An Interview with Barbar Bretton: Paranormal Romance Novelist Talks Writing, Publishing and Promoting

Barbara Bretton is the USA Today bestselling, award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her most recent title, Laced With Magic, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. She currently has over ten million copies in print around the world and have been translated into twelve languages in over twenty countries.

Barbara has been featured in articles in The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Romantic Times, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Herald News, Home News, Somerset Gazette,among others, and has been interviewed by Independent Network News Television, appeared on the Susan Stamberg Show on NPR, and been featured in an interview with Charles Osgood of WCBS, among others.

Her awards include both Reviewer's Choice and Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times; Gold and Silver certificates from Affaire de Coeur; the RWA Region 1 Golden Leaf; and several sales awards from Bookrak. Ms. Bretton was included in a recent edition of Contemporary Authors.

You can visit Barbara’s website at, her blog at or connect with her on Twitter at

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Barbara. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

Barbara: The truth? I've been writing with an eye toward publication since childhood. I can't remember a time when telling stories for a living wasn't my ultimate goal.

Okay, so maybe I got a little side-tracked in my teens and early twenties, but I always knew that one day I'd see my name on the spine of a book. I not only believed it was possible, I was dead certain I would make it happen.

Which, if you consider the fact that I'm a high school graduate without formal training, is pretty amazing. I'm not sure if it was arrogance or a sense of destiny (or maybe equal parts of both) but it never occurred to me that I would fail.

I placed my first story in Katy Keene Comic Books when I was nine. It was called Debbie's Diary and the day it appeared on the newsstand was the most exciting day of my life up until that moment. My by-line appeared beneath the title and you would have thought I'd flown to the moon and back under my own power. I went on to place more stories with Katy Keene, a few random pieces with Teen Magazine but nothing much more than that until my mid-twenties when I began selling how-to articles and op-ed pieces on a fairly regular basis. I loved the money (even though there wasn't much of it) and I totally loved seeing my name in print but the dream of writing fiction was still to be realized.

I began writing and selling confession stories which, despite their lurid reputation, provided solid training in how to tell an emotionally compelling story in an accessible way. I loved writing first person, loved the fast-paced dialogue, loved everything about it.

But I still wanted to sell a novel. That dream was realized in February 1982 when Harlequin purchased my first novel for their new line of American Romances. I've never looked back.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

Barbara: I had to write Laced With Magic. Not just because it's the second book in a series and I'm under contract but because I wanted to see what was going to happen next to Chloe and Luke.

I know that smacks of writerly craziness but for me character is everything. I think of writers and actors as mining some of the same territory when it comes to creating characters. We tend to become those characters in ways that can unnerve the civilians among us. I believe that characters inform plot, not the other way around, so I only have a vague idea what will happen when I begin a book. I let my characters lead the way.

Take the classic sitcom Bewitched. We all know the set-up: Samantha had to deny her magical powers in order to keep her mortal husband Darrin happy. All of that wonderful magic had to be bottled up and put on the shelf because the grumpy, grouchy human male couldn't deal with it.
Laced With Magic is Bewitched turned on its ear. In Sugar Maple the women have all the power and they aren't afraid to use it. In fact it's the very human hero, Luke MacKenzie, who has to worry about fitting in.

And, believe me, it takes a very special man to settle down in Sugar Maple. The kind of man who won't let being turned into a Ken Doll by the woman he loves unnerve him. The kind of man who will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her against forces he can't even begin to understand.
Who needs Darrin Stevens anyway when you can have Luke MacKenzie!

What kind of research was involved in writing Laced With Magic?

Barbara: I'd like to tell you that I interviewed a sorceress, a vampire, and a werewolf but I'm not quite sure you'd believe me. I did read a number of scholarly reference books that dealt with the hierarchy among faeries. (You're laughing, aren't you? But I'm not kidding. It turned out that the Fae have a long and complicated folklore in many different cultures.) There's quite a bit of vampire lore out there, too, and I read my fair share of it. But ultimately I had to put it all aside and rely on my own imagination to create my fictional world.

The trick, though, with writing a paranormal of any kind is consistency. Creating your own world, and the laws that govern it, is great fun. North can be south, left can be right. You're limited only by your imagination. But if you want your readers to accept your creation and willingly suspend their disbelief, make sure that once you establish the physical, social, and political structures of your fictional universe, you stick with them.

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

Barbara: My first completed novel sold first time out so I guess that would qualify as smooth sailing. But trust me when I say I had more than my share of rejection both before and since. It comes with the territory. I wish I could show you some of the more colorful rejection letters I've received over the years. How about the single word NO scrawled in black eyebrow pencil on a sheet of Charmin? The editor might not have been subtle but he definitely got his point across.

Or how about the time a snarky editor suggested I take my stories back to Bambi and the Disneyland forest where they belonged.

Ouch. I'd be lying if I told you that didn't hurt. A lot. My face is turning red right now, many years later, at the memory. But it didn't stop me because the thought of not being published hurt a whole lot more.

I actually became so adept at fielding rejection that I didn't recognize encouragement when it came my way in the form of a letter from Nancy Coffey, who was then with Avon.
November 3, 1977

Dear Ms. Bretton:

Thank you so much for sending your proposal to Avon. At your convenience, please send the complete manuscript.

