Today we have the wonderful treat of chatting with the delightful USA Today Bestselling Regency Historical Author Sally MacKenzie.
Sally MacKenzie writes funny, sexy romances set in her favorite time period (other than the present): Regency England. Her novella, The Duchess of Love, was a 2013 RITA® finalist, and two of her books–The Naked King and Bedding Lord Ned–made ALA Booklist’s (American Library
Association) top ten romances for their respective years. Many of her books are available in audio format, and her stories have been translated into Czech, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish.
Sally graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Notre Dame in the first class of women. She’s a Cornell Law School dropout, former federal regulation writer, recovering parent volunteer, mother of four grown sons, and middle-of-the-lane Masters swimmer. She loves to travel, especially to England to research historic sites and hike through–and frequently get lost in–the English countryside.
A native of Washington, D. C., she lives with her husband in suburban Maryland, not far from her childhood home.
What was your first book that hit a bestseller list? What was the list, where did the book rank when it first hit, and how high did your book get? Did you think it would make the list? Were you surprised?
The Naked Earl, my third book, squeaked onto the USA Today list for one week, and, no, I wasn’t surprised—but only because I was so naive back then and completely clueless about bestseller lists!
When something awesome happens in your career how do you celebrate?
I grin and do a little happy dance. I might tell a writer friend. Then I try to settle back to work.
I have a husband and four (now grown) sons. There’s no squeeing in my house. It’s pretty much, that’s nice, but what are we doing about dinner? (Though my husband did bring home champagne when I sold my first book.)
Tell us why you write historical romance and specifically Regency.
That’s where my imagination goes to play.
It’s all Georgette Heyer’s fault, actually. Many consider her the mother of the Regency genre, and if you love Regencies and don’t know her work, you must go immediately to check her out. I’ll wait, lol.
I first encountered Georgette when I was about eleven or twelve and a friendly neighborhood librarian introduced me to her books. I was hooked. Her stories are so witty and charming—though she keeps the bedroom door firmly shut. In my dreams, my books read like a Georgette Heyer—with (at least some) sex.
When I finished my first book, The Naked Duke, I followed conventional wisdom and immediately started a second book—a science fiction romance! So if I weren’t writing Regencies, I’d still avoid the present, but I’d move forward, not backward in time.
I only made it to chapter five of the scifi manuscript before The Naked Duke sold and I anchored myself firmly in the past, but the science fiction story was very different from my Regencies. It was more plot driven—and it wasn’t funny.
I have to say my most successful promotion wasn’t for a new release. Early on in my Naked Nobility series, I had large buttons made that said “I’m a Naked reader.” They were very fun and popular. I’m not certain that they persuaded anyone to buy my books, but they did help my series stick in people’s minds. The Naked King, the last book in that series, came out in 2011 (though the novellas were re-released as separate e-books in 2013), but even now when I introduce myself at events, if my name doesn’t ring a bell, I tell the person I’m the Naked writer and that causes the lightbulb of recognition to go off.
I’m always looking to make that magic again, but I’ve never hit on anything quite so catchy. My current giveaway is a small excerpt booklet I hand readers so they can sample my story and decide if it’s something they might enjoy. Then they can go to my website to read a bit more—and click on one of the purchase links to get the book, if they so desire.
I think it’s very hard to make a direct connection between promotional efforts and book sales.
You’re a USA Today bestselling author–what are three key ways that you think an author can invest in his/her career in order to expand his or her audience?
First, write the best book you can. Second, write the next book and try to make it even better. Third, write an even better book.
I know that probably sounds like I’m evading the question, but I really believe writing the best book you can is the only way to further your career. It’s the only part of the puzzle we as writers can control.
It’s nice if you can write many good books quickly—the more you have out there, the better your chance of developing a readership. But life is a matter of balance and each writer has his/her own process and pace. I’m pretty much a one book a year writer and I’m okay with that. It’s also not a bad idea to write books in a series, if that appeals to you, and to stay in the same subgenre. I think my career would be very different if I’d finished that science fiction romance and chosen to write in both the historical and science fiction romance subgenres. Certainly it can be done—and if that’s the way your muse rolls, then that’s the path you should take. It just might be harder—or at least, looking back, I think it would have been harder for me—to develop a career writing in two subgenres. I’d definitely need to write faster!
