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Irene Hannon, who writes both romance and romantic suspense, is the bestselling author of more than 30 novels. Her books have been honored with the coveted RITA Award from Romance Writers of America (the “Oscar” of romantic fiction), the HOLT Medallion and a Reviewer’s Choice Award from RT Book Reviews magazine. A former corporate communications executive with a Fortune 500 company, Irene now writes full time from her home in Missouri. To learn more about Irene and her books, visit http://www.irenehannon.com/
Although these books have introduced me to many new readers, Against All Odds was actually my 27th published book. (Prior to that, I’d written only contemporary category romance.) And the results of my leap into suspense have been phenomenal. Against All Odds was on both the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists for multiple months and has gone into a third printing. One radio interviewer even likened it to a Robert Ludlum novel! An Eye For An Eye has been called “superbly written” by Booklist, which said it “delivers all the thrills and chills Suzanne Brockmann’s Team Sixteen series with the subtly incorporated faith elements found in Dee Henderson’s books.” So I’m really glad I broadened my horizons!
As you mentioned, your novel Against All Odds debuted on the CBA bestseller list and stayed there for months. To what do you attribute that success?
Dee Henderson’s endorsement. And here’s how that came about. When Against All Odds was in production, the Revell team and I tossed around names of authors we might approach about endorsing the book. But none of the ones we discussed wrote the kind of book I did—except Dee Henderson. The problem was, no one at Revell had a connection with her. Nor did I.
But I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. So I went on her Web site, sent her an e-mail cold, and asked if she might consider reading the manuscript. She responded immediately, and graciously said she would—but warned me she endorses only about half the books she reads. I was fine with that. So I sent her the book and made a note on my calendar to follow up in about six weeks if I hadn’t heard from her.
Less than ten days later, I woke up one morning to find an e-mail from her waiting in my in-box. It had been sent at 1:42 a.m. She said the book had made her late for an engagement the evening before and had kept her up late to finish it. She offered three fabulous quotes, including the one that appeared on the cover of Against All Odds: “I found someone who writes romantic suspense better than I do.” I was blown away by both her kindness and generosity.
Countless readers have told me that this quote is the reason they picked up my book. So I will be forever grateful to Dee for her role in my successful launch into this genre.
We love to hear about your journey to publication.
After college, I got a job in the corporate communications department of a Fortune 500 company. I wrote executive speeches and magazine articles by day and worked on my novels at night. By the time I sold my first book, many years and many rejections after I began writing fiction, I had three completed manuscripts ready to go.
In the intervening years, I’ve written for four different publishers. For the past 11 years, I’ve been writing contemporary romance for Steeple Hill. But a few years ago I decided I also wanted to do bigger books. I dabbled with a longer contemporary romance, but the market didn’t seem interested. One editor I met at a conference said my story (about two estranged sisters who reunite one summer when their mother has a stroke) needed a stronger hook…like an Amish theme. Not my thing. So I tucked the completed manuscript away in a drawer, where it remains.
At the same time I was struggling to find my longer-book niche, I was also struggling, period. My corporate career had vaulted me into an executive position that left me no time or energy for fiction writing. Plus, fighting rush hour traffic, battling corporate politics and being indentured to a relentless BlackBerry that never slept had lost its appeal. So after winning the RITA award in 2003, and with a 3-book contract on the table, I was able to ditch the corporate world without becoming a starving artist. And once I was able to write full time, I had time to pursue an idea for a suspense book.
The next hurdle was finding an agent. I didn’t need one for category, and I was always comfortable handling the business side of writing. Moving into single-title, however, I knew I’d need an agent to shop the book around for me. I assumed, after selling more than two dozen books, that finding one would be easy. Not so. Seems category doesn’t count much when you want to move to bigger books. But after a several-month search, I connected with Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary at a conference.
By then my first suspense book had morphed into a series. Two more FBI characters had appeared, begging to have their stories told. So without even a nibble from a publisher, and in between category commitments, I took the plunge and wrote the whole series on spec. I’m happy to say my leap of faith paid off when Chip sold the series to Revell!
What is one weakness you have as a writer and what do you do to overcome it?
What is one strength you have as a writer and to what do you attribute your success in this particular area?
If you could go back to the young writer you were when you were just beginning, what advice would you give yourself?
Single-title novels are a whole different ballgame. There, you may sell fewer copies, but the return on each is far higher. So every sale counts. My suspense publisher, Revell, does a great job with promotion and marketing, and I feel very blessed to work with such a dedicated and professional team. They set up radio interviews, arrange blog tours, buy high-profile, targeted ads and distribute my books to key reviewers. All of those things are important, and many authors have to do them on their own. I do send out e-mail notices to readers on my suspense list, accept every offer I get to guest blog or do an online interview, and answer every reader e-mail or letter. That personal touch takes time, but I think it goes a long way toward building a loyal reader base.
In the end, though, I think the single most important promotional tool an author can have is a website that’s updated regularly.
What do you do to improve as a writer?
What are a few of your favorite books not written by you?
Have you received a particularly memorable reader response?
With my suspense books, I’m getting feedback from both men and women, and I’m loving the letters that contain lines like this one: “I bought your book this past Tuesday evening and spent the entire day today reading it! I did have to put it down a few times just to breathe.” And I was thrilled with this comment: “I have been a Nora Roberts fan for a few years now and have just worked my way through all of her romantic suspense books. Your book was just as captivating.”
Do you have a pet peeve to do with this business?
As for romances, I’ve never understood why so many people dismiss them as trivial. Not long ago, I read a review about a romance that said readers must pick between mental nourishment and romance—snarkily suggesting that stories about two people working to overcome often formidable obstacles in order to build a life together can’t engage the reader’s mind as well as the heart. The reviewer also denigrated what she called “the best romance tradition” of an ending suffused with “a sense of almost religious redemption and possibility.” What a sad commentary on our world when a hope-filled ending seems so implausible that it renders a book too unrealistic to be taken seriously.
What’s your favorite part of being a writer/least?
What has surprised you most about this industry?
When I was unpublished, it was the difficulty of breaking into the published ranks. I had no idea it would be so hard! Once I was published, I was surprised how my new status changed the complexion of writing. When you’re seeking that first contract and writing for the pure joy of following your muse, all you have to worry about is creating your best story. Once you’ve landed that contract, however, you realize that publishers don’t want one-book wonders—they want authors who can produce regularly. The first sale isn’t the summit; it’s the start of a whole new journey. And in addition to being expected to continually create new books, you now also find yourself doing promotion, creating/maintaining a website, answering reader mail, keeping accounting records, proofing galleys…the list continues. So the pressure is on, and writing becomes a business as well as a passion. It’s still fun, but it’s a job—with deadlines. Which means you now have to plunk yourself in front of the computer even when you’d rather be doing something else. And that’s an adjustment.
Advice to aspiring authors?
3. Master the basics. I can’t emphasize this enough. A manuscript with typos, misspelled words, incorrect punctuation or bad grammar is unprofessional, and both the book—and the author—immediately lose credibility with an editor or agent. If you have trouble with any of these things, bone up on the technical aspects of writing or have your manuscript vetted by someone with these skills before submitting it.
Now, to wrap things up, I’m excited to announce that I just sold a new three-book suspense series to Revell! For more info, you can visit my Web site at http://www.irenehannon.com/.