Nice letter, I thought. Everyone probably gets a nice letter like that.

I took that nice letter and tucked it away in a drawer for the next four years. (Yes, I did learn from that mistake. The next time opportunity hit me in the head, I hit back. Result? Love Changes, a launch book for Harlequin American Romance.)

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Barbara: The original idea occurred to me (in very rough form) some time in 2004 or thereabouts. It came together as an outline on Labor Day 2006. (See? There's the writerly mind at work. I can't tell you if we need bread or milk but I can remember that rainy Monday and the way the ideas just spilled from my fingertips and onto the keyboard.) I put it aside for six months (no, I don't know why) then sent it off to my agent who promptly sent it to my editor who even more promptly offered a two book deal. We agreed to the contract in April 2007. The first book, Casting Spells, was published in November 2008; the second book, Laced With Magic, will be published in August 2009.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

Barbara: I do have an agent and I am very glad I do. I sold my first two books on my own but it was a different world back then. What I didn't know about this business could fill the Library of Congress. I've been agented from book #3 onward.

I was with Robin Kaigh, my first agent, from 1983 until 1994 when she decided to leave publishing. We remain good friends. I've been with Steven Axelrod of The Axelrod Agency since April 1994 and can't imagine handling the ups and downs without his cool head and wise counsel.

If you're looking to sell a novel in today's competitive market, an agent is a necessity. Many of the larger publishers no longer accept unagented submissions. A good agent is worth far more than the 15% he or she takes from a sale.

And while we're talking agents, please don't ever pay a reading fee! It shouldn't cost you money to find representation.

Do you plan subsequent books?

Barbara: I just agreed to do two more books in the Sugar Maple Chronicles. They'll be published in 2010 and 2011.

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

Barbara: Curled up in a corner of the love seat beneath the twinkling fairy lights that are strangling my hanging philodendron. I'm a night writer and I like nothing better than a dark room lit only by the out-of-season Christmas lights and votive candles.

My other favorite place? In the car. I don't know what it is about cars, but the second I buckle myself into the passenger seat, my imagination takes off. I've done some of my best plotting while we roll down Route 295.

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

Barbara: I know exactly what I would do. I would buy up all the copies of Casting Spells (book #1 in the Sugar Maple Chronicles) that I possibly could and give it away as a freebie. Everyone loves free books and how better to build an audience for upcoming titles?

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

Barbara: I think self-promotion is vital. Money is tight. The competition for a reader's time and dollar is more intense than it's ever been before. You can no longer depend upon your publisher to get the word out because they're facing budget issues of their own. When you come down to it, nobody cares more about the success of your book than you do. Not your agent, not your editor, not even your mother. These days you have to get the word out yourself.

Online promotion is the single greatest way to reach potential readers. The internet's reach is global. You could spend the next six months trailing from city to city doing signings and not reach a tiny percentage of the book-buying audience.

Get out there and participate. Use Twitter and Facebook. Start a blog and make sure you post regularly. (I'm still working on that part of the equation.) There's a thin line between effective self-promotion and downright obnoxious behavior. Although this advice probably runs counter to conventional wisdom, sometimes subtle is better. Trail your book title in your sig line. Keep your posts interesting. Be entertaining. Resist the urge to push the hard sell at every opportunity. Provide the information and let your personality and writing sell itself.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

Barbara: The road to publication is a lot like the road to becoming the next American Idol. Lots of pain, a fair amount of public humiliation, with a juicy peach of a reward waiting at the end of the road . . . if you live that long.

Rejection hurts. Sometimes it leaves scars. But it isn't fatal. Give yourself twenty-four hours to lick your wounds then get your manuscript back out there again.

And no, I never came close to giving up. I'm far too stubborn to let a trifle like rejection get in my way. In a crazy way I was energized by those rejection letters. Take all of that negative energy and turn it into motivation. Nobody ever said getting published would be easy. Write. Revise. Submit. Rinse and repeat. There are no shortcuts, no magic formulas. If you can accept that simple fact, you're halfway there.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Barbara: A friend had a short story he believed in, one he wanted to sell to Prairie Schooner, a prestigious literary magazine. Prairie Schooner, however, had other ideas and rejected Leonard's story its first time out.

Leonard, however, was a professional. He swallowed his wounded pride and sent his story out again. And sent it yet again. By the time he'd garnered 22 rejections, the editorial staff at Prairie Schooner had changed and so Leonard sent the story back. And they rejected it again. Stalwart writer that he is, Leonard continued to study his markets and kept his story circulating. After the 41st rejection, the staff of Prairie Schooner once again changed hands. Leonard, ever a man to recognize an opportunity, fired his story back out to them and, lo and behold, on its 42nd try, his short story was accepted.

"Brilliant!" the acceptance letter read. "Where have you been hiding?"

See what I mean? You never know where success is hiding or when it might strike. Writers write. That's what we do. We can't help ourselves. Keep writing. Keep sending out what you write. Keep learning through the inevitable rejections. Don't be afraid to put your heart on the line. Rejection only hurts for a moment. Your byline is forever.

Thank you for your interview, Barbara. I wish you much success!

Barbara: Thanks so much for inviting me. I had a wonderful time.

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