It also has to be said that, sadly, writing a wonderful book is not a guarantee of commercial success. There are a lot of moving parts when a book goes to market. And this business is fundamentally one of taste. What one person loves another person will hate or just find boring. For example, I loathe Gone with the Wind. (Was that an inhalation of horror I heard?) Clearly, GWTW is beloved by many. I’m just not one of them. So you might write a perfectly delightful book that only delights five people.
As to what to do after you’ve written the best books you can? I think it depends on your subgenre and your strengths and preferences. If you want to be published traditionally, finding an agent who’s a good match is a smart step. If you’ve decided to publish independently, then you need to be sure you understand all the pieces of that process—formatting, cover design, editing, marketing, etc. You probably need to do some promotion in either case, but what works for Author A might not work for you—or it might work this week but not next week. My rule on promotion is to do the things I find fun and not worry too much about the rest.
Finally, if you write romance—or perhaps even if you write any form of commercial fiction—I highly recommend joining the Romance Writers of America. The organization offers a lot of support and education, and you’re likely to find your “tribe” there—people who really get what you’re doing.
I know you love to travel–have you ever encountered any place or person on your journeys that you had to absolutely include in one of your books? Tell us about that.
Yes! Both a place and a “person” from my travels inspired my current Spinster House series.
The place: In 2013, when I was on the hunt for a new series idea, my husband and I traveled around Devon, England. In Exmouth, we came upon a quaint little house, A La Ronde. A La Ronde belonged to a pair of intrepid spinsters, Jane and Mary Parminter, and was passed down through Mary’s will to other spinsters in the family. The house itself isn’t in my series—it’s the idea of a house for spinsters that became an important part of my series concept. (The house itself is quite inspiring, but it’s too unique for my purposes.)
The “person”: Later on we stayed at The White Hart Hotel in Moretonhampstead. There we met Poppy, a calico cat that hung out in the lobby. One night I made the mistake of sitting in Poppy’s chair (when she wasn’t in it, of course). She gave me quite a look when she arrived to find her
place occupied, but was too well bred to take issue with me. She made such an impression, she became a rather important character in the series.
Here’s a picture of Poppy and her chair. (left)
What is one thing you absolutely LOVE about being an author and one thing that makes you BONKERS?
The writing. Really. I love it and I hate it at the same time. I get great satisfaction when I can make a character and a scene come to life, but it is SO hard.
Another thing I love—I became an author later in life having spent years concentrating on raising my four sons. So I love the opportunities I’ve had to make so many new friends—both writers and readers. I feel my world is ever expanding.
Another thing that drives me a little crazy, if not bonkers—Once a book goes out into the world, it’s on its own. Like my kids, actually. I’ve done the best I can, and now I have to let go and let them make their own way in the world. I keep from going absolutely bonkers by not asking my sons (the youngest is 26) questions I might not want to hear the answers to. And, in a similar fashion, I very rarely read reviews or look at my Amazon or other sales rankings.
All I can control is the writing, so I try not to waste precious mental energy on the rest. (Not that I always manage that, of course.)
Not every book can be a bestseller. Heck, some only sell a handful of copies. Tell us about one book (or author) that you’ve read recently that is a true gem waiting to be discovered.
Here I’m going to have to reveal a deep dark secret: I don’t read much fiction anymore. It’s sad and I do mean to work on it. As it is, with writing and life, I only seem to have time to read the newspapers. We get The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, and I usually read—or skim—them cover to cover. Tuesday is my favorite day—that’s when both papers have their health/science sections. And I love spending Saturday and/or Sunday morning going through the weekend papers. Mr. M. sprawls on one couch and I sprawl on the other and we drink coffee and read interesting tidbits to each other. (Mr. M used to work all the time, and our weekends were taken up with kid events—sports and scouts and whatnot—so maybe that’s why I value our “coffee hour” so much.)
