff that nobody’s interested in and focus on what’s important.

Literary fiction (vomit) and a lot of general fiction provides the author the opportunity to ramble on, to sprawl, and to lose focus on what their book is about. Romance forces you to be a better writer; and the discipline you learn writing romance makes you a better writer in everything else you write, too.

That being said, I’ve got some personal rules for writing romance. The first and most important is: “Always fall in love with your heroine.” That’s really why people read romance books - to have some big, burly guy fall in love with you (the reader.) I get the opportunity to tell the male side of that in a different and more authentic way, and I think the way I’m successful is by crafting female characters who have flaws, but you can’t help falling in love with. That’s the thing, at the end of the day, isn’t it? Nobody’s perfect. We’re all fuck-ups. Yet, as long as we keep trying to do the best we can, we’re all deserving of love. People should love us because of the flaws we’re trying to improve - not in spite of them. 

As someone learning how to self-market themselves better, I need to know, how did you advertise for your books? Where did you know where to network? Find your audience?

There’s a reason most successful fiction authors are self-published: It’s possible to build a career that way.

With Amazon, I get to keep 70% of my royalties - which means I earn SO MUCH MORE for each book I sell than I would if I’d been traditionally published. If I sell 1,000 copies of my book, I earn as much as a tradpub author who sold 7,000 copies - and these days, it’s a struggle for unestablished authors to reach that goal even with a traditional publisher supporting them.

That being said, you have to approach selling books the same way you approach writing them: As a career in which you’re constantly learning. I’ve invested thousands of dollars in courses like Mark Dawson’s Advertising for Authors and then twice as much in experimenting and learning what works (and, more frequently, what doesn’t.) It took me four years to publish my first best-seller and I’ve written my share of flops since then, too. 

The secret is exactly what you said: Finding your audience. Write the books you want to write and then use advertising to find the people who want to read them. Create a subscriber list of readers and the larger it gets, the bigger each new release will hit. Once you ‘find your tribe’ you can build and grow a career as an author as long as you keep giving them what they want; but to do that, you have to focus on their experience when you’re starting out, not immediately trying to turn a profit.

Thank you for your time, Roland. If I may ask, where can people find your work?

I write romance novels under the penname Simone Scarlet:

I also write under my own name, Roland Hulme, and have been publishing some of my romance books with covers aimed at a more traditional male audience:

I also recently created a course for people who’ve written a book, but don’t know how to get started marketing it:

Thanks so much for chatting with me! I hope my answers had some value in them!

No comments:

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs