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How Nora Roberts Sold 400 Million Books

Nora Roberts

In 1986, Nora Roberts was the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Her first bestseller hit the list in 1991 and she publishes on average one book every 45 days. Her romances, and romantic thrillers written under the pen name J.D. Robb, are often found high in the book charts, and cumulatively she has clocked up more than 1,000 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Her story starts in 1979 when, snowed in with her two small children, she started writing down one of the stories in her head. From the moment she began she was hooked and by the summer of 1980 her first book had been bought by Silhouette.

With five older brothers and two sons, she is known for her incredibly perceptive and well-rounded characters, especially the male protagonists, who are immensely believable. A feature she puts down to being outnumbered by men all her life.

Make Time To Write

Nora believes that if you love writing, you should be prepared to make time to write. If you try to fit it around your other interests, it becomes too easy to find yourself distracted. To be an author is to prioritise writing over other activities, such as watching television. After all, this time next year you probably won’t remember what you chose to watch instead of writing, but if you choose to write you can still be proud of your work in five, ten, or fifteen years.

Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard

Her most important piece of advice is BICHOK or Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. That means, if you’ve made time to write, then you spend that time writing. Just like a job. You can’t slope off because you don’t feel like it today. You can’t stop because you don’t feel “inspired.” If you were a doctor or accountant or salesperson or a barista, and it was time to start your shift, you’d go in, even if you didn’t really feel like it, because otherwise you’d lose your job. Treat writing in the same way. Once you’ve found your time to write, make sure you stick to it and actually write.

Being An Author Is A Job

If you want to make a living from writing, then you need to treat it as a job in the same way that any other self-employed worker, such as a plumber or hairdresser, has to. Don’t try to justify your decision to write against other obligations. If something happens during your working day, then you need to juggle things so that you aren’t forcing your writing time to compete against your other activities. Don’t shrug off your writing time as unimportant. Treat it with the respect and dedication that you would any other job.

Do The Best You Can Now

Your writing will evolve as you practice your craft. Don’t worry about the future – you don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Similarly, in ten or fifteen years down the line, don’t look back at this book when plotting and planning. You can’t change the past – you can only change the present – so put your effort into writing the best book you can today.

Nora Roberts has never taken courses in writing or read books about how to write. She’s learned her craft through trial, and error, of course! Most of her books are taken through a 3 or 4 draft process to prune out the bad bits and polish up the good. Editing is crucial to having a book that you’re happy with.

Enjoy Your Own Writing

Write what you enjoy reading. It’s something that you are familiar with already. Many aspiring new writers look at what’s fashionable and worry about the market. Many then try to write in a genre they don’t know. Don’t worry about what everyone else is reading at the moment – write what you would like to read yourself! You’ll be able to put more passion into it and that will make for a better experience for your readers.

Nora Roberts started her career writing category romance, a genre in which there are strict guidelines on what is, and isn’t, permissible. Yet, she’s never found that restrictive. By focusing on the ongoing relationship between hero and heroine, she is able to bring in elements of mystery, paranormal, science fiction, and even comedy. She calls her category romances “quick charcoal sketches” as opposed to the “detailed oils” she’s able to do in her other work.

Getting Past Writer’s Block

Nora Roberts claims to not rely on inspiration and usually has no idea what placed an idea for a story in her head. Sometimes, such as when she was writing Homeport, she has a location or area of interest and from there she follows through until she finds a story. From thinking it might be nice to write a novel based in the world of art, she became interested in how art can be authenticated, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As an author, you have to concentrate on getting words on paper. The more words you get on the paper, the better. Don’t wait for a muse that might never come. Don’t hang about for that spark of inspiration. To be a writer you need to write. So, sit down in your chair and write.

Start, like Nora often does, with a situation and ask yourself the question, “What if….?” See what happens if you change the characters or location. If another “what if” question arises, then explore that to see what happens. Instead of plotting and then writing to that plot, Nora simply tells a story and sees how it unravels.

Don’t Expect Instant Results

Nora Roberts’ first book was published in 1980 and her first bestseller was in 1991. If you want to make a career from being a writer, you need to create a compelling catalogue of work that will retain your readers and keep them coming back for more – and pass the message on to their friends! That takes a lot of time, patience, and above all, lots and lots of words, but as Nora Roberts and others have proven, it’s a goal that is attainable.

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