I’ve also got a huge collection of research books begging to be read. When we go to England, research books are my souvenirs. Mr. M has to constantly remind me that whatever I buy, I have to bring home in my suitcase.
What is the coolest/nicest thing a fan/reader has done for you or said to you?
Simply telling me that he/she’s enjoyed one of my books. (I especially like hearing it made him/her laugh out loud.) I’m amazed and delighted every single time I hear that.
Writing is such a crazy, solitary endeavor. My creative process is slow and painful and messy and insane, full of despair and self-doubt. (I’ve just finished edits, so I’m still recovering from that burst of creative frenzy.) It always feels like a miracle when I manage to get 90,000 odd words together into a coherent (I hope) story. And it’s equally miraculous that those words can entertain and amuse someone I’ve never met.
Tell us about your latest release. And what do you have coming down the road?
I’m in the middle of my Spinster House series.. The prequel novella, In the Spinster’s Bed, came out this summer followed in late August/early September by the first book, What to Do with a Duke. I’ve just finished the copy edits for the second book, How to Manage a Marquess. It’s a May 2016 release. Now I’m turning my attention to the third book, When to Engage an Earl, which I assume will be out sometime in 2017.
Here’s the back cover copy forWhat to Do with a Duke:
Welcome to the charming, fatefully named village of Loves Bridge, where a woman destined for spinsterhood can live a life of her own choosing—or fall unexpectedly, madly in love . . .
Miss Isabelle Catherine Hutting would rather be lounging in the library than circling the ballroom in search of a husband any day. So when Cat hears that the town’s infamous Spinster House is open for a new resident, she jumps at the chance to put all this marriage business behind her. But first she must make arrangements with her prospective landlord, Marcus, the Duke of Hart—the most handsome man she’s ever seen, and the only man who’s ever impressed her in the least.
With her wit, independent spirit, and not least of all her beauty, Marcus can’t help but be stirred by Cat. It’s terribly unfortunate he’s not looking to marry, given the centuries-old curse that left his family with the Spinster House to begin with: No duke shall live to see his heir’s birth. But is there a chance the curse could be broken—in true fairy-tale fashion—by an act of true love? The race to Happily Ever After is about to begin. . .
BONUS QUESTION:What was the last laugh-out-loud-fall-off-your-chair funny thing that happened to you?
I can’t think of something quite that funny, but I do have something to offer that was mildly amusing.
We live across the street from a park with a man-made pond. The pond’s main purpose is to help manage storm water runoff, but it—and the park—are also great critter habitats. There are deer (lots and lots of deer), groundhogs, foxes, rabbits, turtles, snakes, various sorts of toads, and who knows what else. It’s not unusual for me to find a bit of wildlife in my yard. I’ve had deer sampling my shrubbery, a fox having a screaming match with a cat at 2 am, and a turtle laying her eggs in my lawn. But except for the occasional cricket or spider—or, once, a gigantic praying mantis—the critters usually stay outside.
Now here I should confess that I’m never going to win a good housekeeping award. There might not be any real animals in my house, but there’s a healthy colony of dust bunnies living under my bed, and a few can be found in other places throughout the house. Occasionally I’ll vacuum them up, but in general we co-exist.
One day I was on my way downstairs when I saw a dust bunny in the foyer hop. I blinked, not believing my eyes, but . . . it hopped again!
I was home alone, so it fell to me to deal with whatever this thing was. I approached cautiously and peered down at it from a safe distance, ready to bolt if it looked threatening—and discovered one of the little neighborhood toads had found his way inside and gotten covered in dusty bunny fluff.
I have no idea how the toad got in, but I couldn’t let him stay. So I carefully swept and scooped him out the door and then got a glass of water to wash him off. He seemed a bit stunned, but when I checked later he was gone, none the worse for his experience, I hope.
Thanks so much for giving me a chance to stop by and visit!
Sally MacKenzie is a USA Today bestselling author. Her forthcoming book How to Manage a Marquis (Spinster House Series, Book #2) is set for release in April 2016. You can pre-order right now. Visit her online at her website, on Twitter @Sally_Mackenzie, or on her Sally MacKenzie Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/sallymackenziebooks.