ebbie Macomber loves writing, and she can’t imagine doing anything else. WOW! readers, you are in for a treat because she is sharing her passion and almost 27 years of writing knowledge with us in this issue. Grab a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy learning from this bestselling author.
Debbie, the author of Back on Blossom Street, Susannah’s Garden, A Good Yarn, Between Friends and the Cedar Cove series, is one of today’s leading voices in women’s fiction.
A regular on every major best seller list with more than 100 million copies of her books in print, the award-winning author celebrated a new career milestone in September 2007, when the latest in her Cedar Cove series, 74 Seaside Avenue, scored #1 on the New York Times, USA Today, Publishers Weekly and Bookscan best seller lists. Her popularity is worldwide with her books translated into twenty-three languages.
Debbie is best known for her ability to create compelling characters and bring their stories to life in her books. Drawing on her own experiences and those of her family and friends, she demonstrates an almost uncanny ability to see into the souls of women and to express their emotions, values, and concerns. In every book, her sense of humor enlivens her writing.
WOW: Debbie, welcome to WOW! We are absolutely honored to be talking to you today. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your story with us. First, we want to congratulate you on your success and hard work for almost 27 years in the romance-writing business. What do you enjoy most about being a romance writer?
Debbie: There are so many aspects I enjoy. Someone once asked me what I least liked about being a writer, and I had no answer. I love creating plots and characters, enjoy revisions, meeting readers and communicating with readers. I really believe God created me to be a writer.
WOW: It’s wonderful for your readers, too, that you enjoy being a writer so much! On your website, I read that you are dyslexic. What challenges does that bring when you are writing?
Debbie: I’m a creative speller (laughs) and have a hard time with words. If you are dyslexic, you do not hear words the way other people do. In fifth grade, I learned to read, well, the concept of reading clicked for the first time. Now, I’m a slow and thoughtful reader. It is much easier for me to listen to audio books. I have a lot of audio books around here. So, a challenge for me is keeping up with what is popular with today’s books because I am a slow and thoughtful reader.
WOW: Audio books are a great idea to help with that difficulty in your life. They are really enjoyable to listen to. So, when you were first beginning your writing career and you had this extra challenge, why did you choose to write romance novels?
Debbie: I was married as a teenager and then had four children. When I was potty training, I needed something with a happy ending. (laughs) At my age as a young mother, it was so wonderful to read stories by women for women with women’s issues. I loved it then, and I still do today.
WOW: And hopefully potty training had a happy ending for you, too! Women can touch the souls of their readers and understand real issues women go through. You started out by typing your first manuscript on a rented typewriter. Describe for us how it was when you wrote your first book and the excitement when it was accepted for publication.
Debbie: I rented a typewriter and worked at the kitchen table, moving it at meal times. I had all these ideas floating in my head. I assumed I would put my hands on the keys, and magic would occur. The ideas would float to the end of my fingertips and come out on the page; but of course, they didn’t.
I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know another writer. So, I took four romance novels that I loved, and I dissected them—scene by scene, chapter by chapter. I outlined the plots and learned a lot about plot and structure.
I published my first book, Heartsong, in 1982. I wrote for five years before I was published. Those were really dark times. Wayne [Debbie’s husband] said we just couldn’t do this much longer. I had to make up what I was taking out of the family budget, so I started writing and selling articles. I sold one to Woman’s Day for $350.
Then, I attended my first writer’s conference, and I met an editor for the first time who said to throw my book away and start over. Instead, I sent off that same manuscript to Silhouette Books, and they bought it. It was such a moment of joy and unspeakable excitement.
“I met an editor for the first time who said to throw my book away and start over. Instead, I sent off that same manuscript to another publishing house, and they bought it.”
WOW: That is such a great inspirational story that we can all learn from. It has that message to never give up! Thank you for sharing that with us, and I’m sure you’re glad you no longer have to type your books on a rented typewriter. Can you tell us a little about your writing routine today?
Debbie: I am a real morning person. My grandparents owned a farm, and I still get up very early. In Washington state, I get up at 3:45 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. in Florida. I read my Bible and write in four to five journals. That takes between one and a half to two hours, depending on how long the Bible passage is. Then I exercise. In Washington, I swim three-fourths of a mile, and in Florida, I walk two miles. Then I go to my office. I read emails, write my blog if I have a blog that day, and I start in on my chapter. If I am working on revisions, I know how many chapters I have to look over each day to meet my goal by the end of the week. I write four days a week. On Wednesdays, I do interviews, newsletters, and book clubs.
WOW: You do get a lot accomplished before the sun even comes up—especially when you are in Washington! It sounds like a routine that really works for you. Thank you for sharing that with us. How important is it for writers to write every day or at least on a regular basis?
Debbie: It is important in the beginning stages of your career to write every day. Like when you are learning to play the piano, you have to practice every day. You have to write every day for practice. At this stage in my career, I am on tour two months of the year, so I can’t write every day. It’s also important to read a lot.
WOW: I like how you compare writing to playing the piano. I don’t think people realize that they need to practice writing, and the more they practice, the better they get. And you are so right about reading—maybe also reading and dissecting like you did with those four novels when you were learning the craft over 30 years ago. How do writers overcome writers’ block and/or the loneliness of being a writer?
Debbie: I don’t believe in writer’s block. Well, I do, but I think writer’s block is your subconscious mind telling you that there is something wrong with your story, and you have to go back and fix it.
When I first started writing, someone asked me about being lonely as a writer, and I was startled. I am so close to my characters—I never feel alone. I’m having so much fun with these characters!
WOW: That must be why other people fall in love with your characters, too, and keep asking for more and more books about them—they are like real people, like their friends. Now, to the more business side of writing—is it important for a beginning romance writer to secure an agent?
Debbie: I have a strong opinion on this topic. I sold 27 books without an agent. An agent is not necessary for a young writer (in book years). A beginning writer seems to be looking for validation when they are looking for an agent. Then, they can say, “Oh yes, my agent said,” and feel validation from it. If the agent chose them, it may not be the right person for that writer. Writers, especially beginning writers, forget that the agent is our employee.
People will ask me how to get their manuscripts into editors’ hands if they only accept agented material. There are ways to getting your manuscript into these houses.
- Internet contests—Publishers know not every good manuscript comes through an agent, and so they have contests to find unagented material.
- Writing conferences—Writers can attend writing conferences and meet an editor. You can make a point of attending a writers’ conference and talking to the editors. Ask them out for a drink. Write them a note when you get back and tell them you understand they don’t accept unagented manuscripts, but would they look at a query from you? You are sending a query for a query after you meet.
- Believe in yourself and the power of your dreams.
“Believe in yourself and the power of your dreams.”
WOW: That’s so true. It is hard to get anywhere if you don’t believe in yourself. And we have heard so many times to go to writing conferences and meet agents and editors face-to-face. Hopefully, we are listening to your advice and following through with registering for a conference this year. Are there any rules that romance novelists should know, such as the hero and heroine must to be together at the end of the story? And tell us, have you ever broken this golden rule?
Debbie: Yes, I guess I have broken rules. In Between Friends, the hero dies at the beginning of the book, but it is more women’s fiction than a romance novel. People read for a happy and satisfying ending. I want to give my readers a feeling of hope and satisfaction. My goal is for something positive to happen. If the hero and heroine aren’t married at the end of the book, they are at least declaring their love or getting married soon or the promise of love is there.
When you are writing a mystery, you know there’s a murder that will be solved. That’s what makes it a mystery. In romance, there’s the expectation for the main characters to overcome all obstacles and fall in love.
WOW: That makes total sense. Who wants to read a mystery novel if you don’t find out who did it by the end? Who wants to read a romance novel with no romance? Good points! Since you made it to number one on the New York Times Best Seller List with your book, 74 Seaside Avenue, can you tell us a little about how that felt and what other goals you may have set for yourself after achieving that?
Debbie: It felt wonderful. I was also thrilled when I had a reprint that made the Times list. These are the steps that happen as your career goes on. My next big goal is to have a reprint be number one on the bestseller list.
WOW: With an author as enthusiastic and dedicated as you are, we are sure if anyone can do it, you can! We hope that you can reach all your career goals as your wonderful words of advice and inspiration are helping us meet ours today. So, how does it feel to go to the grocery store or department stores and see your name splashed across the cover of books?
Debbie: The first time I saw my name, it felt wonderful. I pointed to it. (laughs) You know, early on, when I had a book out, I was up at the grocery store. The checker said to me when she saw the name on my check, “That name is so familiar to me.” I thought she knew I was a writer. Then she asked me, “Have you ever bounced a check?”
“I thought she knew I was a writer. Then she asked me, ‘Have you ever bounced a check?’”
(Photo: Cheers for Debbie from the Seattle Mariners’ mascot just before she threw out the first pitch in Stitch ‘n Pitch night at Safeco Field July 26, 2007.)
WOW: (laughs) That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing with us. She probably knew you were a writer—she was just teasing you! One of your most popular series is the Cedar Cove series. Can you tell us about Cedar Cove Days, and how this tourist weekend will tie into your Cedar Cove series?
Debbie: I am so excited I am pinching myself. Here’s how it started. The Chamber of Commerce in Port Orchard (the real town in Washington state the Cedar Cove series is set in) said they were tired of drawing maps for my readers of the different places where my books are set.
So, my publisher and I created a map of different spots from the Cedar Cove series in my hometown. There’s a restaurant, gazebo, marina, and Saturday Farmer’s Market. The map got picked up by USA Today. City leaders said, “There’s a series of books set here?” Then they used a term for tourism that I had not heard before, and they said, “There’s nothing here to put heads to beds.” This means there’s nothing to bring people to Port Orchard to spend the night in the hotels and visit our restaurants.
So, they created Cedar Cove Days. There’s an amazing amount of support. The whole community is behind it—the classic car club, the firefighters, and the Kiawanis—everybody’s involved and putting it together. There’s a cruise to a lodge where we’ll have dinner. We will host teas—my daughter and I have been hosting teas for about five years—people come from all over the world. My kids will be tour guides on the bus tours where they will go to different sites from the book. There’s going to be a character parade and pancake breakfast. On Sunday, there’s a church service. My editor and I will have an event called “Past/Present/Future” and talk about how we came up with the idea for the series and where we see it going in the future.
WOW: That is so exciting! It’s like seeing your books come to life and enjoying them with all your readers—that’s better than making them into a movie! How fun. I read on your website that Cedar Cove Days will be held from August 26 to August 30, 2009 for anyone who wants to get the dates on their calendars and make sure to attend.
Since the Cedar Cove series is so popular and you’ve written more than one series, when you write for the romance genre, are you always thinking of a book as part of a series?
Debbie: I always start out a single book and plot it all the way through. Then, my readers tell me they love the characters. But I don’t know how many books will be in a series when I start. I listen to my readers. I have told my editors before, “I think I need to do a sequel.” Sometimes, I connect books to others, but they are not really part of a series like with Susannah’s Garden. It is connected to the Blossom Street Series, but not part of it.
I write three books a year, and I always write a Christmas book, which is not part of a series.
WOW: Three books a year—wonderful! Thank you for sharing so much with us about your daily schedule and your annual schedule. I think it really helps our WOW! readers with planning and goal-setting. Many beginning writers have a series in mind when they write and finish their first manuscript. What are your tips for these writers—is it better to query the first book or the whole series?
Debbie: A beginning writer should concentrate on selling the first book. After she sells (gets a contract for) the first book, then she can talk to the editor and say, “I have other books in this series.” With a brand new person, it’s hard enough for an editor to take a chance on one book. A one-book commitment is a very big deal. So, it is better to wait until you start talking to an editor to mention you have other books.
WOW: That’s a good point, and just to be clear, in the query letter, you should probably just focus on the first book and not worry about the whole series. Who are some of your favorite authors to read?
Debbie: I enjoy Regencies a lot. I read across the board. Karen Robards is phenomenally talented. Linda Lael Miller. Brenda Novak. These are people I read and enjoy.
WOW: These authors are among some of today’s top romance writers. I’m sure many of our WOW! readers enjoy them, too. It is always fun to hear what other writers like to read. I know that you also like to knit, and you’ve incorporated this hobby into your stories. Do you always use ideas for novels that you are already interested in, or do you ever come up with a new idea and have to research it from the beginning or both?
Debbie: It’s kind of both. In the Dakota series, I got the idea because my parents came from the Dakotas. My husband had been working in Alaska for a while, so I wrote the Alaska series. Then I heard that anything with the word Texas in the title was sure to be a best seller. So, I wrote the Texas series. With Susannah’s Garden, I had just put my mother in an assisted living facility. A lot of women my age were dealing with aging parents, so they could relate to this book.
WOW: It is interesting how you took certain events in your life, did some research, and then turned them into successful novels. You are loved by so many readers, and we hear from many experts today that so much of a writing career comes from good marketing skills. What are two great marketing tools for a romance writer?
Debbie: First, it’s important to be a value-added author, which means giving something extra to readers in a book. It could be a quote at the beginning of each chapter, recipes, maps, or maybe something readers can send away for. When you do an autograph session, take the booksellers a gift. I take the local booksellers to lunch once a year around Valentine’s Day. Show your appreciation for these people, and librarians, too. For your autographing session, give something extra to your readers, so they will come see you. These are key business practices I learned from my father. One day I should write a book titled Lessons I Learned From My Father. You need to find ways to reach out to readers and give them a sense of loyalty to you.
Second, you can keep in contact with your readers. Have an attitude of gratitude. When I get Christmas cards from readers, I send back a personal card and an ornament. I build a list of readers.
There’s more than one way to build a readership. There are successful authors who never send a newsletter or have contact with readers. We have to develop our own style.
“It’s important to be a value-added author, which means giving something extra to readers in a book.”
WOW: I just absolutely love your answer to that question. Be a value-added author! And it sounds like you have so much fun doing that. I’m very impressed with the Christmas card idea, too. I have trouble getting out the cards to my friends and family right now. (laughs) In closing, what are some words of inspiration you can give to WOW! readers?
Debbie: There are times that you just want to ram your head against the wall. Don’t give up. If I had given up, I would have lost a piece of my soul. You have to want it more! Be persistent and flexible. Celebrate your successes along the way, like if you sell an article.
WOW: Thank you so much, Debbie, for this insightful and inspirational interview. We have learned so much from you, and we wish you much continued success in your career and fun-filled Cedar Cove Days in August.
Be sure to visit Debbie’s website for videos, contests, recipes, her blog, and her knitter’s club! www.debbiemacomber.com
Margo L. Dill is a freelance writer and substitute teacher, living in Mahomet, Illinois. She is also a columnist for WOW! Her work has appeared in publications such as Grit, Pockets, Missouri Life, ByLine Magazine, and The News-Gazette. Her first book, Finding My Place, a middle-grade historical novel, will be published by White Mane Kids in 2009. She writes a blog called, “Read These Books and Use Them,” for parents, teachers, and librarians. When she's not writing, she loves spending time with her husband, stepson, and two dogs—Charlie, a boxer, and Hush Puppy, a basset hound.